Cosmographies | INDO – ISLAMIC

Mathomathis would like to present an article on Cosmo Graphical Mapping by JOSEPH E. SCHWARTZBERG. The following article would start a conversation on a topic called as: INDO – ISLAMIC COSMOGRAPHY. The following article presents a number of ways Muslims have attempted to portray the cosmos

The Islamic penetration of India commenced with the Arab conquest of Sind in A.D. 711-12. Thereafter, for more than a millennium, numerous Muslim dynasties ruled over large parts of the subcontinent. In most areas, however, Muslims formed a relatively small part of the total population. Given the duration of the Muslim presence and the strength of the indigenous culture, some conjoining of religious traditions was inevitable, and with it came the diffusion of cosmological concepts. Since author have not explored in depth the dissemination of cosmological ideas within and among the several faiths of India, the discussion of Indo-Islamic cosmography that follows is intended to do no more than mention a number of themes that, in author’s view, warrant further research. As far as author is aware, the earliest important instance of an Indian ruler’s adopting indigenous Indian artifacts as cosmological symbols dates from the reign of the powerful and ostensibly zealously anti-Hindu Tughluq monarch Flruz Shah. In the year 1360 he went to immense pains to dismantle and transport to his fort in Delhi three colossal monolithic pillars of the great Mauryan emperor Asoka. Although all three pillars were reerected there, only one, known as the Topra pillar, still stands at that site. All three appear to have been placed by Firuz.

Two centuries after Flriiz, the mighty Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) also attempted, unsuccessfully, to transport to his intended but never-completed capital, Fathpur Sikri, another of the giant columns of Asoka. Akbar’s wide-ranging religious interests, his heretical religious practices, including sun worship, and in the years following 1575 his attempt to establish a new eclectic religious movement (later to be called the Din-i-llahi [Divine Faith]), which he hoped would unite all Indians, are well documented. “But far less is known,” observes Irwin, “about his interest in pillar worship and, in particular, his interest in cosmogonic myth, of which his socalled ‘sun-worship’ should be seen as a secondary aspect.” Another pillar that particularly fascinated Akbar was the pre-Asokan “bull pillar” at the sacred site of Allahabad (ancient Prayaga), at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical Sarasvati rivers, which has been interpreted as the” ‘Place of Creation’… the mystical spot at which Heaven and Earth were initially separated…. [hence] the Navel of the Earth … [and] Center of the Universe.” Although Akbar did not attempt to transport this pillar to his capital, he did construct in the Diwan-i-Khass, the hall of audience at Fathpur Sikri, the central throne pillar that epitomizes in spirit the symbolic role of the axis mundi. In this, in the design of his thrones, and in other respects, Akbar sought to project himself as occupying the mystic center of the universe. Not surprisingly, therefore, one reads on the gateway to the gardens where his tomb was built the words: “These are the gardens of Eden, enter them to live for ever.”

Gardens were often seen metaphorically in the Muslim world as a re-creation of Eden, widely regarded as the seventh and highest level of the Muslim paradise, or, more generally, of paradise as a whole. But for Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan, gardens were arguably more than a mere metaphor. In an abundantly and meticulously documented article, Begley seeks to demonstrate that the monarch, in his overweening pride, saw himself as God’s agent on earth and the symbolic center of the world, and that he regarded the gardens he had built, especially that of his most sublime architectural monument the Taj Mahal, literally as re-creations-along with the Taj itself-of paradise. Each sector of the garden, he argues, each waterway and fountain, each gate, each basic component of the mausoleum and of the related buildings has its precise analogue in the textual representations of paradise and of the throne of God that form an important part of the Islamic religious tradition; and the calligraphy of the Taj complex, setting forth apposite suras of the Koran, reinforces that message.139 The cosmographic symbolism of the Islamic garden-and incidentally of the “garden rugs” into which the plans of gardens are woven-has been the focus of considerable literature, much of which Begley cites. In one particularly relevant essay, Schimmel observes that In his study of the Taj, Begley notes the existence of various Islamic graphic representations of the heavenly regions that support the correspondences he has pointed out. Although most of the plans are of Middle Eastern provenance, Begley reproduces one depiction of paradise from an early eighteenth-century Indian manuscript, at present in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. How many other such works may once have existed in India cannot be determined; but we know that Jahangir, the father of Shah Jahan, possessed a copy of an important manuscript containing a diagram of the Plain of Assembly, in which Begley sees a close “iconographic parallel to the Taj’s allegorical conception.”

