Wājid ‘Alī Shāh Plays Krishna’s Stolen Flute: The Multiplicity of Voices in the King of Awadh’s Dramatic Work
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Wājid ‘Alī Shāh Plays Krishna’s Stolen Flute: The Multiplicity of Voices in the King of Awadh’s Dramatic Work Genoveva Castro Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Professor Heidi Pauwels Department of Asian Languages and Literature This dissertation is a study of an instance of cultural exchange between Hindus and Muslims in the context of 19th century theater in South Asia. Specifically, it investigates Hindu-Muslim assimilation in the artistic production at the court of the last king of Awadh. Through an analysis of text and performance traditions present at the court the narrative of Hindi-Urdu drama at the beginning of the modern period is reframed. Wājid ‘Alī Shāh (1822-1887) was the king of Awadh on the eve of the colonial takeover. He ruled from 1847 to 1856, and subsequently moved to Calcutta after the British assumed control of the kingdom. He was not only a ruler during a turning point of Indian history, but also a poet and dramatist. His literary work was often a reflection of his interest in dance and music, as well as of the multifaceted milieu in which he lived. Thus, although Wājid ‘Alī Shāh was a Muslim, he wrote two versions of a dance-drama entitled Rādhā Kanhaiyā kā qiṣṣah based on a Hindu theme that was popular in Vaishnava circles. This dissertation presents an annotated translation of the two versions of the Rādhā Kanhaiyā kā qiṣṣah occurring in Banī (1877), the first such translations into English. Framed within the historical and cultural context, the literary work of Wājid ‘Alī Shāh is analyzed here, considering a diversity of influences in comparison to several contemporary plays. Wājid ‘Alī Shāh’s dance-dramas are contrasted with the contemporary Indar sabhā, a commercial play by the Muslim poet Amānat. Specifically, this juxtaposition reveals the common folk song and courtesan performance borrowings of the court-based dance-dramas and the Indar sabhā. But the difference rests on the heavier influence of Urdu poetry and Persian narrative of the Indar sabhā on the one hand and the Krishnaite idiom of the qiṣṣah on the other. Further insight is obtained by a subsequent comparison with a Braj devotional play by Lalit Kiśorī, also a contemporary playwright. A translation and edition of the unpublished play by Lalit Kiśorī is provided along with a contrastive examination with the qiṣṣah. The previous inspection exposes the same theme of the stolen flute of Krishna in the court and the temple setting which signals the influence of Braj devotional theater in the work of Wājid ‘Alī Shāh. Moreover, the relation between the court and the temple calls for an integrated narrative of Hindi and Urdu theater, instead of a treatment of Hindi and Urdu literary cultures as two separate exclusive categories. Finally, the theme of the stolen flute is traced in Vaishnava literature in Sanskrit and Braj over the centuries to reinforce Wājid ‘Alī Shāh’s adaptation of a literary tradition. This dissertation concludes that cultural productions at the court were not fixed according to a religious identity or particular language, but rather constitute an example of a Hindu-Muslim encounter.