Art/ Collection/ Art Object

"Dancing Dervishes", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)
Object Name:
Album leaf
recto: ca. 1610; verso: ca. 1530–50
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 3/16 in. (38.6 cm)
W. 10 3/16 in. (25.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view
The "Emperor’s Album," to which this folio belongs, was made for Emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, and is considered one of the world’s great assemblages of Mughal calligraphy and painting.
On the recto, dervishes engage in the sufi ceremony known as the sama, where whirling and dancing is inspired by music and recitations of poetry. In their mystical dance, sufis achieve an ecstatic state, facilitating their connection to God. Here, enlightened and exhausted by their efforts, figures in the lower right and lower left swoon, and are supported by their companions.
Each of the instruments used in the sama has a sacred meaning. The round shape of the large tambourine (daf) refers to the cycle of creation. The flute (nay) is a symbol for the human essence, and breath blown into the flute is akin to the divine light penetrating man’s soul.
The verso contains six diagonal lines of poetry in cartouches, surrounded by a scrolling floral motif. verso–Calligraphy

Oh friends who are close to the Friend–Why
don't you offer thanks for that?
Don't kill poor me like a stranger here,
As much as you are from this land.
Should he kill me, I'd gladly be
His sacrifice–do not scold him!
You people that live without pain–Alas–
what kind of work do you?
The poor [al-faqir] 'Ali

These verses are surrounded by a fragment of 'Ismat Bukhari's poetry (above); a ghazal by Shahi (right border), part of which also occurs on MMA fol. 1r (pl. 32 in this volume); a quatrain (bottom), which can be identified as being by Khayali;[1] and a ghazal (left border) by Mani(?).

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE BORDER of this verso page has a very finely executed pattern of a wide scrolling band which in places curls around itself and in others is marked by a superimposed quatrefoil. The background is buff, and the buff scrolling bands are outlined in gold and red and bear a delicate floral stem. Leaves, flower heads, and a palmette fill the quatrefoils. Beneath is a delicate floral scroll with pink blossoms with blue centers and green leaves, all edged with gold.

The artist of this folio painted the borders of FGA 39.50 (pls. 19 and 20 in this volume). It contains a portrait of the Khankhanan on the recto with a gold-on-blue border and on the verso an abstract scroll design in colors on a buff ground. The two borders being by the same artist would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that they belonged to the same album were it not for the identical border schemes.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]


1. Jami, 'Abdur-Rahman. Baharistan. Lith., p. 102. recto–Dancing Dervishes

THROUGH ecstatic dancing, inspired by music and recitations of religious and nonreligious poetry, Sufis achieve wajd (ecstasy; lit., "finding God"). Although whirling dancing was practiced as a means of achieving mystical states from very early times in the Islamic world, it was institutionalized at the end of the thirteenth century by Sultan Walad, son of the great mystical poet Jalaluddin Rumi, who died at Konya (Anatolia) in 1273.

This ceremonial mevlevi sama' (mystical concert and dance) was usually held on Fridays after congregational prayers; Annemarie Schimmel has described the ritual: "The sama' is regulated by very strict rules. The sheikh [spiritual guide] stands in the most honored corner of the dancing place, and the dervishes pass by him three times, each time exchanging greetings, until the circling movement starts. This is to be performed on the right foot, with accelerating speed. If a dervish should become too enraptured, another Sufi, who is in charge of the orderly performance, will gently touch his frock in order to curb his movement. The dance of the dervishes is one of the most impressive features of the mystical life in Islam, and the music accompanying it is of exquisite beauty, beginning with the great hymn in honor of the Prophet (na't-i sharif, written by Jalaluddin himself) and ending with short, enthusiastic songs, sometimes sung in Turkish."[1]

Jahangir described Sufis dancing during the fifth year of his reign (1610): "On the night of Monday the 8th [Safar], having sent for Shaikh Husain Sirhindi and Shaikh Mustafa, who were celebrated for the adoption of the ways of dervishdom and the state of poverty, a party was held, and by degrees the assembly engaged warmly in sama' and wajd. Hilarity and frenzy were not wanting. After the meeting was over, I gave money to each and gave him leave.[2]

Jahangir might have recalled the ecstatic Sufis dancing at court when he inspected this painting, which might also contain portraits of the two sheikhs among the devotees extensively repainted for him. Such retouching reflects the emperor's occasionally less than total enthusiasm for Iranian painting of the Safavid style. However much he admired its harmonies, color, line, and ornament, he so preferred the accuracy of Mughal portraiture that he ordered faces or even entire figures reworked by his own artists.[3] Close inspection of this miniature not only reveals many faces and hands in early seventeenth-century style but also shows that the Safavid turbans–with characteristic long, narrow batons–as well as adjoining areas of landscape and costume have been excised with a scalpel and covered over. Because of such tampering, it is not surprising that this is one of the few unattributed early miniatures in the album.

The Safavid painter of this retouched and cropped scene can be identified on stylistic grounds as Aqa-Mirak, one of Shah Tahmasp's senior artists. Palette, draughtsmanship, composition, idiosyncratically angular gestures, proportions, and costumes, as well as the treatment of landscape, stones, ears, tufts of flowers, and countless other minutiae, support this attribution to an artist who–with Sultan-Muhammad and Mir Musavvir (father of Mir Sayyid-'Ali)–was one of the three paramount artists at the time of Shah Tahmasp's most energetic patronage. By influencing Mir Sayyid-'Ali and 'Abdus Samad he contributed to the formation of the Mughal imperial manner. The former was apprenticed to him as well as to Sultan-Muhammad in Tabriz and painstakingly finished several of his most admired pictures. Conceivably, Mir Sayyid-'Ali brought this miniature to the Mughal court.

