“Wine in the Mughal World”

“Alcohol flows across cultures: Drinking cultures in transnational and comparative perspective”

International Research Symposium, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29–30 June 2016

[Symposium Podcasts]


“Wine in the Mughal World”


Dr Divya Narayanan

Associate Member, Heidelberg Centre for the Environment,

University of Heidelberg, Germany


This talk draws on material from my PhD dissertation, defended at the University of Heidelberg, Germany in May 2015. It looks at the symbolism and role of wine in high Mughal culture in India between the late fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, with a particular focus on the transcultural connections that fostered the articulation of a distinct Indo-Persian wine culture.


Drawing on Persian histories, chronicles and medical texts, supplemented by European travelogues and factory records as well as Mughal miniature paintings, this talk will argue that the trajectory of wine culture in Mughal social circles was influenced and shaped by the evolution of Mughal polity from relatively egalitarian Turkic ‘tribal’ origins to more mature ‘Persianised’ state systems. This closely followed a similar metamorphosis of feasting customs, which increasingly began to incorporate elaborate rituals of etiquette and more circumscribed gender roles. Rudi Matthee discusses a somewhat similar set of developments with regard to Ṣafawid and Qājār Iran (Matthee, 2005) and my work draws on his analysis to highlight the exchanges, parallels as well as differences between the Iranian and the Mughal Indian experiences. A particular case in point concerns the diffusion and exchange of ideas regarding the medical qualities of wine, which were inflected by various intellectual strands including pre-Islamic Arabic and Persian thought, Islamic orthopraxy and Central Asian ‘quasi-tribal’ notions of camaraderie. I will particularly refer to a Persian manuscript of Iranian provenance produced towards the end of the fifteenth century (1480 CE), which although not being explicitly a medical text, discusses wine in highly medicalised terms. This discussion will be situated within a comparative analysis, focussing mainly on European and Islamicate Asian cultures.


My talk will begin with a brief discussion of wine in the context of Islamic religious thought, its role in Ṣūfīistic (Islamic mystical) practice, and its place in various Islamicate cultures of the Middle East and South Asia. This will include a discussion of the medicalisation of wine within a transnational perspective. I will then move on to analysing its changing social role in the Mughal and Indo-Iranian contexts from primary source materials. My talk will end with a cross-cultural comparison of the Mughal case with that of Ṣafawid Iran and contemporary ethnological studies. Of particular concern here will be the socio-historical roots and transcultural experiences of gendered drinking practices.



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