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4 / Ceremony and Society

Shah Jahan Watching an Elephant Fight
Shah Jahan Watching an Elephant Fight
Artist / Origin Attributed to Bulaqi
Date Mughal Period, ca. 1639
Material Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Santhi Kavuri-BauerAssistant Professor of Art History, San Francisco State University

Shah Jahan Watching an Elephant Fight

» Attributed to Bulaqi

expert perspective

Santhi Kavuri-Bauer Santhi Kavuri-Bauer Assistant Professor of Art History, San Francisco State University

Red Fort was established in 1648 and its function was to serve as the capital for the Mughal Empire. The reason why Shah Jahan had it built was because the other two capitals were too small for the kind of ceremonies that he imagined happening. The ceremonies were very essential. Because the Mughal Empire socially was so heterogeneous, the nobility was from different religious backgrounds, it was important for him to create a social order.

Shah Jahan at Red Fort would show himself every morning at a window that faces the outside wall, a wall with a window that faces the outside. And he would do that at daybreak, and it was called darshan, meaning that he would show himself to the rest of the community and they wouldn’t start—there were people who wouldn’t start work until they saw the face of the emperor. And this was a Hindu ceremony. It also dates to Persian ceremonies, but it’s not Islamic.

The daily ceremonies that took place at Red Fort were so important to the Mughal Emperor. It consolidated his rule, it helped stabilize the society, it also had the added importance of having people perform the hierarchy. And once it was performed it was also represented by court painters in the chronicles of the emperor. And it just helped punctuate his power and importance and the hierarchy that he ruled over.” 

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