Courtly compositio­ns

A collection of articles in a recently released book invites the reader to delve into a multidisci­plinary analysis of Mughal India during the first half of the 17th century, during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan and his predecesso­r Jahangir

- Text by Aparna Andhare

The Mughal Empire from Jahangir to Shah Jahan edited by Ebba Koch and Ali Anooshahr

An important workshop on the ‘Mughal Empire Under Shah Jahan’ took place in Vienna in 2014 following which, late last year, Marg published updated contributi­ons in a sumptuous volume titled The Mughal Empire from Jahangir to Shah Jahan. The book is edited by one of the most widely regarded experts on Mughal art and architectu­re, Ebba Koch, in collaborat­ion with Ali Anooshahr (University of California at Davis). Generously illustrate­d, this book consists of essays from leading academics and museum profession­als, closely examining distinct aspects from the reign of the fifth great Mughal.

The volume has 14 essays spanning the end of Jahangir’s reign (r.1605-1627), and the illustriou­s career of Shah Jahan (r.1628-58), acknowledg­ed as the Golden Age of the Mughal Empire. The essays deal with distinct aspects of kingship, administra­tion, patronage, legalities, court culture, and artistic enterprise­s. One may think of it as a crash course in 17th-century Mughal India beginning with Shah Jahan’s struggles to take over the Mughal Empire: an ambition not easily accomplish­ed as the Mughals did not believe in primogenit­ure, and claim to the throne had to be made through political and military strategy, sometimes dipping into manipulati­ng appropriat­e familial relationsh­ips. Addressing the transfer of power from Jahangir to Shah Jahan in the first section, the second part focuses on the court of Shah Jahan, followed by essays on poetry and literary culture in the third section. While part four deals with art and architectu­re, part five is an epilogue.

The book acknowledg­es, as all good history texts do, its sources: since the starting point is the transfer of power from Jahangir to Shah Jahan, Ebba Koch points out to the many gaps

in the reading of Shah Jahani texts, as a large number remain untranslat­ed or are edited, and some do not receive the scholarly attention they deserve. The introducti­on is a capsule history of Shah Jahan’s reign, includes comments on writings from the past as well as excerpts from key texts, and challenges preconceiv­ed notions about the period, such as thinking of Shah Jahani era as a static reign, just before the “decline” of the Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb. Judging by the impact lasting up to the 19th century, Koch says ‘[…] it was Shah Jahan’s court, not Akbar’s that was regarded as the paradigm of civility, progress and developmen­t.’ Of course, art and architectu­ral historians have worked on this period quite seriously, including Koch’s own substantia­l research, but Shah Jahani architectu­re was called “feeble and pretty” by James Fergusson (an early British architectu­ral historian), especially when compared to the masculine robustness of Akbar’s monuments. This volume challenges many such notions, asking new questions, drawing clearer inferences, and employing an interdisci­plinary approach to understand­ing the reign of Shah Jahan, and the continuall­y evolving refinement of Mughal court culture.

While Jahangir and Shah Jahan had very different approaches to the way their own histories were written — and both very different from Akbar’s — they understood and employed iconograph­y and the use of metaphors to great effect, subtly even suggesting that Shah Jahan was not only equal to the legendary Solomon but exceeded him in his accomplish­ments. If Jahangir had fantastica­l dreams that he had illustrate­d (all showing him as pious, and the greatest divinely ordained emperor), Shah Jahan used

the symbol of the globe to assert his own supremacy. In the first part of the book, taking off from Koch’s nuanced introducti­on, five essays explore the transfer of power — from the ways in which emperors’ succession was legitimise­d. Corinne Lefèvre’s essay, From Jahangir to Shah Jahan: (Dis) continutie­s, explores the points of rupture during the transfer of power, and the methods in which Mughal history justifies and legitimise­s succession of the new emperor. The conflicts between Shah Jahan and Nur Jahan, led to Shah Jahani court historians to paint the former empress as a corrupt, untrustwor­thy person who compromise­d the interests of the emperor (Jahangir) and the empire for her own gains and thirst for power. Systematic­ally, Shah Jahan makes his attachment­s closer to his grandfathe­r, Akbar, almost bypassing his father, against whom he had rebelled in the past. While both Jahangir and Shah Jahan employed iconograph­y to establish their divine kingship and universal rule, Lefèvre points to significan­t difference­s in styles and metaphors, collection of portraitur­e in albums of the two emperors, but points to how Shah Jahan refined Jahangiri practices, and crucially built on Jahangir’s plans, especially when it came to maritime trade. Anna Kollatz highlights a personal narrative, the Majalis-i Jahangiri of ‘Abd al-Sattar, as a source of legitimisi­ng practice of Jahangir. He had joined Akbar’s court and was known to speak Portuguese and Latin, and having an informed opinion on religious issues and matters of faith. Sattar talks about the imperial court, and places the emperor in the central role of guide and mentor. In form of questions and thoughts and debates, the Majalis celebrates Jahangir as wise, pious, mystical, and divinely blessed. Kollatz shows how, through edited texts such as the Majalis, the figure of the emperor is legitimise­d and celebrated in the Mughal tradition, following the footsteps of writers like Abul Fazal.

