Mughal painting as a heterotopic space
In theory, Mughal emperors pursued a policy of religious tolerance and openness to non-shari’a religious ideas, however, an opposite tendency contesting the inclusive tradition was always present. Scholar Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi was one of the opponents against the imperial policy. He insisted the necessity of attack upon the heterodox and the non-Muslim. He criticized Akbar in his letters to the notables and students. When Jahangir ascended the throne, the tension was accelerated by the emperor prisoning Sirhindi. A more critical viewpoint was from theologian Bada’uni. He was strongly opposed to Hindu and Shia sect. In his Muntakhab at-tawarikh, his charge against Akbar’s religious innovation was severe. Plus, in the court, far from harmony and stability, wars of succession happened in every transition of Mughal power, and the imperial power of the rulers were constantly challenged. For example, rivalry between prince Salim and his son Khusrau last from the time of Akbar to Salim’s accession as emperor Jahangir. In the hope of succeeding his grandfather’s throne, Khusrau initiated a rebellion in 1606. Overall, conflicts and oppositions were present throughout the history of Mughal Empire. The utopian visions were brought by the non-shari’a oriented Mughal rulers and partially realized, but cannot be fully achieved.
In such a context, the manuscript painting served as a heterotopic space where an apparent attempt at Mughal utopia was represented. Foucault presented the notion of heterotopia first in a lecture in 1967 pointing out that some places interrupt or subvert the ordinary everyday space, literally “other places”. Heterotopic sites are the actual spaces of difference in which the utopia is effectively enacted. Heterotopic sites are present in every culture, Foucault writes, they can have multiple or changing functions; they can bring together several incompatible things as a microcosm; they can juxtapose time across time or enclose time in an immobile place. In short, heterotopia are spaces of alternative spatial and social relations where difference is both encountered and ordered.
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