Eclipsed by the Moon: Mahlaqa Bai and Her Incomparable Teacher

Eclipsed by the Moon

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William Dalrymple and Katherine Schofield on a remarkable story of music in 18th-century India

Mahlaqa Bai ‘Chanda’, ‘The Moon’, sang and danced her way into the historical firmament when in 1799 she presented a book of her songs to the Resident of Hyderabad, John Malcolm, in the middle of a nautch, or popular dance, party. 

Renowned as the first Indian courtesan to write a divan of Urdu poetry, Mahlaqa Bai was equally famous for her affairs with powerful men at the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court. Obscured by her luminescence today, however, is the man behind The Moon, her master-teacher Khushhal Khan ‘Anup’, ‘The Incomparable’. As celebrated and as central to Hyderabad’s courtly culture as she was at the time, Khushhal Khan left behind an enormous corpus of songs, several musical treatises, and an illustrated ragamala that tell us a great deal about musical life and lives in Nizami Hyderabad c.1780–1820. 

Join writer William Dalrymple and music historian Katherine Schofield as we discuss the lives and works of these two remarkable characters.

Image: The musical mode Ragini Lalita from a ragamala set, c.1760s, Hyderabad. From Johnson Album 37 no. 8 and part of the British Library permanent collection. Purchased by Richard Johnson when Resident of Hyderabad in the 1780s.


Name: Eclipsed by the Moon: Mahlaqa Bai and Her Incomparable Teacher
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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Price: Full Price: £10.00
Member: £10.00
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Under 18: £7.00
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Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546