Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries
The Arts of India, 1556-1658
June 23 - July 1, 2008
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Unit of Study:            Madrigals (Advanced Choir), concurrently with Drama 1 and Art 1

Lesson Title:              Examining the Story of Majnun Layla

Discipline:                  Language Arts, Visual Art, and Vocal Music

Grade Level:              9th – 12th Grades

Author:                      Amy T. Hairston

County:                      Howard County, MD

Time Period:              Three class periods (150 minutes)


During this lesson, students will interpret paintings representing the story of Majnun Layla. The paintings are from India around the time of the Mughal Empire (1556-1668), when the majority of imperial paintings were kept in Muraqqa’s. Through a study of the paintings, students will interpret their take on the story, describe what they see, and compare the story to unrequited love songs they have sung or listened to.


The Mughal Empire in India lasted from 1556-1668, around the period known as the Renaissance in Europe. During this time, painters, calligraphers and poets were commissioned by the royal courts to create small works of art that would be placed into Muraqqa’s. A Muraqqa’ (which means “patchwork”) was like the scrapbook of today, and documented many things: the lives (and sometimes wishes) of the emperors, folk stories and tales, poetry, and religious writings. Each page was patched together with the painting or poem, several decorated borders, and a larger page border that was sometimes a story within itself. The Muraqqa’s provide a historical record of a culture and time that is more descriptive than a regular history book.

The story of Majnun Layla is about the tragic love of Qays and Layla in India in the 7th Century BC. It was adapted based on poems by Qays himself, and rewritten by poets such as Nizami and Amir Khusraw. The story was passed down through retelling and representation in paintings. It parallels similar art-inspiring stories such as Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde.


Majnun Layla paintings (5)

Recording of Layla (Eric Clapton)


  1. Description of Paintings
  2. Poetry BCR
  3. Reflection


Muraqqa’- Imperial Mughal Albums (courtesy of the Sackler Gallery of Art)

Notes from Hearts Afire- a lecture by Lourdes Alvarez (June 2008)

VSC website:

MD Fine Arts Instructional Site:

MENC Site:

Majnun Layla Sites: (includes link to translation)

Standards and Learner Outcomes:


  • The student will demonstrate an understanding of music as an essential aspect of history and human experience.
  • The student will demonstrate an understanding of visual art as an essential aspect of history and human experience.
  • The student will demonstrate the ability to make aesthetic judgments.
  • The student will demonstrate the ability to compose in a variety of modes by developing content, employing specific forms, and selecting language appropriate for a particular audience and purpose.

National Standards for Music Education

  • Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
  • Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

Objectives and Skills:

The student will be able to:

Demonstrate knowledge of the diversity of musical expression and the creative processes from which these endeavors emerge.
Determine how works of art provide social commentary, document historical events, and reflect the values and beliefs of the society in which they are created.
Use their knowledge of European Renaissance musical text to bridge a connection to Mughal paintings through writing and discussion.

Keywords and People:

Mughal Empire


Listening Activity- play Layla (Eric Clapton) as students enter the classroom.


Day 1- Introduction to the paintings and the story

Teacher-Directed (5 min)

Activator- Ask students to brainstorm places arenas where love stories are represented.  Write their results on the board.
Activity- Divide the class into 5 groups. Give each group a Majnun Layla painting and a worksheet (see Summer Worksheets).

Guided Practice (10 min)

Each group discusses their painting and fills out the See-Think-Wonder chart. In story-order, each group shares their findings. If needed, help students focus on specific details within the paintings, especially how Qays and/or Layla are represented.

Teacher-Directed (30 min)

Read the translation of Majnun Layla, as well as the background (above). Students discuss the following questions:

  1. Have you heard a similar story before?
  2. What characters from plays, operas or stories could you compare to Qays and Layla?
  3. Do you know of any real people who have been through a similar ordeal?
  4. Have you heard songs that are about a similar love story?

Closing- give students a preview of the following class.

Extended activity- Ask students to research Qays, Nizami, Amir Khusraw on the internet.

Day 2- The story and poetry in depth

Teacher Directed (5 min)

Activator- Review the following from previous class- characteristics of the painting, the story of Majnun Layla, and the historical context.

Guided Practice (25 min)

Students will break into the same groups from the previous class. Each group reads Qays’ poetry and the other examples on the worksheet. They will discuss the following questions on their own:

  1. Do you think his poetry relates to the story?
  2. What similarities do you see between the poetry and that of Renaissance choral music text you have sung? Any specific examples? **(This should directly relate to the repertoire students are currently singing)
  3. What similarities do you see between the poetry and that of current music?

Independent Practice (15 min)

Students will write a BCR answering the following question: How can love be both wonderful and painful?

Teacher Directed (5 min)

Closing- Ask students to discuss what stands out for them from the last two class periods (ex- the comparison between Majnun/Layla and Romeo and Juliet, the color in the paintings).

Day 3- Assessment

Teacher Directed (15 min)

Activator- Overview of activities of each class; review of background.
Listening Activity- Layla (Eric Clapton)

Guided Practice (30 min)

Assessment- Each class presents what they discussed.

Choir- interpretation of paintings, how it relates back to music in
their repertoire.
Drama- presentation of tableau.
Art 1- presentation of Muraqqa’-style paintings.

Closing- Students will answer the following questions on a reflection sheet:

  1. What do you feel you gained from this experience?
  2. What would you like to know more about?
  3. Did this experience change your perspective or art/music in any way?

Overview of Drama Lesson
Students will examine and discuss the paintings as well. They will then choose one painting as a class and create a whole-class tableau.

Overview of Art Lesson
Students will examine and discuss the paintings in the context of their current work in class, using appropriate visual art vocabulary. They will then create small works in the style of Muraqqa’ paintings, that will later be placed into a book.

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Sponsored by
the Center for Renaissance & Baroque Studies
and the Maryland State Department of Education