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    • A Mughal Miraj: Imagining The Prophet in the Newark Khamsa Manuscript

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  • The Mughal Empire in contemporary India attempted to legitimize claim to ancestral ties to the Persian Timurid Empire in part by drawing on the techniques of Persian illustrators. Manuscripts created under the Mughals reflect a contradictory interest in continuity with the Timurids as well as a push to form an artistic tradition distinct from the Safavid Persians, who ruled Persia after the Timurids. The Newark Museum holds in its collection a Mughal manuscript created around the 18th or 19th century that illuminates Nizami’s Khamsa. Although the Khamsa centers on romances, the first of its five books sets a precedent for religious undertones with the inclusion of verses of worship and a description of the ascension of the Prophet, a scene called the Miraj. Here, the illustration of the Miraj models the Mughal negotiation of their relationship with Persia and with the majority Hindu population in India.

     

    I use history of the Mughal empire and their relations with Persia and the Indigenous Indian population to situate this manuscript in its geopolitical context. I then compare visual qualities of the Newark Khamsa against Safavid and Timurid manuscripts, including arrangement of text on the page, illumination style, and choice of content. I go on to consider the treatment of religious iconography in the Newark Khamsa, where the Prophet is depicted as a shower of gold. I conclude that the Newark Khamsa not only makes visible the Mughal negotiations of their own legitimacy through connections to Persia, but also reflects an interest in legitimizing themselves to the majority Hindu population of India. With its religious undertones in the predominantly romance-based text, this manuscript may have acted as a subtle conversion technique. In this, the Newark Khamsa models the complexities of the Mughals empire and the entanglement of cultural ties in Mughal India.

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