Universalizing Shi'i Kingship in the 17th century Deccan

By Hunter Bandy
Submitted to Session P4887 (Fashioning Philosopher-Kings in the Post-Mongol Persian Cosmopolis, 13th-19th Centuries (II), 2017 Annual Meeting
India; Indian Ocean Region; Iran;
13th-18th Centuries; Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Historiography; History of Religion; Iranian Studies; Islamic Studies; Islamic Thought; Medieval; Persian; South Asian Studies;
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This paper analyzes the production of a large collection of practical philosophy dating from 1054/1644 authored by an Iranian sayyid migrant to the Deccan Sultanate of Golkonda/Hyderabad, Mu'izz al-Din Ardistani (fl. 1640s), who sought patronage from the penultimate Qutbshahi sultan Abdullah (r. 1626-1672). Rather unknown in modern scholarship, Safavid historians who have documented the 17th century reaction against Sufism have concluded that one of the main anti-Sufi polemics (Hadiqat ul-shi'a) was originally an amended version of a lengthy 'Alid tradition-based work (Kashif al-haqq) produced in the late 1640s by Ardistani. This other large and largely unknown work of his called the “Qutbshahi Collection,” (Jung-i Qutbshahi) illustrates the ethical construction and habitus of an early-modern Persian sovereign who is at once Shi'i in creed but whose mode of governance receives universal sanction. A tripartite work—divided into a section on biography; a second on wisdom, manners, and knowledge; and a third section on the ethics of kingship— moral lessons are authorized through Hellenic legends of Alexander, occult stories of Hermes Trismegistus, Sufistic discourse, as well as lessons drawn from the Mahabharata (by way of Mughal redaction). In this regard it is quintessentially Deccan in its representation of a cosmopolitan approach to accepting practical wisdom from the Muslim, pre-Islamic, Hellenic, and Indic cultural backgrounds, which were all inflected in Deccan courtly settings. The author’s situation of Imamic traditions (akhbar) within the universalist legends demands our reconsideration of what it meant to be a Shi'i ruler in the 17th century, nearly half a century after the supposed initiation of the Safavid backlash against mystical and non-juridical claims to power under Shah ‘Abbas I. That this knowledge arrives from the hand of the very same scholar implicated in the acceleration of this backlash and making it a mainstream pursuit among the Iranian 'ulama, only further confounds the narrative of an increasingly “arrogant” and “hostile” Shi'ism promulgated during the 17th century. Situating this text within the lively Qutbshahi court of 1640s Golkonda/Hyderabad, I argue that the clothing of Shi'i tradition did not encumber the vision of a universal Persian sovereign. Rather, these accretionary layers of textual proof extended the wisdom of earlier visions of divinely-ordained rule and kingship, affirming an inclusive hagiographic binary of philosophically supported tradition that only later was attacked and perverted by Safavid jurists writing in Iran.