Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
The Delhi Darbar Of Akbar Shah Ii
Mughal, circa 1811 CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
39.4 x 30.9 cm
In this painting attributed to the artist Ghulam Murtaza Khan, the Mughal emperor Akbar II (r. 1806-37 CE) holds court from atop an exquisite, jewel-encrusted jharoka, or throne, covered by a baldachin and topped with an embroidered canopy; the jharoka is a copy of the famous Peacock Throne looted by the Iranians under the Afsharid ruler Nadir Shah (r. 1736-47 CE) in 1738-39 CE. Akbar’s sons, Abu Zafar Siraj al-Din (the future Bahadur Shah II and the last ruler of the Mughal dynasty, r. 1838-57 CE), Mirza Salim, Mirza Jahangir and Mirza Babur, stand in attendance on either side of their father. They are visually distinguished from the two barefoot servants flanking the scene by their dress, their situation on the royal red carpet, and their closer proximity to Akbar, whose figure fills the centre of the picture plane.The scene represents a continuation of the Mughal practice of darshan, the presentation ceremony for the Mughals, into the nineteenth century. Darshan reflected a merging of the Hindu practice of that name, meaning “beholding,” with the notion of the king being accessible to his subjects and imparting auspicious blessings to them in the same manner a deity’s image would to its beholder (Asher 1993, p. 282). The Mughal adoption of the darshan ritual from Hindu culture enhanced the rulers’ semi-divine image, alluded to in paintings such as this one by the glowing halo around the ruler’s head. The setting in which Akbar II appears is known as the jharoka-i khass-u-‛amm, where the ruler would hold court and take care of administrative duties. The darbar, or assembly, could consist of all classes of people, from family members and court grandees to the general public (hence khass-u-‛amm, or “high and low”) (Koch 1997, p. 133).
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