MultiSession The Mughal Empire: New Debates, Part 2: The Performance of Sovereignty in the Mughal Empire: New Comparisons and Contexts

AHA Session 257
Conference on Asian History 3
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
David Gilmartin, North Carolina State University
Muzaffar Alam, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

The vast Indian empire of the Mughals (1526-1857), a Muslim dynasty that proudly traced its descent from Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, was famous for its enormous wealth, military power, administrative prowess and multi-ethnic makeup. But above all the Mughal empire was a sight to behold. Its artistic and architectural legacy as symbolized by the Taj Mahal has become iconic. Yet, what this “static” view of empire enshrined in palaces, forts and walled cities belies is the nearly constant circulation and public performance that centuries of Mughal dynasts honed into a new style of sovereignty and mode of governance. This panel proposes to examine the structures, processes, and efficacy of this uniquely Mughal style and mode of imperialism, and does so by situating it in new contexts and comparisons. The first paper, “Elegant Nomads: A Comparative Study of the Mughal Royal Court Progress” seeks to examine the ritual and community-making role imperial touring played in the making of the Mughal dominions. It compares the Mughal case with their contemporaries in China who adopted a relatively stationary style in contrast. The second paper treats the Mughal rituals of staging power from the perspective of cosmology. Entitled, “The Sun King: Cosmological Aspects of the Mughal Order of Loyalty known as the Din-e Ilahi,” it focuses on the astrological symbolism of power – especially the importance of the Sun – in the evolution of Mughal court and public rituals of sovereignty. The third paper investigates the same Mughal ritual processes and modes of community-making from yet another angle. Entitled, “Between Iranian Saints and Mongol Kings: The Sacred Modes of Mughal Kingship,” it situates Mughal performance of universal sovereignty and embodied sacredness in the context of practices and rites of sainthood that shaped the sacred geography and mentalité of the early modern India and Iran. Taken together, these papers not only cooperate in a serious rethinking of the Mughal empire and sixteenth century South Asia, but also open up questions of interest to scholars of the early modern world, comparative imperialism, and sacred kingship.

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