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Manliness and Imperial Service in Mughal North India

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This essay explores some of the ways in which gender identity and norms for manhood were important in the political and religious discourses of Mughal north India. A concern with the meanings of manhood ran through these discourses and their antecedents in the wider world of medieval Perso-Islamic political culture, constructing important and enduring links between kingship, norms for statecraft, imperial service and ideal manhood. The essay examines in detail the ways in which one high imperial servant in the early seventeenth century inherited, developed and reflected on these themes, and related them to his own personal experience. These definitions of elite manliness began to change in the later seventeenth century, and their connection with imperial service began to fracture, with the emergence of more complexly stratified urban societies in north India, and the development of an increasingly ebullient and cosmopolitan ethos of gentlemanly connoisseurship and consumption. The essay examines some of the normative literature associated with these shifts, and suggests that one of their consequences may have been to intensify the strains in Mughal service morale associated with the last decades of the seventeenth century.


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