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Hofmann, William Rees (2022) Singing Sufis in Text: Indo-Persian Music and Sufi Poetics ca. 1250 – 1600. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Restricted to Repository staff only until 15 March 2025.


This thesis traces the history of music and performance practices between Sufi networks and the courts of the Delhi Sultanates and the early Mughal Empire. By scrutinising Persian archival material relating to Sufis, poets, and courtiers, I interrogate the historiography of music and performance practices of the Sultanate period in the environs of Delhi, Gujarat, and the Deccan. Modern historians of Hindustani classical music, articulating the dominant historical narrative, often describe its development as a product of Indo-Persian synthesis. This approach, largely based on face-value readings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts produced in Mughal courts, does not do full justice to complex and nuanced processes of cultural flow and exchange. Mughal historians often focused on the roles played by thirteenth-century Sufis and courtiers of the Delhi Sultanates, yet these authors themselves were involved in the creation of historical narratives reflecting certain political and cultural biases. My research foregrounds primary sources of cultural and political history from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries in Persian, delving into contemporary accounts of cultural practices to understand how Sufis, musicians, poets, theorists, and historians understood and wrote about their own world as well as the musical past. By utilising sources of religious, social, and political history for information on music and sound practices, I explore various traditions of music-making, what they meant for the performers and the audience, and how memory was constructed around these practices. Chapter One is an exploration of the musical environments of the Sufi ḳhānqāh and the court in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Delhi, demonstrating that there was a shared repertoire primarily derived from the art music of Khorasan. This period also saw the beginning of attempts to seek equivalences between the Indian and Persian musical systems. Chapter Two investigates the role played by the Indo-Persian poet Amīr Ḳhusraw in the development of Hindustani music. I then trace the development of Sufi musical practice and the inauguration of vernacular song and poetry in the ḳhānqāh, focusing on the song genre of jikrī as the most prominent form of Hindavi Sufi song in Chapters Three and Four. Chapter Five considers the late Sultanate and early Mughal historiographical construction of musical pasts, arguing that it was these canonical histories which led to the modern-day conception of Hindustani music as a synthesis between Indian and Persian music. Throughout this thesis, I propose that 1) by focusing on the diverse ecology of song and verse at use within both the court and Sufi environments one can then better understand cultural circulation and exchange; and 2) this exchange is best conceived as being a translation, wherein Sufis, musicians, poets, and theorists sought the nearest terms of equivalence between ephemeral aesthetic mediums of Indian and Persian song and poetry.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Richard Widdess
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2022 16:54
Funders: Other

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