Between Iranian Saints and Mongol Kings: The Sacred Modes of Mughal Kingship

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:40 AM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
A. Azfar Moin, Southern Methodist University
In examining the post-Mongol Muslim empires of fifteenth and sixteenth century India and Iran, this paper asks whether a new and common “style” of sacred kingship can be discerned in this milieu. This style, the paper suggests, can most aptly be described as “saintly” and “messianic.” In a widespread phenomenon particular to this historical era, many Muslim monarchs came to embody their sacrality in the manner of Sufi saints and holy saviors. Shah Ismail (d. 1524) of Safavid Iran and Akbar (d. 1605) of Mughal India are but two well-known examples of this phenomenon. This form of sacral sovereignty, moreover, was not expressed in decrees. Rather, it was evidenced by astrological calculations and occult lore; visualized in painting and architecture; enacted in court ceremonies and dress; and formalized in cults of discipleship. The phenomenon of Muslim kings transmuting into saints and messiahs, venerated by courtiers and worshipped by soldiers, defies conventional notions of Islam. Indeed, in a paradoxical fashion, “saintly” conceptions of sacred authority seem to have attracted Muslim monarchs more than orthodox Islam. In an attempt to resolve this paradox, this paper suggests that Mughal monarchs drew their inspiration from a ritual engagement with popular forms of sainthood and embodied forms of sacrality that transcended sectarian and religious boundaries.
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