The South Asian Artifacts in the British Museum

Before spring break, I visited the British Museum to explore the South Asian and Middle Eastern exhibits. Arab Muslim traders first reached the Indian subcontinent during the 600s and by the late 12th century, a sizable Muslim population had settled here. South Asia was under Muslim rule and Islam and Persian culture were then introduced to the region. Eventually, different empires established themselves throughout the Indian subcontinent, with the Mughal Empire ruling for one of the longest durations (from 1526 – 1858). This empire lasted until the British took control of the subcontinent for almost a century.

During my visit, I saw multiple items from the Indian subcontinent that Great Britain took during its rule. Most of these artifacts were from the Mughal Empire and include marble stones, pottery, knifes and art.

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The inscribed marble panel from above was likely commissioned by the emperor Jahangir, who was the fourth ruler of the Mughal Empire during the early 1600s. According to his memoirs, Jahangir ordered stonecutters to inscribe the following words, “The seat of the Shah of the seven worlds, Jahangir, son of the Akbar Shahanshah.” This verse appears in two central cartouches in a Persian script, along with the date and context for the poem’s composition.

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The top, shiny drinking cup was inscribed with the name of Shah Jahan, another Mughal emperor. Both sides of the cup were carved with identical inscriptions, referring to him as ‘World Conqueror’ and ‘Second Lord of the Conjunction.’ The latter title refers to Shah Jahan’s lineage from Timur, who found the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. Timur used the title ‘Lord of the Conjunction’ during the Timurid dynasty from 1370 – 1507. The bottom two dishes were also from the Mughal Empire during the late 17th century.

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This steel shield has four cartouches with invocations to God, the Prophet Muhammad (twice) and the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali. The shield is bordered with damascened gold and lines with red velvet. It it from the Mughal dynasty, sometime between the 1700s and the 1800s.

Seeing these artifacts was an interesting experience because I was able to learn about the history of the Mughal Empire. While the British Museum was worth the visit, it also brought up the issue of Britain having all these artifacts from other countries. Some people believe that these items should go back in their home countries where they belong. Besides this conflict, a trip to the British Museum was worth the time and one can learn a lot about both England and other countries at this museum and Britain’s long and diverse legacy in South Asia.  

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