Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Objects of Devotion: Images of Muslim Saints and Their Patronage in India

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Wilson C, Mezzanine Level

In 1640 CE two of the most powerful and influential children of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Princess Jahanara Begum and the heir apparent Prince Dara Shikoh, were initiated into a Sufi order of mystical Islam. Their entry into Sufism coincides with the emergence of a uniquely Indo-Islamic genre in miniature painting; the representation of Muslim saints as objects of devotion. The images of saints patronized by the siblings set an iconographic precedent that influenced the genre for the next two centuries. In this paper I will use three primary textual sources to highlight different functions that the saints’ portraits assumed according to shifting intentions of patrons. The first source comes from Jahanara Begum’s autobiography in which she mentions the commissioning of portraits of her spiritual guide Mullah Shah for the explicit function of devotional viewing during certain prescribed Sufi rites. The other two references come from album prefaces that outline slightly different intentionalities. The first album is from Kashmir (1699-1701 CE), and was probably made for a local patron who was part of a Sufi order. The second album, containing 96 portraits of influential Sufi saints, was commissioned by the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan (1796 CE) at a time when his defeat was becoming inevitable at the hands of the British East India Company. The aim of this paper is to introduce a genre of Indian painting that has been largely neglected in art historical discourse, and to show its importance in 17th and 18th century Muslim South Asia.

Murad K. Mumtaz

University of Virginia, Virginia

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