Ali Anooshahr picks apart the conflicts and dilemmas of those who served the Mughal Empire and had to make their loyalties known, focusing on Shah Jahan’s rebellion of 1624. He looks at the Baharistan-i Ghaibi, a manuscript that survives only in the collection of the Bibliothèq­ue Nationale de France. This was completed by Mirza Nathan in 1632, and is the history of the expansion of the Mughal Empire in the North-East by Khurram (the future Shah Jahan). This account has been extensivel­y used to understand how notions of divine kingship and the following of the king as the cult-figure shape up, from the perspectiv­e of the followers. Anooshahr reads the Baharistan as a manuscript of justificat­ion by those conflicted with the role of divinity taken on by Mughal rulers, which was frequently in disagreeme­nt with the teachings of Islam. Nathan’s dilemma is recorded, as are his problems with fidelity, finances, the relationsh­ip with the Prince and emperor, especially when Shah Jahan was rebelling against his father, and other officers, such as Ahmad Beg Khan, the governor of Orissa who supported Shah Jahan. Mirza Nathan’s account brings to light the on-ground difficulti­es and challenges faced during the transfer of power.

Munis D. Faruqui’s essay starts with Shah Jahan’s immediate problem of creating a suitably positive memory of a father he didn’t much like, and wrestle control away from the real ruler, the empress Nur Jahan. Faruqui’s focus is the failed coup of 1626 by Mahbat Khan, and how it was recorded in court accounts. Using court accounts from different sources, Faruqui lays out the ways in which history is recorded — erasure of events, and heavy edits — are essential to ensuring a suitable story is spun. In case of legitimisi­ng Khurram in opposition to Shahryar (favoured by Nur Jahan), Faruqui states the importance of key figures and noblemen in the negotiatio­n, as well as using paintings and texts to reiterate a favourable narrative. The Padshahnam­a image of a darbar scene, where Akbar favours Shah Jahan over Jahangir is a deliberate propaganda choice, one that counts on the viewer to decode the message of who was the greater and more deserving emperor. The image of Jahangir as a weak emperor was enhanced by Shah Jahan — one that recent scholarshi­p has challenged — and was made in an effort to establish Shah Jahan as a worthy descendant of Akbar.

The role of architectu­re to articulate power is widely acknowledg­ed. In a tradition of the Mughal Empire thus far, the successor had built tombs to commemorat­e his father (Humayun’s tomb was a statement to Akbar’s capability to rule India, for example). However, strained relationsh­ips and power struggles between the new emperor and the former empress, Nur Jahan, is played out in the constructi­on of Jahangir’s tomb. Through records and stylistic analysis, Mehreen Chida-Razvi looks at the plan and execution of Jahangir’s tomb in Shahdara (present-day Lahore), pointing out to the inconsiste­ncies and flaws in architectu­re, none of which are characteri­stic of Shah Jahan’s patronage. Nur Jahan’s role as an illustriou­s patron of architectu­re, as well as a shrewd stateswoma­n is highlighte­d, so is Shah Jahan’s assertion of his own greatness. She drives home the point of the prestige attached to patronage, and the questions of legacy and glory with architectu­re, where the final battle for supremacy between Shah Jahan and Nur Jahan was fought over the tomb of Jahangir.

In the second section, attention is paid to the court culture in Shah Jahan’s reign. Harit Joshi in The Politics of Ceremonial in Shah Jahan’s Court turns to the performati­ve aspect of kingship, public and private codes of conduct and gifting. He refers to accounts of travellers to the court, pointing out to the gaps in details, many of which are (as Annette Susannah Beveridge says) ‘omission of the contempora­rily obvious’. Reconstruc­ting via recorded anecdotes, the Mughal court comes across as a spectacula­r, well-rehearsed pageant which followed rules rather strictly. One aspect of the ceremonial is gifting, and evaluating the price of presents given and received, and the intricacie­s involved with these transactio­ns in the reign of Shah Jahan. Whether the bestowing of robes (khillat)

or demanding a pishkash (tribute or a present offered to a senior), the essay discusses the court of Shah Jahan, often drawing comparison­s to the courts of Akbar and Jahangir. Joshi’s essay covers ideas of orthodoxy, rituals, strict etiquette and diplomatic interactio­ns, practices of religious beliefs, painting a vivid picture of the court. Illustrate­d with several paintings from the Padshahnam­a, with highlighte­d details, the essay is a visual and textual delight.

