The History, Art and Architecture of the Mughal Empire

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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




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.

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.

Justifying Defeat: A Rajput Perspective on the Age of Akbar

The Battle Preceding the Capture of the Fort at Bundi, Rajasthan (1577). From the Akbarnama, c.1590-95. V&A Museum

Another article of interest in the latest issue of  the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, this one by Cynthia Talbot:

This article explores a darker side of cultural dialogue—the experience of subjugation to a cultural “other”—through a case study of Rao Surjan of Bundi, a Rajput warrior who was defeated by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1569. Surjan’s surrender of Ranthambhor fort was celebrated in Mughal chronicles such as the Akbarnama but condemned in Nainsi’s Khyat and other Rajput texts. Drawing primarily on Surjanacarita, a Sanskrit poem from about 1590, this article examines the literary strategies that were employed to justify Surjan’s submission to Akbar and his subsequent career as a Mughal mansabdar (imperial rank-holder).

The Majālis-i Jahāngīrī (1608-11): Dialogue and Asiatic Otherness at the Mughal Court

Jahangir Entertains Shah Abbas from the St. Petersburg Album ca. 1620; borders 1746-47

A new article by  Corinne Lefèvre in the latest issue of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient:

Building on the literary traditions of munāẓara (disputation) and malfūẓāt (teachings of a Sufi master), the Majālis-i Jahāngīrī (Assemblies of Jahāngīr) constitute a fundamentally dialogical work, in form as well as function. An account of the night-time sessions presided over by Emperor Jahāngīr from 1608 to 1611, this source highlights the Mughals’ will to assert their power on a Eurasian scale and the central role played by Iran, Central Asia, and Hindustan in the elaboration of imperial ideology and identity. It thus opens a new window into the mental representations and hierarchies that underlay the much celebrated Mughal cosmopolitanism.

Dialogism and Territoriality in a Mughal History of the Islamic Millennium


Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak presenting the Akbarnama to Akbar

Ali Anooshahr has published an article entitled Dialogism and Territoriality in a Mughal History of the Islamic Millennium  in tha latests issue of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient.

The sixteenth century witnessed the flowering of European literature that claimed to describe the encounter between Western travelers and the indigenous population of the rest of the world. Similarly, some Persianate writings of the same period present a dialogical encounter, not so much with the European other, but with rival Muslim empires. One of the writers in this genre was Jaʿfar Beg Qazvīnī, sole author of the third part of the Taʾrikh-i alfī (Millennial History), supervised by the Mughal emperor Akbar. In his book, Jaʿfar Beg drew on an unprecedented store of sources from rival courts and treated the Ottomans, Mughals, and Safavids as essentially equal political and cultural units following identical historical trajectories. He also developed one of the earliest Mughal expressions of “Hindustan” encompassing South Asia in its entirety. While most analyses of this outstanding example of dialogical historiography have downplayed its value because of its paucity of new information, the present article will seek instead to demonstrate its significance for its unusual worldview.

Strategy and imagination in a Mughal Sufi story of creation


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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