Jahangir and Madonna – The Mughals and the West

In my book, I have discussed how the Mughal Emperors were quick enough to adapt Christian concepts and ideas into Mughal paintings and monuments, if not the religion itself.  Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) – “the world-conqueror” – the emperor who was famed for his indulgence in arts was known to be influenced by novelties from the West. They were perhaps, in Ebba Koch’s words eager to show their world-wide connections and their international status as rulers belonging to the family of the kings of the world.

The Shahjahani balustrade column, for example, is said to be partly influenced by illustrations by Flemish artists in a set of volumes of the Bible presented to Akbar in 1580 by the Jesuit mission.

While writing the book, I was not aware of this beautiful miniature of Jahangir holding the picture of Madonna. Recently my attention to it was drawn by a stamp from Tanzania featuring the same. I think it would have been a good addition to the book, and when I examined the painting from google Wikimedia.

I found that both the Emperor and Madonna are depicted with respective solar halos around their heads, with the Emperor holding the picture and examining it. I was reminded of Prof Harbans Mukhia’s observation which I have included in my book that miniatures showing Jahangir and the Persian Emperor Shah Abbas depicted them similarly: “Although they never met each other, Mughal miniatures depicted both (Jahangir and Shah Abbas) sitting side by side. But in those portrayals of brotherly love, says Harbans Mukhia, the solar halo of Jahangir was depicted slightly bigger, his seat shown a little higher, and his physique a bit healthier than that of Shah Abbas.”

(From Wikimedia)

There are few verses inscribed on the painting. After my futile efforts to get their translations, I turned to friends. Qamar Dagar, India’s noted calligrapher and artist, and Maryam Shaikh, Professor of English at Pune University, helped me on this. The inscription is not fully readable, but it is a poem on friendship by Persian poet Pir ‘Abdullah Ansari:

“O Allah, what virtues is this that accompanies Thy friends?

With what privilege hast thou brought them into the world,

That whosoever found Thee would know them,

And whosoever knew them would find Thee!”

(also at https://wahiduddin.net/sufi/ansari.htm)

Then it reads: “O Allah! I tremble like the willow tree lest…(sentence incomplete)”

Courtesy to Qamar Dagar again, the verse on the right reads:

“(First hemistich missing) The horse was exhausted after the night’s journey. They wailed in the morning that they were tired out – explore the saddle bag of the chaste ones.”

The rest of verses are not readable.

I looked up regarding the poet, Abdullah Ansari. He was from Herat in modern-day Afghanistan (1006-1088) and was known as the ‘Sage of Herat’ or ‘Pir-i Herat”. An outstanding poet in Arabic and Persian, he was well-known throughout Khorasan. When I looked deeper, I even found a stamp on him – from Tajikistan! Maybe I should do that follow up later in another post.


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