Bihishtābād

The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

Strategy and imagination in a Mughal Sufi story of creation

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Mughal Emperor Akbar shows deference to Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti. Bikaner, circa late 18th – early 19th century. Opaque watercolour and gold on wasli. 12.5 x 20.5cm

New article by Muzaffar Alam in the Indian Economic and Social History Review:

This article examines a seventeenth-century text that attempts to reconcile Hindu and Muslim accounts of human genesis and cosmogony. The text, Mir’āt al-Makhlūqāt (‘Mirror of Creation’), written by a noted Mughal Sufi author Shaikh ‘Abd al-Rahman Chishti, purportedly a translation of a Sanskrit text, adopts rhetorical strategies and mythological elements of the Purāna tradition in order to argue that evidence of the Muslim prophets was available in ancient Hindu scriptures. Chishti thus accepts the reality of ancient Hindu gods and sages and notes the truth in their message. In doing so Chishti adopts elements of an older argument within the Islamic tradition that posits thousands of cycles of creation and multiple instances of Adam, the father of humans. He argues however that the Hindu gods and sages belonged to a different order of creation and time, and were not in fact human. The text bears some generic resemblance to Bhavishyottarapurāna materials. Chishti combines aspects of polemics with a deft use of politics. He addresses, on the one hand, Hindu intellectuals who claimed the prestige of an older religion, while he also engages, on the other hand, with Muslim theologians and Sufis like the Naqshbandi Mujaddidis who for their part refrained from engaging with Hindu traditions at all.

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