Abdul Halim, M. A., Ph. D.

Professor and Head of the Department of History

University of Dacca



It is a tragedy of history that Husain Shah, the musician-king of Jawnpur, was, like Baz Bahadur the king of Malwa, Bahadur Shah king of Gujrat, and Wajid Ali Shah Nawab of Awadh, the last king of the Sharqi dynasty, Being placed on the throne of Jawnpur by Bibi Raji, his mother, in 1458 A, D., he inherited from his father, Sultan Mahmud Shah Sharqi, an extensive kingdom whose frontiers stretched from the independent kingdom of Bengal in the east to almost the gates of Agra in the west, from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the independent kingdom of Malwa, including Baghelkhand in the south, He had a strong army, and subservient nobles. Bahlul Lodi, the ruler of Delhi and Agra, was regarded by him as his rival because he was in possession of terri­tories rightfully belonging to his wife who was a daughter of Sultan Alauddin Alam Shah, the last of the Sayyid dynasty. Being brave, ambitious and reckless to a degree, he launched upon a career of conquest and aggrandisement, which went in his favour till about 1478.         He reduced the king of Orissa to submission; conquered the strong fort of Gwalior and made its king Kirat Sing, feudatory, and extended his power over Bayana and Miwat whose chiefs accepted his vassalage, Etawah, a strategic town on the bank of the Jumna which was a bone of contention between the Sharqis and the Lodis, was conquered by him, and on the death of Alauddin Alam Shah in Badayun, he usurped his territories on behalf of his ambitious wife Malka Jahan. He made a desperate bid for the conquest of Delhi city, but suffered a bad defeat in the hands of Bahlul Lodi who attacked the Sharqi forces after the conclusion of a truce in 1479. Husain Shah lost his camp and baggage, thousands of his troops who got drowned in the waters of the Jumna, and left behind his harem, and 40 nobles all of whom were taken captive, He again rallied his troops and being instigated by his strong-willed wife, who was released to join her husband by Bahlul Lodi, Husain Shah fought near Kanauj next year to be defeated again. He quitted Jawnpur on the approach of the victorious Lodi army in 1483 and retreated to the eastern part of his once extensive dominion, and ruled for the next eleven years 1483-1495 over an area comprising southern Bihar and Tirhoot, without being disturbed by Bahlul Lodi, who had enough occupation in the western part of his own kingdom. Husain Shah was defeated by Sultan Sikandar Lodi, son and successor of Sultan Bahlul Lodi in the desperate battle fought near Banaras in 1494 A.D. He sought refuge with Alauddin Husain Shah, king of Bengal, who generously assigned to him a portion of his kingdom in eastern Bihar with Kuhlgaon or Colgong as the seat of his government, for life, It is narrated by some historians that Nasrat Shah, son and successor of Alauddin Husain Shah, married his daughter to prince Jalaluddin, son of Husain Shah Sharqi. Husain Shah, according to Firishta, died in Gaur, and it seems that his remains were carried off to Jawnpur by his son during the reign of Babar to be buried in the family cemetery of the Sharqi rulers within the compound of the Jami mosque at Jawnpur.


Husain Shah was not only a matchless musician, but also a great inventor. He has been ranked according to the author of the Mirat-i-Aftab-numa as a gandharv a title which is next to that of the Nayak. A gandharv is an expert musician on the practical side both of the past and of his own times, and Baz Bahadur and Tansen belonged to this category. He was, to our knowledge, the greatest exponent of the Khiyal or Islamic type of music, so much so that in many books of music he has been identified as the founder of Khiyal. Khiyal as a system of music is very much different from Dhrupad, the typical Hindu system. Faizee Rahman, the author of Indian Music, defines Dhrupad as that style of singing which comprises dwelling upon each note with masterful control for some moments. It is manly and heavy way of singing and is the most difficult of all methods. “In Khayal” according to the same author, “each note merges into the other in quick succession wave after wave and delicious ethereal melodies float in the air”.


