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Guru Nanak converses with Muslim clerics, from a manuscript of the Janam Sakhi (Life Stories), 1800–1900

Guru Nanak converses with Muslim clerics, from a manuscript of the Janam Sakhi (Life Stories), 1800–1900. India or Pakistan; Punjab region. Opaque watercolors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Kapany Collection, 1998.58.22. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Guru Nanak converses with Muslim clerics, from a manuscript of the Janam Sakhi (Life Stories), 1800–1900. India or Pakistan; Punjab region. Opaque watercolors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Kapany Collection, 1998.58.22. Photograph © Asian Art Museum. 

Traditional texts describe five major journeys that Guru Nanak undertook in the course of his spiritual quest and ministry: east, south, and north in India, and west to Mecca and Baghdad. The guru and his party here visit Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. An interesting feature of this painting is the artist’s imagined rendering of the Ka’aba, Islam’s holiest shrine. The Ka’aba, a cube-shaped structure made of brick and covered with a black cloth, is here depicted as a mosque with domes and minarets, architectural and visual elements familiar from both Islamic tombs and Hindu temples. The black rock (hajr-e aswad) set into the Ka’aba is also misunderstood by the artist, who had likely only heard descriptions of it. It is shown here as a linga, a cylindrical form that is a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. Such details suggest the diverse religious environment of the time and of these artistic courts.

 

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