Royal Propaganda of Syncretism

Royal Propaganda of Syncretism

Posted on January 5, 2018

Akbar, very much like his ancestor, Genghis Khan was always interested in the different religions all over the world and he did all he could to learn more and more about it. This very reason, made him invite Jesuit missionaries to the Mughal court. The Jesuits saw this as an opportunity to teach the laws of Christianity to these Muslim rulers. Thus, in 1579, they arrived at the courts along with high expectations to convert the rulers of the North to Christianity, along-with skilled painters, translated versions of the Bible and several art pieces that portrayed Christian imagery of Europe.

The paintings that first arrived in the Mughal court were large oil paintings of Mother Mary. She was a figure well-known by Muslims, due to her presence in their holy text, Quran. Akbar was indeed moved by the European artwork, but had no intention of converting to Christianity. He had other plans. His court was in the middle of inter-religious discussions, and he soon established the Din-Illahi, syncretistic cult which incorporated Islamic, Hindu and Christian beliefs. He didn’t see the European artwork as something he would want to completely dissolve himself into, but more as a perfect way to express the supremacy of the Mughal empire and their universal right to rule, through the use of non-Mughal motifs. Akbar knew that they were a minority and to rule over the world, especially over different religions around the globe, would be a very difficult task. He needed to successfully intertwine politics and religion, so that he could unite India, and that’s exactly what he did through these debates and paintings. Akbar directed his own court painters, like Kesu Das, Manohar, Basawan and Kesu Khurd, who were the most inspired by the European artwork, to replicate the European paintings, but in a way to incorporate the fact that the Mughals were the most powerful in the world and had the right to rule of everything. This trend was carried on by Akbar’s oldest son, Jahangir as well. They did so to prove the religious justification of the Mughal rule. There was a painting that portrayed emperor Jahangir as the ruler of the world and was placed above the image of Christ holding a cross. Yet another painting showed Jahangir as giving preference to a Sufi Sheikh over King James Ⅰ and Ⅵ of England. Not only that, but there were Christian figurines in the Mughal palace as well.

One fun fact is that none of the Christian images were ever on the exterior of the buildings, always inside, away from the public’s eye. This was probably done to avoid offending the public with such images of inter-religion artwork. Everything done by the Mughal rulers in the incorporation of Christianity in their own faith and religion was for their own interest, and this my friends, is a royal propaganda.

-Rashi Daga