These definitions require elucidation. Dhrupad is derived from Dhruv, that is pole star and consequently stands for a static, immutable, unchangeable and conventional system of Indian music. Its purpose is devotional and can be expressed in different attitudes or rasas. Khiyal is extem­pore music of the ornate type, which is not hidebound by convention, it is fleeting as the march of time and incapable of producing a heavy effect on hearers. The aim of Khiyal singing is production of beauty in myriads of new setting through melodious tans. Khiyal is secular as Dhrupad is devotional music. The Sharqi kings were patrons of lear­ning, and surrounded themselves with poets, legists, men of letters and musicians to such an extent that from the time of Ibrahim Shah Sharqi (1401-1440 A.D.) Jawnpur had the reputation of being the Shiraz of India. This was the age when music was patronised by Sultan Zainul Abedin of Kashmir, Kirat Sing, father of the famous Raja Man of Gwalior. In the Asiatic Society of Bengal library in Calcutta, there is a manuscript of a book on music entitled Sangit Shiromani, which was compiled by a band of scholars and musicians patronized by a Sharqi noble of Kara, near Allaliabad. The book was dedicated to Sultan Ibrahim Shah Sharqi in 1428 on whose praise several pages are devoted. Husain Shah was thus born on the steps of a throne with a splendid bias for music.


Husain Shah was an inventor who enriched Indian music by introducing new ragas. We have it on the authority of Nishat Ara a treatise on music which exists in the Habibgunj Library, Aligarh district, of the late lamented Nawab Sadryar-jung Habibur Rahman Khan Sherwani, that he in­vented an air named Junglah, which may be presumed to be a corruption of the Perso-Arab air of the name of Zangulah. It appears to have been a mixed raga, a product of the indigenous and Perso-Arab scales. It became very popular in his time in Jawnpur. Shah Nawaz Khan, the author of the Mirat-i-Aftab-numa wrote that he “was a matchless expert of the art of music, and his reputation had spread in his lifetime in all four corners of India.  He did not consider any body his equal”. The Raginis invented by him included 14 shyams, like Gaud Shyam, Malhar Shyam, Bhupal-Shyam, four out of the present 14 Todis, one of which is still known as Husaini Todi; and one Asawari now known as Jawnpuri. Some writers of music attribute to him the invention of Husaini Kanra. According to others Jawnpuri-Asawari which was his invention, is a separate Raga from Jawnpuri, and a mixture of Asawari, Jawnpuri and Todi.


He was a composer like the musicians of his time. Several songs are attributed to him in the Encyclopaedia of Indian Music entitled Sangita-Raga-Kalpadruma and the editor (N. N. Vasu) has identified them as Husain Shah’s composition in the introductory part of Vol. III. The composer calls himself as Shah Husain Faqir. I do not rule out the possibility that Husain Shah, out of humility, might call himself Faqir, or the mendicant, after being reduced to adversity. But at least two of the songs are in Punjabi-Hindi, the Punjabi tincture predominating. And the one which is quoted below is in a much too polished style and diction and quite distinct from the archaic Hindi of the Purbi dialect in which medium Husain Shah may be supposed to have composed. The quotation is from Vol. III of the Encyclopaedia of Indian music in Rag Sarparda Jat tal.


Main piya ke manniani ( manwani) na mani

Piya mere manmani rey

Lok (Log) Kahey to to babri

Apahi lok burani ( bulani ? bhulani ?) rey

Piya mere main Piya ke Sajani

Pike hath bikani rey

Sha Husain batabay jangal jayey

Samani[i]  rey


To Husain Shah belongs the credit of developing the Khiyal school of music and making it popular and to enable it play a decisive role to break the monopoly of Dhrupad during the reign of the later Mughal rulers.

[i] a poem of seven letters to a verse. cf. Ramchandra Verma: Sankshipta Hindi Shabdasagar, p. 947.



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