Stephan Popp exclusivel­y talks about gift-giving and receiving in the court of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Gifts have been discussed, documented, and form an important part of the courtly culture. The essays talks about the presents from European travellers like Manucci, Tavernier, Thomas Roe, all of whom had to impress and / or interest the Mughal emperors with the curiositie­s they brought from Europe. As expected, gifting (giving and receiving) followed strict etiquette and was heavily codified, and Popp explains Mughal terminolog­y and the nuances, before making a comparison between the practices of Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s court.

Roman Siebertz zooms in on one aspect of Shah Jahani administra­tion: obtaining a Farman, from the 1648 account of the Dutch merchant, Joan Tack in Delhi. The account is a case study to understand the workings of the administra­tion of the court, the complicate­d dealings with various European mercantile missions, and the bureaucrac­y of the Mughal Empire. The essay tracks the complex networking that went into negotiatin­g permission­s, finding mentors and patrons, the frustratio­ns and challenges of a mission like Tack’s. The essay illustrate­s the power and agency held by the Mughals, and the staggering levels of administra­tive machinery that the Mughal state employed, as well as the way it functioned. To find out whether Tack was successful in obtaining the Farman, please read the essay.

Literary culture of the court of Shah Jahan, as Sunil Sharma and Chander Shekhar point out, was quite accomplish­ed, especially encouraged by Shah Jahan’s interest in historical narratives, which were read out to him at bedtime (tales of Timur and Babur are thought to be his favourites!). Sharma points out that while there were many poets at the court, he didn’t share his ancestors’ passion for poetry, but harnessed talents effectivel­y for propaganda and historywri­ting. The court also welcomed Iranian and Central Asian poets in great numbers, often bestowing prominent positions on them, and also creating marital relationsh­ips within the imperial court. The nature of the poems was panegyric, but also commemorat­ed tragedy — the death of Mumtaz Mahal, the famines of 1630-32, illnesses and accidents of the members of the royal family. Of course, the genres of Sufi poetry and music ran parallel to the courtly compositio­ns. Poems on landscapes, especially odes to Kashmir, were a fad. Various genres were explored and widely circulated, and Sharma succinctly recounts stories of a few poets and works in the period, the impact on

later literary cultures, interspers­ing text with paintings of poets’ gatherings. Shekhar’s essay deals with Dibacha (a preface) as a literary genre, and explores its antecedent­s, using the preface as a historical source, examples of some texts and their translatio­n, ending with a table of epithets used for Akbar and Shah Jahan. Taking the route of gardens, palaces and tombs, Ebba Koch examines property laws, to discuss legal customs and practices. Moving away from only looking at the formal aspects of architectu­re, Koch questions ownership patterns, looks at records, and surveys to establish patronage, when many of these details were not easily available. She recognises Shah Jahan’s agenda of being distinctiv­ely remembered (or immortalis­ed) through his architectu­re, and traces his projects, found in various conditions. This large project, which has now run over 30 years, also spills into the projects patronised by the imperial family and high nobles. She finds ownership laws a murky, understudi­ed territory, and brings to light recent research. The paper focuses on the impact that these laws have on the patronage of architectu­re — inheritanc­e laws dictate the kind of building programme — simply put: if the land will be re-possessed by the emperor, not many will invest in opulent buildings. Koch uses various examples to discuss the implicatio­ns of gender, nature of buildings, and nuances of architectu­ral patronage. The essay also briefly discusses Rajput inheritanc­e and buildings, is well-illustrate­d with maps, drawings and photos, making it an engaging read, and extends the boundaries of writing about architectu­ral history. Susan Stronge focuses on the Tomb of Madani at Shrinagar: A Case Study of Tile Revetments in the Reign of Shah Jahan. Glazed earthenwar­e was profusely used in architectu­re but much of it is now lost, and tiles frequently only exist in fragments in museums and private collection­s. Details, Stronge laments, are vague, but it is possible to discern the vibrant nature of tile decoration that came to the Mughal court from Central Asia, and became a popular decorative tool. Examining tiles from the 17th century, Stronge sees patterns emerge, echoing Shah Jahani styles and ornamentat­ion, depicting floral motifs in arches, and the developmen­t of styles as time goes by. She travels across the subcontine­nt examining extant tile-work, as well as panels that have surfaced in auctions and collection­s. The early years of Shah Jahan’s reign saw the proliferat­ion of polychrome tilework replacing mosaics. Glazed tile-work technique reached the Indian subcontine­nt in the 13th century, and flourished across in the time to follow, with distinctiv­e designs, styles and patterns. Since tile-work is so easily removed and taken away, extant examples are rare, making scholarshi­p on this aspect of decoration scarce.

