Exposition | “Mystical Encounters. Sufis, Kings and Yogini in Indian Miniature Painting” — Pergamonmuseum Berlin, du 16/09/2022 to 04/12/2022

A Yogini meets an ascetic, India, 17th century (detail © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst / Johannes Kramer


This special presentation in the Pergamonmuseum’s Buchkunstkabinett shines a light on ascetic traditions practised by various religions on the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 18th century. Selected examples from albums of Indian miniature painting illustrate the cultural and religious diversity of the ascetics, Sufis and yoginis.

This exhibition showcases the diverse cultural practices of the ascetics on the Indian subcontinent, as well as their social significance and power. It also illustrates how intricately these rites and practices are interwoven across religious lines, and how they have mutually enriched and influenced each other through exchange.

Courtly Depictions of Ascetics

From the 16th century onwards, depictions of ascetics were very popular at the courts of the Mughal emperors and Deccan sultans of the Indian subcontinent. This exhibition features images from illuminated manuscripts and albums that testify to a rich mystical tradition. They expand the general understanding of the various ascetic sects of sannyasins, yogis, Sufis and fakirs that shaped the Indian subcontinent’s socio-cultural landscape. The diverse religious and ethnic affiliations within the Indian empire made it necessary for Muslim rulers to secure the support of these social groups. Through the favour of the ascetics (who were worshipped by the major faiths and ethnic groups), the emperors and sultans gained religious legitimacy.

Combining the Earthly and the Spiritual

Many believed that ascetics (whether Muslims or Hindus) were able to attain a multitude of supernatural powers through their spiritual practices, and to transcend the boundary between the earthly and the spiritual. Secular rulers legitimised their spiritual authority by developing close relationships with holy men and women, profiting from their prestige and power. The ascetics, for their part, often intervened in worldly and political affairs.

Ascetics as Ideal Lovers

It is not only the spiritual lives of ascetics that are featured in visual representations; ascetics also appear as key figures in illustrated love stories, where they are depicted as ideal lovers. Rulers who wanted to adopt the spiritual charisma of these ascetics had themselves portrayed interacting with them or sometimes even staged themselves as royal ascetics. On the other hand, ascetics presented themselves as exalted rulers, highlighting their privileged status within the social order.

Portraits of Women

Portraits of yogini (the female embodiment of yogic power) and ascetic women became popular in the 18th century. In these depictions, ascetic women transcend the boundaries between human and superhuman strength and worldly and spiritual love. The yoginis are depicted as goddesses or as women who attain supernatural powers but retain their human form. In addition, there are also depictions of princesses dressed as yoginis, expressing the ideal of self-sacrifice for love. The yoginis appear in the images as having equal power and influence to men in their spiritual pursuits.

A special exhibition by the Museum für Islamische Kunst – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin


More information: here

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