ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Animal Might & Human Servility on the Picture Wall Lahore Fort


Khan Nadhra Shahbaz - Lahore University of Management Sciences, History, Lahore, Pakistan


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 The Lahore Fort is the third important Mughal fortified palace in the subcontinent after Agra and Delhi. A unique feature we only find at the Lahore Fort is its Picture Wall. This is a surface of about 8,000 square yards commissioned by two Mughal emperors, Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and Shahjahan (r. 1628-1658). Decorated with multiple motifs in a variety of techniques, the most significant among these are the narrative panels in faience-mosaic. These showcase human figures and a wide variety of animals, both real and imaginary, presented in naturalistic and fanciful environments. While all human figures express their subservience to the sovereign, most animals freely display their might and majesty over each other or humans in full force. Alongside these are composite creatures such as the dragons, simurghs and winged human figures invested with attributes that make them operate in fantastical realms. Reading the Picture Wall in the context of premodern physical and metaphorical domains and imaginaries and the political-mystical power nexus offer interesting avenues to explore the dynamics of human-animal relationships. The inclusion of all living creatures in the Indic concept of samsara and the popularity of didactic literature such as the Shahnameh, Sa’adi’s hikayāt and fables like Kalila-o-Dimna add an incredible background to understand the politics of featuring animals in positions of power on a surface that flaunts imperial dominance over its human subjects.