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The Soldier and the Medium: Two sixteenth century authors on the Mughal Empire

A CISA and Central Asia Initiative Seminar

Monday, February 23, 2009
12:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The sixteenth century was a period of transition for the nascent Mughal Empire. The reign of the second Emperor Humayun (1508-1556) witnessed the upheavals that accompanied the transition of the new polity from a war-band to a full-fledged bureaucratic state at the end of the century. In spite of their far superior military power (including numerous firearms and canons), the armies of Humayun suffered a number of humiliating defeats at the hand of the Afghan lords of north India, and the beaten Emperor had to take refuge in Persia before returning to South Asia and reclaiming his domains. This paper will argue that these failures were closely related to the inability of Humayun’s court to engage in meaningful political “propaganda” that could appeal to a broad range of subjects in their domain—a failure that stands in sharp contrast to the successful information-campaigns of Humayun’s father (Babur) and son (Akbar).

To argue this point, two texts dating from the later sixteenth century will be analyzed. One entitled Vaqi‘at-i Mushtaqi will be treated as the reflection of the world-views of an important subsection of Mughal society—that of Sufis or mystics. For such men the primary locus of authority lay in individuals who could act as a “medium” for people by channeling divine power. Humayun appears to have been especially successful in appealing to this group. A second text however, the Tabaqat-i Akbari written by a soldier who belonged to the core Central Asian migrants to India, indirectly condemns the Emperor by depicting his failure to live up to the military ideals expected of him by his generals. In a society characterized by Marshall Hodgson as the “military patronage system” the inability of the king to appeal to his army and act as the chief general would prove disastrous.

About the Speaker

Ali Anooshahr teaches World History as well as comparative pre-modern Islamic history at the University of California, Davis. He received his B.A. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Austin (1994), and received his MA and PhD in Islamic History from the University of California, Los Angeles (2005). He has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, Santa Monica College, California State University Los Angeles, California State University San Marcos, and Saint Xavier University, Chicago.


Sponsor(s): Asia Institute, Center for India and South Asia, Program on Central Asia

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