Conflict, Culture and Creation

An Artistic Interpretation of Religious Challenges in South Asia

A Ray from the Sun: Mughal Ideology and the Visual Construction of the Divine

Filed under: Uncategorized — alana at 2:17 am on Wednesday, December 9, 2015

In many of the readings of this course authors and scholars have described the links between art forms and forms of worship. In Catherine Asher’s piece A Ray of Sun: Mughal Ideology and the Visual Construction of the Divine she outlines the origins of the Mugal affinity for light imagery and the heavy presence of religious symbolism associated with light imagery that appears in architecture such as the Taj Mahal, or the “Illumined Tomb”, but also in art as well as in poetry and music. Asher explains the major forces in inspiring this affinity for light included devotion to the Chistiyya order of Sufi Saints, a connection with a concept of worship popular among Hindus and Zoroastrians known as darshan, and fire veneration, and finally a presence of court scholars versed in divine illumination. (Asher 161) Years before Akbar’s prolific reign he developed a connection with one of the most popular Chishti saints, Khwaja Mu’in al-Din after being enraptured by the sound of a devotional song in the Sufi tradition. This link between Akbar’s Muslim faith and his reverence for the Chistiyya both boosted his popularity and served him well as a uniter of peoples. The powerful influence of music continued in connection with Mu’in al-Din, as historical sources point to al-Din’s doctrine as being one of intense love of God represented as a burning desire, and practiced through sama or music used to discover mystical union with God. (Asher 163)

Being inspired by how inspired Akbar and the Mughal Empire was by music, I wanted to create a piece of music with similar aspects of light imagery and devotion to God that famous writers of the time such as Amir Khusrau used in his songs of worship. Khusrau’s works were sung for Akbar’s son Jahangir and are still performed today in sama sessions, so to learn the style of his work I chose a piece called “What a Glow Everywhere I See” that talk about a mystical occurrence and the presence of God and the Prophet Muhammad included in the story with light and candle associations. Having written music before for a devotional setting, but for that of my personal Catholic faith, I thought it would be interesting, in the spirit of inclusion that Akbar and the Mughal Empire embodied, to compose a song with these Sufi and Chishti influences of light imagery and love for their God in the style of a more Christian popular worship song. The piece played on guitar is a fairly catchy and simple chorus played between two verses that were inspired by events described in Khusrau’s poem. The first verse of the chorus, “God is the light of the heavens and the Earth,” is taken directly from the chapter “Light” from the Quran. There are many other aspects of light within the song including more candle imagery, and a flame representing God’s love. I like to think that this song, entitled “God is the Light” is a modern representation of what Akbar stood for during his reign in South Asia. That Sufi traditions can be the theme of a song composed in a 21st century style, and if a listener did not know beforehand, would be just as likely to interpret the lyrics as Christian than as Muslim, is a testament to the religious diversity and acceptance prominent in the Mughal period. Traditions and peoples of all religions are not as different from one another as we force them to be.


“What a glow everywhere I see”

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,

All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love,

tossing about in agony.

There was a nymph-like beloved with cypress-like form

and tulip-like face,

Ruthlessly playing havoc with the hearts of the lovers.

God himself was the master of ceremonies in that heavenly court,

oh Khusrau, where (the face of) the Prophet too was shedding light

like a candle.

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