Northwestern Events Calendar


Faithful to the Salt: Mayalee Dancing Girl vs. the East India Company: A talk by Katherine Schofield (King's College, London)

When: Tuesday, March 26, 2024
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM CT

Where: University Hall, 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Cindy Pingry   (847) 467-1933

Group: South Asia Research Forum

Category: Academic


Please join the South Asia Research Forum for a talk given by Katherine Schofield, Department of Music (King's College, London).  This event is co-sponsored by The Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs.


In 1818, the East India Company signed a treaty with the princely states of Jaipur and Jodhpur, offering British political and military protection in exchange for heavy cash tribute. By the early 1830s, both states were swimming in debt; so between 1835 and 1842 the Company took direct control over the revenue of the salt lake at Sambhar, still one of India’s largest commercial sources of salt. The Sambhar Salt Lake affair is a tiny footnote in the massive catalogue of pressures the British East India Company exerted on India in the run-up to the 1857 Rebellion. But it left behind a set of financial accounts in the East India Company records that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state. 

A particular musician stands forth from these archival accounts as exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. As well as being paid a monthly cash stipend, she received 25 maunds of salt annually. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive financial records reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. Was she merely protecting a nice little sideline selling salt? Or did the more lofty ideal of “faithfulness to the salt” (namak-halali) underpin her resistance? 

Mayalee's insistence on being paid in salt begins to unravel the extraordinary stories the fleeting appearance of performers in the official archives of the East India Company have to tell about relations between the British and the princely states in the 1830s and 40s, about the Rajput notions of prosperity and sovereignty invested in courtesans and in salt, and about the existence of a salt commons at Sambhar before the ill-informed interference of the Company there.

About the speaker:

Katherine Schofield is Head of the Department of Music at King’s College London. A historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the paracolonial Indian Ocean, she has been Principal Investigator of a European Research Council Starting Grant (2011–16) and a British Academy Mid Career Fellow (2018), and is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Historical Society. Working largely with Persian, Urdu, and visual sources for elite musical culture in North India and the Deccan c.1570–1860, Katherine’s research interests lie in South Asian music, visual art, and cinema; the history of Mughal India (1526–1858); Islam and Sufism; empire and the paracolonial; and the intersecting histories of the emotions, the senses, aesthetics, ethics, and the supernatural. She is the editor with Francesca Orsini of Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature, and Performance in North India (Open Book, 2015), and with Imke Rajamani and Margrit Pernau Monsoon Feelings: a History of Emotions in the Rain (Niyogi, 2018). Her most recent book is Music and Musicians in Late Mughal India: Histories of the Ephemeral, 1748–1858 (CUP, 2023).


Add to Calendar

Add Event To My Group:

Please sign-in