ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The elephant and the peacock throne


Anooshahr Ali - University of California, History, Davis, United States


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


 This paper builds on my earlier research to investigate the use of the elephant during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628–58). In modern scholarship, Shah Jahan is seen as the ruler who presided over perhaps the most opulent and elaborate court culture in the early modern world. Second, he is seen as the Mughal Emperor who turned his back to the tolerant and multi-faith religious policy of the empire and instead promoted Islam. However, extensive use of the elephant in textual and visual records of the period belies this argument as the elephant had strong anti-Islamic overtones. Thus, I do not offer a full history of the elephant and its habitat in 17th-century India. Rather, I analyze the contested definition of what it symbolized. The goal is to show that by ignoring this crucial animal presence in Mughal India, we actually misunderstand this history.