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In the discussion of world maps in the chapter on South Asian geographical mapping below, author call attention to a substantial number of paintings in which Shah Jahan is portrayed either standing upon or holding a globe. In itself this would have no more cosmographic significance than do comparable paintings of Queen Elizabeth. But it is in order to point out here, as does Begley, that this exalted representation of the Mughal emperor was entirely in keeping with Shah Jahan’s inflated self-perception as the “vice-regent of God on earth” and, to employ the epithets of certain Sufi cosmological doctrines, “the embodiment of the Divine Pen,” the ” ‘Shadow’ of God’s essence,” the “Perfect Man.” Thus, as for Akbar, a part of his cosmological preoccupation was with the throne, the analogue of the Koranic Divine Throne, and it is not surprising that his no longer extant Peacock Throne in the Red Fort palace in Delhi (Shahjahanabad) was thought to be one of the most splendid creations in the rich panoply of Mughal art. Jahangir, the royal link between Akbar and Shah Jahan, also utilized cosmographic symbolism and “attempted to integrate astrology with the administration of his empire. He built a tent which was divided into the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, and dressed his servants in uniforms with the symbols of the planets. ‘He fitted up seven houses of audience named after the seven planets, and no other business might be effected except that appropriate to the day of the planet.’ Astrology was but one among a number of points of convergence between Indo-Islamic and Hindu cosmological thought; mystical doctrines provided others. It is conceivable that the latter may help explain one highly distinctive and eclectic Indo-Islamic cosmographic conception that appears to blend ideas taken from Hindu, Muslim, and Zoroastrian thought. Although no indisputably Indian representation of this conception is known, a rendition of it, probably by an Indian artist, appears in an album of maps and drawings commissioned by Colonel Jean Baptiste Joseph Gentil, a French military officer in the service of the nawab of Oudh (now in Uttar Pradesh) during 1763-75.146.

The text accompanying the drawing is certainly by a French writer, perhaps Gentil himself. Among the more or less “Indian” ideas in the diagram are that the world is supported by animals, one above the other, in this case a bull supported by a fish (in contrast to the serpent and the tortoise in some Hindu views); the importance of the bull (Nandi, in Indian mythology), which is shown with twenty-four horns (though the text says 80,000 “distant from one another by 1,000 days of travel for a good walker”), and the characteristic Indian hump; mountains of jewels (rubies directly above the bull and emeralds at the highest level); and an angel astride the mountain of jewels, who seems to function like the Jain cosmic man. Held aloft by the angel are seven circular lands alternating with six circular seas, though they are placed one above the other rather than in concentric rings, as in Hindu and Jain cosmographies. Additional features, possibly of Indian origin, are a supplementary mountain (in addition to the customary seven) analogous to Meru, with trees and a palace at the highest level; the large numbers and distances postulated, though modest by Jain or even Hindu standards; and finally, the dominantly vertical orientation of the universe. Author is unable to state what currency the ideas presented in this cosmography enjoyed among Indian Muslims; but a note referring to some apposite text on a coin depicted with it suggests they were given some credence in Gentil’s day as far away as Kandahar (now in south-central Afghanistan), where king Ahmad of the Abdali (Durrani) dynasty ordered such coins to be struck. Whether similar visual records of Indo-Islamic cosmographies will come to light is problematic. The widespread Muslim abhorrence of graven images may militate against it, but that aversion was never as strong in India as in the Middle East. In any event, we are dealing here with an exceedingly eclectic and heterodox conception.

The article on Islamic celestial mapping noted the achievements of Indian workshops making astrolabes and celestial globes. There is no need to reiterate that account here. Author makes a note in passing the existence of IndoIslamic astronomical observatories. Although to the best of author’s knowledge no remains or even descriptions of such workshops survive, there are a number of textual references to them. According to Blanpied, “By implication, the Preface to the Ziz Muhammad Shahi [ca. 1835] admits to the existence of at least minor patronage of observational astronomy by the Moghul Emperors during the three centuries which separate Ulugh Beg from Jai Singh.” Akbar’s father, Humayun, allegedly “regarded himself as something of a mathematician and astronomer [and] had a small personal observatory … in Delhi Abdul Fazl, writing during the reign of Akbar, claims that shortly before his death Humayun was planning to construct a larger observatory and had already chosen a site and obtained the necessary apparatus for it.” Further, Blanpied reports that “it has been alleged that Shah Jehan seriously contemplated erecting an observatory at Jaunpur in the province of Oudh” but was prevented from doing so by the coup against him staged by his son Aurangzeb. Though little seems to have come of any of these efforts, that the Mughals were kindly disposed toward observational astronomy was presumably a factor enabling Jai Singh, whom author have already discussed, to carry out his own ambitious astronomical program.

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