The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

Religious Disputations and Imperial Ideology: The Purpose and Location of Akbar’s Ibadatkhana

Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri. Illustration to the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605

I only recently came across this interesting article by Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi published in Studies in History (2008).

The concept of religious debate is encountered even in the pre-Mughal period in India: we hear of special assemblies (mahzar) that held religious discussions but were confined to controversialthemes within predominantly the Hanafi school of thought. But such debates were the instrumentsof the orthodoxy to consolidate their sway over the dissenters. The evidence of these religiousassemblies (majlis) under the reign of Akbar is as early as 1570. However, from the testimonies of a critique of Akbar (Badauni), a theologian (Shaikh Nurul Haq) and a known sycophant and courtier (Abul Fazl), it appears that the constitution of the Ibadatkhana and the discussions being held therein were not an extension of the type of religiousdebates that were held or organized before. It is the argument of this essay that the Ibadatkhanawas an instrument of ‘tolerance’ for the imposition of ‘Reason’. Throughout his reign there was astress on reason (‘aql), which was to be given precedence over traditionalism (taqlid).This article, on the basis of contemporary sources, further goes on to fix the location of the Ibadatkhana at Fathpur Sikri. The author proposes that the so-called daftarkhana was in fact the place where this important edifice was located




From the Ruins of Empire

Students surround Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, 1929

Mark Mazower’s FT review of Pankaj Mishra’s new book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia. Ben Shephard’s in the Observer, here.

Les arts de l’Islam au Musée du Louvre


Slightly overdue, but nonetheless: a review of the new Islamic Galleries at the Louvre, the museum’s greatest architectural work since the Grand Louvre.

Atlas historique de l’Inde

3000 years of Indian history by Arundhati Virmani with a preface from Sanjay Subrahmanyam.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire

Dynastic group portrait of Emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar and Jahangir with the poet Sa’di on the left and an attendant on the right. Hashim, c. 1620. Johnson Album 64,38 © The British Library Board

An exhibit of the British Library’s Mughal collection is on view until 2 April 2013. For an introduction see Malini Roy’s article in the Telegraph. See also the accompanying book by J.P. Losty and Malini Roy including various previously unpublished works:

From the colophon:

This book showcases the British Library’s extensive collection of illustrated manuscripts and paintings that were commissioned by Mughal emperors and other officials and depict the splendour and vibrant colour of Mughal life. The exquisitely decorated works span four centuries, from the foundation of the Mughal dynasty by Babur in the sixteenth century, through the heights of the empire and the ‘Great’ Mughal emperors of the seventeenth century, into the decline and eventual collapse in the nineteenth century.

The lavish artworks cover a variety of subject matter, from scenes of courtly life including lively hunting parties and formal portraits of emperors to illustrations of works of literature which manage to convey complex storylines in a single image, and dramatic panoramas of Indian landscapes. The development of a Mughal style of art can be traced through the illustrations and paintings, as can the influence of European styles, originally as imported exotica.

Many of these works have never before been published, and combined here with the engaging narrative of two subject experts who place each image within its historical and art historical context they serve to provide us with a beautiful and illuminating view of the art and culture of Mughal India.

Worlds within Worlds

Young Akbar Recognizes His Mother. From an Akbarnama (Book of Akbar)
Attributed to Madhava (act. 1582–ca. 1624)
India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1596–1600
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper

A lovely website dedicated to the exhibit of the Smithsonian’s Mughal painting collection earlier this year.

After he was overthrown and ousted from Delhi in 1540, Emperor Humayun and his family sought refuge in Iran. His son Akbar was born on the long journey. The baby, left in the care of attendants for safety, rejoined his parents only three years later. Humayun, curious whether Akbar would recognize his mother, arranged a test for the child. Although she entered the court without fanfare, Akbar immediately ran into his mother’s arms. This remarkable act of recognition is included in the Akbarnama as early evidence of the emperor’s greatness.


The ‘Underground Mogor’: Portuguese Texts On Timurid India

Portrait of a European, ca. 1590. V&A Museum.

Jorge Flores will give a lecture on lesser known Portuguese texts on the Mughals on 15 November at the Center for Studies in Asian Cultures and Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, in Vienna.

From the last decades of the 16th century onwards, the Mughal Empire became an object of observation of different Europeans who lived or traveled in South Asia. Independent travelers, VOC and EIC officials, Jesuit missionaries and Estado da Índia agents, all wrote extensively about Timurid India. Some of these texts were printed and widely known back in Europe, thus molding the Western image(s) of the empire founded by Babur in 1526. Names like Thomas Roe, Edward Terry, Francisco Pelsaert, François de La Boullaye-Le-Gouz or François Bernier are cases in point and immediately come to mind. The present lecture aims to considering less known texts, drawings and their authors, and to discussing their conditions of production and circulation. A set of interesting materials, often in manuscript form and mostly penned by Portuguese authors, which constitute the basis of the “Underground Mogor“.

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