“His Soul was a Bird of the Divine Throne”: Persian Inscriptions on Mughal Imperial Tombs and Mosques

The Mughals are known for building the largest and most magnificent imperial mausoleums of any Muslim dynasty in or outside of South Asia. However, these monuments differ from one another as much as they do from the imperial tombs of their contemporaries, whether the Safavids in Iran or the Ottomans further west. Art historians have long puzzled over the inventive forms of the Mughal mausoleums. I revisit these debates by considering the presence and absence of Persian panegyric inscriptions on these buildings. For instance, Akbar’s tomb is covered with Persian-panegyric inscriptions, but has almost nothing inscribed in Arabic. By contrast, Shah Jahan’s mausoleum holds the record for the most Arabic-Qur’anic inscriptions on any Islamic building but avoids the use of Persian. What can such shifts in the use of Persian tell us about imperial self-fashioning and, more importantly, about imperial religious policies.

Dr. A. Azfar Moin is Associate Professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. His research interests encompass the early modern Islamic world from comparative perspectives with a focus on concepts and practices of sovereignty. His book The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (Columbia University Press, 2012) won the Best First Book in the History of Religions Award from the American Academy of Religion, John F. Richards Prize in South Asian History from the American Historical Association, and Honorable Mention for the Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize (South Asia) from the Association for Asian Studies. He co-edited with Dr. Alan Strathern an interdisciplinary volume of essays, Sacred Kingship in World History: Between Immanence and Transcendence (Columbia University Press, 2022). In 2022, Dr. Moin also guest-edited a special issue of the journal Modern Asian Studies on “Sulh-i Kull as an Oath of Peace: Mughal Political Theology in History, Theory, and Comparison.” He currently serves as a co-editor for Modern Asian Studies, published by Cambridge University Press.

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