The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

Archive for Publications

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.

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.

Author of one’s fate: Fatalism and agency in Indo-Persian histories

Ali Anooshahr’s new article in the latest issue of Indian Economic and Social History Review.

A shift of worldviews can be observed in the historical writings of three Indo-Persian authors ‘Abd al-Malik ‘Isami, Rizq Allah Mushtaqi and Nizam al-Din Ahmad. Whereas ‘Isami viewed history as the unfolding of events predetermined by divine fate; Nizam al-Din considered human agency to be the main mover of events. Mushtaqi displayed ambivalence between the two. His text can thus be read as the expression of a worldview under disintegration and re-composition in the transition from the Sultanate to the Mughal period. This change of attitude bears similarities to other ‘Early Modern Features’ of the late sixteenth century.

Universal Empire — A Comparative Approach to Imperial Culture and Representation in Eurasian History


Cambridge, 2012

Apologies for a repetition in illustrations, but there is another new publication that has the honour of bearing Jahangir’s Dream  on its cover. This is the recently published (August 2012) Universal Empire — A Comparative Approach to Imperial Culture and Representation in Eurasian History, edited by Peter Fibiger Bang and Dariusz Kolodziejczyk, with contributions from the editors themselves as well as Gojko Barjamovic, Rolf Michael Schneider, Garth Fowden, Judith Herrin, Dimiter Angelov, Ebba Koch, Velcheru Narayana Rao, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Evelyn S. Rawski, Justyna Olko, Peter Haldén, John A. Hall.

A preview from iPublishCentral is available here. You can buy the book, apparently only hardback for now, here.

The claim by certain rulers to universal empire has a long history stretching as far back as the Assyrian and Achaemenid Empires. This book traces its various manifestations in classical antiquity, the Islamic world, Asia and Central America as well as considering seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European discussions of international order. As such it is an exercise in comparative world history combining a multiplicity of approaches, from ancient history, to literary and philosophical studies, to the history of art and international relations and historical sociology. The notion of universal, imperial rule is presented as an elusive and much coveted prize among monarchs in history, around which developed forms of kingship and political culture. Different facets of the phenomenon are explored under three, broadly conceived, headings: symbolism, ceremony and diplomatic relations; universal or cosmopolitan literary high-cultures; and, finally, the inclination to present universal imperial rule as an expression of cosmic order.

The Symbolic Possession of the World: European Cartography in Mughal Allegory and History Painting

Jahangir’s Dream (around 1620) by Abul Hassan showing Abbas I and Jahangir standing on a globe.

Ebba Koch’s new article on European cartography in Mughal painting in the latest issue of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient:

From their earliest contacts with Europeans, the Mughals sought to obtain maps, atlases, and globes. They were, however, concerned with cartography less as a scientific tool than as a means to convey messages of status and power. Both cartographically correct and cartographically manipulated globes feature prominently in the allegories of Emperor Jahāngīr. Emperor Shāh Jahān added another dimension: European cartographical devices were introduced into history painting, to structure the imperial landscape and to document the emperor’s conquests.

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