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Emperors of Ṣūrat and Maʿnī: Jahangir and Shah Jahan as Temporal and Spiritual Rulers

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This article begins with a discussion of a more-than-life-sized portrait of Jahangir (r. 1605–27) that is surrounded by verses in twenty-six cartouches. These verses are of special interest because they are the connecting link between a series of “allegorical paintings” made for Jahangir and the new concept of sovereignty devised for his father, Akbar, who had ordered the scholar Abuʼl-Fazl to develop a system of legitimization to emancipate him from the endorsement of the chief religious authorities of Islam. The pivotal terms of this new ideology, ṣūrat and maʿnī, are found throughout Abuʼl-Fazl’s Akbarnāma, and they turn up again in the cartouches of Jahangir’s portrait. To understand the meaning of these verses, it is necessary to consider the system of legitimation conceived by Abuʼl-Fazl. The verses then provide valuable information for the interpretation of some portraits of Jahangir and Shah Jahan.


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