Bihishtābād

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

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