Dataset Open Access

The SHAMSA database 1.0 – Sources for the History and Analysis of Music/Dance in South Asia, c. 1700–1900.

Katherine Butler Schofield; David Lunn

Data collector(s)
James Kippen; Allyn Miner; Margaret E Walker; Richard David Willams

The SHAMSA* bibliographical database and digital collection has been developed as part of the European Research Council project Musical Transitions to European Colonialism in the Eastern Indian Ocean (MUSTECIO, Grant no. 263643, PI Katherine Butler Schofield, 2011–2015/16). The attached xlsx document, licensed as a CC-BY-NC resource, provides the bibliographical metadata of Version 1.0 of the database. It describes well over 300 major written sources c. 1700-1900 for the history and analysis of North Indian (Hindustani) music and dance in Mughal and British-colonial South Asia. About one third – well over 100 – of these sources are also currently held in digital copies in the Department of Music at King’s College London. The SHAMSA digital collection already constitutes the largest single repository of primary written sources on Indian music and dance in the world, and is planned to be a major ongoing resource for future researchers on Indian music, dance, and cultural history.

The sources of SHAMSA 1.0 were located and consulted Jan 2011– Dec 2015 by members of the Awadh Case Study of the ERC Musical Transitions project, including James Kippen, David Lunn, Allyn Miner, Katherine Butler Schofield, Margaret E Walker, and Richard David Williams. The initial collection has clearly defined limits: it 1) focusses on the Gangetic plains region between Delhi, Lucknow, and Calcutta; 2) during the timeframe c. 1700-1900 i.e. explicitly before the era of recorded sound (but with some key 17C and 20C outliers, and some materials from e.g. Hyderabad, Kashmir). 3) The linguistic focus of the collection is on works largely in Persian, Brajbhasha/Hindavi, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, but with some works in Sanskrit, English, and other Northern Indian vernacular languages. Sources include music and dance treatises, biographical works (tazkiras), song collections, ethnographic works, department archives, encyclopedias, cosmographies, theatre scripts, moral and ethical tracts, histories, and a tiny handful of the large number of extant ragamala painting sets (for a comprehensive treatment of ragamala sets see e.g. Ebeling 1973 and the Ebeling digital image collection at Cornell).

It is critically important to note that this is by no means a complete collection of everything written on music and dance in Northern India in the period of transition from the Mughal to the British empires. We have been completely overwhelmed by the volume and richness of the materials we have uncovered for the history of music and dance before the period of recorded sound. This bibilography should be considered a mere starting point; we are already aware of a large number of sources, especially visual, that we have not yet included. Version 1.0 consists only of (largely) textual sources that at least one of the team members personally consulted 2011–15, and considered to include substantial and noteworthy musical and/or dance-related contents (very occasionally key sources are also included that we know about, but have been unable to locate yet despite our best efforts.)

We know that there are many more written and visual sources for North Indian forms of music and dance beyond the geographical, temporal, and/or linguistic scope of the current version of this database – for example for Panjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc. – but even considering our core region and timeframe we keep uncovering more sources all the time, and aim to update the open access versions of the database periodically. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has information about sources that are not yet in our database that we might be able to consult and include, or about any verifiable errors in the metadata that need correcting.

Well over one third of the works in the bibliographical file are already available to consult as digital copies in situ at King’s College London. The copyright statuses of these copies are exceedingly complex; but we aim to make as many of these available via Creative Commons licenses as and when we gain approval from the holders of the original documents to do so. Please do get in touch with Dr Katherine Schofield at King’s College London if you wish to consult the digital copies in the SHAMSA collection, or if you have suggestions of works whose metadata should be included in the bibliographical list. (Version 1.0 was completed 1 Jan 2016, and checked/exported 2 Oct 2018.)


*Deriving from the Persian word "shams", meaning "sun", a shamsa is both a ray of solar light often indicating the bestowal of special knowledge or enlightenment, and the technical term for an illuminated orb-like frontispiece in Islamicate manuscripts that often encloses the patron's name, titles, and/or portrait — see for example the beautiful shamsa for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan that adorns the SHAMSA Community page (Metropolitan Museum of Art). In later lithographed works on music in Urdu, the title of the manuscript would often be enclosed in a shamsa. But the name SHAMSA also pays homage to the first Persian treatise on North Indian music written by an imperial hereditary musician, the Shams al-Aswat by Ras Baras Khan (1698), in which he named shams as the presiding star of the musical note Ma, the fourth scale degree (MUSTECIO 0131/British Library, I O Islamic 1746, f. 19r).

Katherine Butler Schofield's 2018 British Academy Fellowship "Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India, 1748–1858" builds substantially on the SHAMSA database and digital collection, and aims to bring many of its treasures to public attention, particularly those housed in the British Library's Asian and African Studies collection.
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