As part of our Year 3 Speaker Series of our South Asia Initiative, Dr. Kavita Singh, Professor of Art History and Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics Jawaharlal Nehru University will be speaking on the Congress of Kings: Notes on a Painting Showing a Mughal Ruler Having Sex.
Muhammad Shah Rangila, lord of a dwindling Mughal empire from 1719-1748, is remembered for his political incompetence as well as his great appetite for pleasure. Bolstering this reputation is a famous painting that shows him in sexual congress with an as yet unidentified woman. Although it appears at first as the record of an intimate moment, scholars have noted the stately symmetry of the image, the presence of witnesses, the retention of symbols of power such as the halo, huqqa and sword. All of these imply that this was a ceremonial portrait, more public than private in its intention. If this is so, by whom was this portrait meant to be seen, and what was it meant to show? How does this image intersect with earlier traditions of Mughal portraiture, and with earlier, public signs of the emperors' affections? Is this frank depiction of the Mughal emperor at all related to the pervasive interest in love and sexual love seen in Indic literary and visual arts? This lecture speculates on the possible meanings of this painting by placing it in the context of the emperor’s own biography as well as traditions of portraiture, music, poetry and medical and erotological literature circulating in Muhammad Shah’s time.
Bio of Speaker:
Kavita Singh is Professor of Art History and is currently serving as the Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she teaches courses on the history of Indian painting and the history and politics of museums. She has published essays on issues of colonial history, repatriation, secularism and religiosity, fraught national identities, and the memorialisation of difficult histories as they relate to museums in India and beyond. She has also published essays on aspects of Mughal painting.