Objects of Devotion: Representations of Muslim Saints in Early Modern South Asian Painting, 1500-1700

Mumtaz, Murad Khan, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mumtaz, Murad Khan, Arts & Sciences Graduate-asg, University of Virginia

Representations of Muslim saints in early modern South Asian painting are a unique synthesis of Persianate and Indic devotional cultures. They also offer a fascinating window into the Indianization of Islamic spirituality. Despite the ubiquity of this multifaceted genre of Indian painting, there has been no prior study in the field of art history that addresses it in depth. By focusing on devotional images made for an elite Indo-Muslim audience between circa 1500 and 1700 this dissertation aims to identify and preliminarily survey the development and dissemination of the genre, focusing on thematic continuities derived from Muslim devotional literature and religious thought. The research also identifies the key historical moment when images of saints began to take on a more expressly devotional significance as objects of meditation and remembrance.
Around 1640 a unique turn in imperial Mughal patronage reconfigured Muslim devotional painting. At this time, two of Emperor Shāh Jahān’s children entered an Islamic mystical order of Sufism under the guidance of the well-known shaykh, Mullā Shāh. As the first in the Mughal imperial line to be formally initiated into Sufism, Dārā Shikoh and his elder sister Jahānārā Begum, the first lady of the empire, became central patrons of devotional painting in North India. Before the imperial siblings’ entry into mysticism, images of ascetics and saints produced for a Muslim audience were used primarily for purposes of imperial self-fashioning—supporting the Mughal claim to divinely ordained kingship—and as didactic tools to transmit deeply rooted princely values shared across the Indic and Persianate worlds. After Jahānārā and Dārā’s initiations the stylistic language of the representation of saints shifted and some of the images acquired a meditative function.
My research employs an interdisciplinary methodology that combines art historical concerns with close analysis of Persian primary literature. Of central importance are passages drawn from the philosophical, autobiographical and devotional writings of Jahānārā Begum, Dārā Shikoh and Mullā Shāh.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
South Asian art history, Islam in South Asia, Sufism
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