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Within a few centuries after the death of the prophet Muhammad, the center of Islamic power had shifted from Arabia to Persia (roughly corresponding to the present day regions of Iran but including parts of Iraq & Turkey) with the capital of the Muslim empire located in Baghdad. Thus Persian culture & language became an integral part of Islamic civilization, influencing both the developing system of Islamic law and the spiritual movements led by Sufi masters. One of the most famous of such masters was the twelfth century Jalaluddin Rumi, whose worship of God through whirling dance has become perhaps the most vivid symbol of Persian Sufi Islam. This first section presents a few images of the shrine that grew up around Rumi’s shrine in Konya (in present day Turkey), which reflect the much broader trends and patterns of art & architecture inspired by Persian Sufi Islam.
In line with the points made in the introduction to the previous section, the Muslim generals who began increasingly to claim territory in the Indian subcontinent in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were products of Persian Islam. When the first major Islamic state was established with its capital at Delhi in 1206 CE, the political stability of the Persian empire was in decline; thus many Persian Muslims (including Sufis) began to migrate to North Indian, bringing with them the art, literary styles, and architecture of their homeland. This Persian influence continued with the Mughal dynasty established by Babar in the sixteenth century, by which time Indian artists and builders had developed distinctive variations on earlier Persian forms. The buildings and paintings in this section show examples of the ongoing traditions of Islamic art & architecture, particularly during and after the renaissance sponsored by the third Mughal emperor Akbar.
Developments in Islamic art & architecture were preceded by over a thousand years of intense artistic activity on the part of traditions indigenous to India: i.e., Buddhists, Vaishnavates, Shaivites, & Jains. It is important, then, to look briefly at a few examples of the way such art forms contrasted with the immigrant art & culture of Islam, which almost without exception avoided depicting divine power(s) in human form. Non-Muslim traditions, on the other hand, dedicated significant artistic talent and material resources toward depicting various gods in human form, often as coupled pairs that represented the dynamic relationship between a particular divine entity and its power. Such indigenous artists, furthermore, explored without restraint the way that variations on the human form could be used as symbols of divine power: many deities, for example, were portrayed with multiple eyes, heads, limbs, & even animal forms. This section presents a few striking examples of the way major Hindu & Buddhist deities were portrayed using icons. The Hindu icons were made during the early period of Muslim rule over North India, under the patronage of one of several Hindu kingdoms of South India that managed to preserve their independence. The Buddhist icons are later, from Tibet & Nepal, but reflect earlier styles of north Indian Buddhists in the regions of Bengal & Bihar.
Vishnu (11th CE) & Krishna (12th CE)