Saturday, December 27, 2014

Malik Ambar: Jehangir's Obsession

Malik Ambar (1549 – 1626) was an Ethiopian slave in India, who rose to become a minister and then an independent ruler with his capital at Aurangabad. The Mughal emperor Jahangir was obsessed with defeating Malik Ambar and wanted to see him crushed at any cost. Unable to defeat him in reality, Jehangir had to be content with fantasy.

The Mughal artist Abu’l Hasan drew a painting of the Emperor shooting arrows into the severed head of Malik Ambar. There are small inscriptions on the painting, one of them says "The face of the rebel has become the abode of the owl." (the owl is a symbol of bad luck, a bad omen). And the other one says "Thy arrow that lays the enemy low, sent out of the world Ambar, the owl who fled from the light." Two owls are shown in the picture.

The emperor is shown as a just divine ruler of the world. The world is borne upon the fish and bull. A Sufi master named Farid al-Din Attar wrote: “God placed Earth on the back of a bull, the bull on a fish, and the fish dancing on a silver spool of light.”

At the top of the painting are two winged infants, called putti, they were believed to influence human lives (because of contact with Europeans in Jahangir's court, elements such as putti came into the painting).

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