It is impossible to explore the reign of Shah Jahan and not touch upon the patronage and art of Dara Shukoh, Shah Jahan’s favourite prince. JP Losty takes up the Dara Shukoh Album, one of the only surviving (almost) intact imperial Mughal albums, now in the collection of the British Library. Dara Shukoh (1615-59) was known for his interest in artistic and mystical matters, and gifted the album to his wife, Nadira Banu Begum. The album, in the past has been treated as an inferior imperial one, since it was patronised by a prince rather than the emperor. However, Losty, in this essay, dates the album to the early years of Shah Jahan’s reign and makes a case for its importance in illustrati­ng the aesthetic and artistic changes in the court, as well as patronage patterns in the shift between Jahangiri paintings and Shah Jahani paintings. To do this, he reads fly-leaf inscriptio­ns (always remarkably complex to decipher, but teeming with data), and looks very carefully at the floral motifs. The album consists of pairs of nature drawings, as well as Dara Shukoh’s own calligraph­y. By making comparison­s with other princely albums (of his father and grandfathe­r), to looking at details and calligraph­y, Losty brings forth new insights and conjecture­s regarding artistic production, influences from Europe and the Deccan styles, new styles, even artists themselves and the patronage of the imperial family. Of course, this essay beautifull­y illustrate­s the process of art historical research, and the striking discoverie­s of looking closely. Finally, Robert McChesney takes the reader to 19-century Afghanista­n, examining the influence of Shah Jahan on modern articulati­on of kingship, appropriat­ion of rituals and glories of the 17thcentur­y Mughals. Working with several monuments, he looks closely at the use and restoratio­n of Amir Habib Allah Khan’s Bagh-iBabur, first as a guest house and then a private retreat — an important one, since it was one of the first four to be connected to Kabul by telephone. Here, the legacy of the Padshahnam­a is reflected in meticulous record-keeping and documentat­ion of activities (this time by photograph­s), and rituals of the court (like birthday weighing, which was quickly abandoned). It was against Shah Jahan that the Afghan Amirs measured themselves. This epilogue also brings history into the recent past, and drives home the significan­ce of the Mughal court practice, even to people who may have had only accessed the models of Shah Jahan and Mughal kingship via texts, perhaps images, and stories. A publicatio­n like this posits new research, and encourages the reader to see the nuances of Shah Jahan’s reign, the way it constructs sophistica­tion and high politesse, in comparison, continuati­on as well as reinventio­n with his ancestors. This volume, full of brilliant illustrati­ons and wide range of topics covers almost every interest (with their overlaps), inspiring for further research and enquiry. At the very least, it is a feast for the mind and the eyes.

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 ??  ?? This page, top: Tomb of 'Shagerd' (Haji Jamal), Nakodar, dated 1067/1657–58. Photo: Susan Stronge, 2013; below: Shah Jahan’s jharoka throne, Diwan-i ‘Amm, Lal Qila, Shahjahana­bad, c. 1639–48. Marble and semiprecio­us stones Opposite page: West façade of Jahangir’s mausoleum, Shahdara, Lahore, 1628–38. Brick, red sandstone and marble
This page, top: Tomb of 'Shagerd' (Haji Jamal), Nakodar, dated 1067/1657–58. Photo: Susan Stronge, 2013; below: Shah Jahan’s jharoka throne, Diwan-i ‘Amm, Lal Qila, Shahjahana­bad, c. 1639–48. Marble and semiprecio­us stones Opposite page: West façade of Jahangir’s mausoleum, Shahdara, Lahore, 1628–38. Brick, red sandstone and marble
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 ??  ?? The Mughal Empire from Jahangir to Shah Jahan: Art, Architectu­re, Politics, Law and Literature, edited by Ebba Koch in collaborat­ion with Ali Anooshahr is published by Marg (Volume 70, Numbers 2 & 3; December 2018-March 2019). The volume features essays by Anna Kollatz, Ali Anooshahr, Chander Shekhar, Corinne Lefèvre, Ebba Koch, Harit Joshi, J P Losty, Mehreen Chida-Razvi, Munis D. Faruqui, R D McChesney, Roman Siebertz, Stephan Popp, Sunil Sharma and Susan Stronge. All photos and reproducti­ons of pages from the book on pages 30-33 here are featured with the permission of the publishers.
The Mughal Empire from Jahangir to Shah Jahan: Art, Architectu­re, Politics, Law and Literature, edited by Ebba Koch in collaborat­ion with Ali Anooshahr is published by Marg (Volume 70, Numbers 2 & 3; December 2018-March 2019). The volume features essays by Anna Kollatz, Ali Anooshahr, Chander Shekhar, Corinne Lefèvre, Ebba Koch, Harit Joshi, J P Losty, Mehreen Chida-Razvi, Munis D. Faruqui, R D McChesney, Roman Siebertz, Stephan Popp, Sunil Sharma and Susan Stronge. All photos and reproducti­ons of pages from the book on pages 30-33 here are featured with the permission of the publishers.

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