Because this truncated and cosmetically "improved" picture is also one of Aqa-Mirak's less striking works, its artistic and historical significance may have gone unrecognized by Jahangir.[4]

The extensive retouching emphasizes the roundedness of the forms, especially in the faces, and is disturbingly at odds with Aqa-Mirak's more two-dimensional design. It can be dated to the early, most experimental years of Jahangir's patronage and is almost certainly by the very youthful Abu'l-Hasan, whose masterly surgery and retouching expunged most of the evidence. Although Aqa-Mirak's formula for painting turbans is still recognizable (his turbans invariably bulge to the left and are outlined and drawn with unmistakable tidiness), the kulahs (felt caps ending in upright batons) have been removed or covered over, along with parts of the cloth wrapped around them. In the treatment of such faces as those of the flute player and the more ecstatic Sufis, the emperor directed his innovative artist to extremes of illusionistic distortion–ranging from the cloyingly sweet to the grotesque–unprecedented within Islamic traditions.

The author's argument attributing the reworking of the dervishes to Abu'l-Hasan was based largely upon the heightened, even extreme naturalism of faces, which brought to mind comparably supercharged visages in Abu'l-Hasan's inscribed King Dabshalim and the Sage
Bidpai[5] (Appendix, fig. 23). These qualities are also apparent in several miniatures ascribable to Abu'l-Hasan in a copy of Sa'di's Bustan copied at Agra by the scribe 'Abdur-Rahim al-Harawi in A.H. 1014/ A.D. 1605–1606.[6] The Devotee and the Fox (fol. 67v; Appendix, fig. 24) and An Old Man Consults a Doctor (fol. 176r; Appendix, fig. 25) both exemplify the youthful artist's intensity of spirit, his brilliant coloring and minute finish, and his unprecedentedly extreme naturalism.

A Mughal drawing in the India Office Library includes figures, some of them in reverse, traced or copied from this miniature.[7]

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS PICTURE of ecstatic dervishes is surrounded by a ghazal in which the poet complains that love has brought him universal blame and that the sight of the beloved's slim stature, qamat, reminds him of resurrection, qiyamat (when all human beings are called from their graves to face the Last Judgment; a common word for a state of complete confusion and fear).

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS PAGE has the margin number 46 and belongs to Group A. The gold-on-blue border has extremely fine drawing and a crispness that makes it tempting to relate it to Fath Muhammad, the artist of the border of MMA fol. 20r (pl. 54 in this volume). However, the present border
lacks the staccato, almost spiky quality of the other and is much more placid and restrained. The composition is extremely dense, with plants, grass tufts, and flower sprays, as well as cloud bands, filling every available space. The little leaf patterns spread out from the base of the plants in a manner that may serve as a signature of this painter, who also appears to have created the borders of MMA fol. 19v and FGA fol. 39.50b (pls. 11 and 19 in this volume). A small iris can be found in the upper border and a larger one along the left edge; a poppy appears in the lower left corner and a stately tulip in the lower margin.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]


1. Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975, p. 325.

2. Jahangir. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri; or Memoirs of Jahangir. Trans. Alexander Rogers. Ed. Henry Beveridge. 2 vols. London, 1909–1914,
I, pp. 172–73

3. For a major Iranian miniature by Shaykh-Zadeh reworked for Jahangir by Bishan Das, see Welch, Stuart Cary, India! Art and Culture 1300–1900. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, cat. no. 139.

4· For the style and work of Aqa-Mirak, see Dickson, Martin Bernard, and Welch, Stuart Cary. The Houghton Shahnameh. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1981, I, pp. 95–117, figs. 134–64.

5. The manuscript is in the British Library, Add. 18579, and is dated in the colophon A.H.1019/ A.D. 1610–11; two of the thirty-six
miniatures are dated six years earlier. For an illustration in color see Wilkinson, J. V. S. The Lights of Canopus. London, n.d., pl. VI. For comparably intensified characterizations, see A Dervish and a Musician by Daulat in Welch, Stuart Cary, and Beach, Milo Cleveland. Gods, Thrones, and Peacocks. New York, Asia Society, 1965, no. 8.

6. For Jahangir's Bustan, formerly in the collections of Barons Maurice and Edmond de Rothschild and of John Goelet, see Stchoukine, Ivan. "Un Bustan de Sa'di illustre par des artistes moghols." Revue des Arts Asiatiques II (1937), pp. 68-74; Welch, Stuart Cary. The Art of Mughal India: Painting and Precious Objects. New York, Asia Society, 1963, no. 24; Welch, Stuart Cary. A Flower from Every Meadow. New York, Asia Society, 1973. no. 62, pp. 103–104.

7. See Falk, Toby, and Archer, Mildred. Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library. London, Delhi, Karachi, 1981, no. 94.
Signature: verso:
In Persian, in upper left rectangle: The poor 'Ali.

Marking: recto:
Margin number '46' is inscribed in the gilt margin.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, to Kevorkian); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, from 1929]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; gift and sale to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.

Grube, Ernst J. "The Early School of Herat and its Impact on Islamic Painting of the Later 15th, the 16th and 17th Centuries." In The Classical Style in Islamic Painting. Venice: Edizioni Oriens, 1968. ill. pl. 100 (b/w).

Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 177, ill. fig. 213 (color), recto.

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