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Iranian and Central Asian Manuscripts in the Mughal Library

Babur, the first Mughal emperor (r. 1526–30), was a descendent, through his father, of the Central Asian, Turco-Mongol warlord Timur (d. 1405), or Tamerlane as he became more widely known in the West, and, through his mother, a descendent of the Mongol warlord Chingiz (or Ghengis) Khan. This was an ancestry of which the Mughals were extremely proud, especially their descent from Timur, and, indeed, they referred to themselves not as Mughals as we do now, but as Timurids, and considered their line a direct continuation of the Timurid dynasty which had ruled eastern Iran for more than a century (c. 1381–1506). The Timurids were keen patrons of the arts, and within the Islamic world they were held to be the undisputed arbiters of literary and artistic refinement. This esteemed status of the Timurids greatly influenced the Mughals’ perception of their own role as rulers, especially as patrons of the arts of the book.

The Mughals eagerly collected manuscripts, paintings and calligraphy made for their Timurid ancestors, as well as works made for the Safavids and the Shaybani Uzbeks (the dynasties that succeeded the Timurids as the main rulers of Iran and Central Asia, respectively, and who also sought to emulate the Timurids). The manuscript shown here is a copy of Hilya- yi Hulal (Embroideries of Robes), a treatise on mu‘ammas (riddles) by one of the most esteemed of all Iranian poets, Abd al-Rahman Jami (d. 1492). It is inscribed by Shah Jahan, who records that it came into his possession on the day of his accession in 1628, along with the rest of the contents of the imperial library. The manuscript would have been especially prized by the Mughals because, according to the colophon, it was copied by the poet Jami himself.