The Incomparable Festival by Mir Yar Ali Khan ‘Jan Sahib’

About the book

 The Incomparable Festival (Musaddas Tahniyat-e-Jashn-e-Benazir) by Mir Yar Ali (whose pen name was Jan Sahib) is a little known but sumptuous masterpiece of Indo-Islamic literary culture, presented here for the first time in English translation. The long poem, written in rhyming sestet stanzas, is about the royal festival popularly called jashn-e-benazir(the incomparable festival), inaugurated in 1866 by the Nawab Kalb-e-Ali Khan (r. 1865-87) with the aim of promoting art, culture and trade in his kingdom at Rampur in northern India. The task of commemorating the sights and wonders of the festival was given to the hugely popular writer of rekhti verse, the tart and playful sub-genre of the ghazal, reflecting popular women’s speech, of which Jan Sahib is one of the last practitioners.

Structured as an ode to the nawab, the poem is a world-album depicting various classes on the cusp of social upheaval. They include the elite, distinguished artists and commoners, brought together at the festivities, blurring the distinction between poetry, history and biography, and between poetic convention and social description. The book is a veritable archive of the legendary khayal singers, percussionists, and instrumentalists, courtesans, boy-dancers, poets, storytellers (dastango) and reciters of elegies (marsiyago). But, above all, the poem gives voice to the ‘lowest’ denizens of the marketplace by bringing to light their culinary tastes, artisanal products, religious rituals and beliefs, and savoury idioms, thereby focusing on identities of caste and gender in early modern society.

This Penguin Classics edition will be of interest not just to the Urdu and Hindi literary historian, but to specialists and readers interested in the histories of music, dance, and the performative arts, as well as scholars of gender and sexuality in South Asia. Lovers of Urdu poetry will find in it a forgotten masterpiece.

About the author

 Mir Yar Ali “Jan Sahib” (1818-1886), the “glory of rekhti”, was an Urdu poet from Lucknow. After 1857, he settled in Rampur where he wrote the Musaddas Tahniyat-e-Jashn-e-Benazir. He also published a diwan of poems during his lifetime.

About The Volume Editor

 Razak Khan is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen. He has edited special issues of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (2015) and Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2020). His book Minority Pasts: Locality, Emotions and Belonging in Rampur is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

About The Translator

 Shad Naved teaches Comparative Literature and Translation Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. He recently translated The Hindi Canon: Intellectuals, Processes, Criticism for Tulika Books (2019). He runs a poetry blog, Poetry in the Indo-Islamic Millenium ( and is completing a book on literary queerness in the ghazal.

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