HomeServing the Sultan: Religious Diversity in Gujarat Under Islamic Rule

HomeServing the Sultan: Religious Diversity in Gujarat Under Islamic Rule

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Published on Thursday, November 03, 2022


The Serving the Sultan conference will re-visit and cross-examine the processes that forged and shaped this religiously multi-layered, and ethnically plural society during the Islamic period in Gujarat (1298 - 1756 AD). This will be achieved by focusing on religious minorities, either in the numerical sense (Jains/Parsis), or minorities in the sense of not sharing the religion of power (various Hindu traditions). These communities’ intellectual, artistic, and literary contributions at the Islamic courts, their relation with the Islamic rulers, their everyday lives, and their mutual interactions will emerge as the common thread throughout this conference. Moreover, this colloquium seeks to explore how these local actors are embedded in trans-regional socio-political and cultural processes, thus connecting the developments in Gujarat with the broader South-Asian context.




Throughout history, Gujarat has been a crossroads where numerous cultures, ethnicities and religions met, and goods and ideas were exchanged. In the port cities along the Arabian Sea coast, communities of Jains and Hindus with deep South-Asian roots interacted with Arab and Iranian merchants involved in the profitable Indian-Ocean trade. As some of these merchants settled, new communities put down roots in Gujarat, amplifying the region’s ethnic and religiously diverse composition. Such cosmopolitan interactions continued when the region came under Islamic domination during the Delhi Sultanate (1298–1407), the Gujarat Sultanate (1407-1573) and the Mughal period (1573-1756). Indeed, religious minorities such as Jains, Vaiṣṇava Hindus, and Parsis were particularly known for their involvement in intellectual, artistic, and literary activities in the region. At the courts of the Islamic rulers in Gujarat, poets, scribes, and artists belonging to religious minority communities wrote and copied philosophical, literary, and scientific texts, compiled dictionaries, painted, kept records, advised, and performed. From the 17th century onwards, European merchants and travellers further added to the diversity in the Gujarati ports and courts.

The Serving the Sultan conference will re-visit and cross-examine the processes that forged and shaped this religiously multi-layered, and ethnically plural society during the Islamic period in Gujarat (1298 - 1756 AD). This will be achieved by focusing on religious minorities, either in the numerical sense (Jains/Parsis), or minorities in the sense of not sharing the religion of power (various Hindu traditions). These communities’ intellectual, artistic, and literary contributions at the Islamic courts, their relation with the Islamic rulers, their everyday lives, and their mutual interactions will emerge as the common thread throughout this conference. Moreover, this colloquium seeks to explore how these local actors are embedded in trans-regional socio-political and cultural processes, thus connecting the developments in Gujarat with the broader South-Asian context. To further this endeavour, we welcome contributions from early-career as well as senior scholars working on history, language, literature, religion, and politics in medieval and early-modern Gujarat, but also invite papers on trade, social history, and philosophy relating to the region during the Islamic period.


International Conference organized at Ghent University in collaboration with FWO


Ghent, Belgium

Thursday/Feb. 9th/2023

9:30 AM Opening Session

  • Prof. Eva De Clerq (UGent): Welcome
  • Dr. Hamid Moein (FWO/UGent): Conference practicalities
  • Prof. Tine Vekemans (FWO/UGent): Introduction to the conference theme Who are you and What do you do? Blended and oppositional identities in cosmopolitan Gujarat

10:30 AM Coffee Break

11:00 AM Session 1 

Chair: Prof. Aparna Kapadia (Williams College)

  • Prof. John CORT (Denison University) Jains in Patan During Sultanate and Mughal Rule.

The conquest by the armies of ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Khaljī in 1298 CE of Patan, the royal capital in North Gujarat, marked a possible watershed moment for the Jains of that city, and even in Gujarat as a whole. After five centuries of rule by a succession of “Hindu” dynasties—Cāvaḍā, Caulukya, Vāghelā—the Jains of Patan no longer lived in a kingdom ruled by a “Hindu” dynasty, and in which Jains as ministers and merchants played a leading role in social, economic and political life. The city was now a provincial center in the Tughluq Sultanate. Its new identity was marked by the Jain chronicler Ambadevasūri in his Samarārāsu, written in 1315, in which he called the city “New Patan.” Scholars have debated what he meant by this—was it a completely new city, or was it largely the same only under new rulers? Much of the evidence in this debate comes from Jain sources, especially icon inscriptions, texts and manuscripts. In this paper I review the archive to show how the Jains of Patan continued to flourish for the next four centuries, under the rule of the Tughluq sultanate, then the Gujarati sultanate, and finally the Mughal empire. Taking such a micro-historical approach can help us better understand the lives of religiously defined “minority” communities during the four centuries of Islamicate rule in Gujarat.

  • Prof. Steven Vose (University of Colorado, Denver) Saṅghapati and Nagarśeṭh: Transformations of Lay Leadership of Śvetāmbara Communities through Participation in the Administration of the Sultanate Empire.

Several laymen (śrāvakas) feature prominently in Śvetāmbara lineage chronicles (gacchāvalis, paṭṭāvalis) and other narrative (prabandha) texts, which high-ranking monks of various orders (gacchas, gaṇas, etc.) composed in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries CE. They are noted particularly for leading large-scale pilgrimages to such prominent holy places (tīrthas) as Śatruñjaya and Girnār, gaining the title of saṅghapati (“Leader of the [Fourfold] Community”). Their identities as “Jains” has largely been assumed by modern historians, with little interrogation of how other aspects of their social identities are articulated in these texts. Thus, textual (and inscriptional) claims about their sectarian affiliation, socioeconomic class, and caste identities have been left unexplored. Among these lay leaders, Samara Sā (Shah) features prominently in several narrative texts, with the most extensive narration of his career in the 1336 CE Nābhinandanaji(r)ṇoddhāraprabandha by the Upakeśa Gaccha pontiff, Kakkasūri, which discusses his collaboration with the Khalji governor of Gujarat, Alp Khan, to restore the temples atop Śatruñjaya in 1315 and his own appointment to the governorship of Telangana under Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq (r. 1320-1325). However, he is also praised in the 1333 Vividhatīrthakalpa by the Kharatara Gaccha leader Jinaprabhasūri. 

This paper examines the textual and inscriptional claims made about several lay leaders to argue that there was a parallel process of articulating laymen’s roles and identities that paralleled discourses about key monks who engaged with the Sultanate as a process of “glorification” (prabhāvana) of the tradition, leading to claims about certain prominent monks being the “Leader of the Era” (yugapradhāna). This parallel discourse of prominent laymen saṅghapatis who also took on key roles in the administration of the Sultanate imperium or acted as liaisons with the court on behalf of certain leading monks, themselves working on behalf of their caste-based sectarian communities, intentionally conflates social and political leadership that gives rise in later centuries to the role of the nagarśeṭh, prominent, wealthy Jain laymen who take on leadership roles in major cities. While it is the case that Jain laymen, particularly wealthy merchants, have taken on key political leadership roles prior to the advent of the Delhi Sultanate that also included significant patronage of Jain pilgrimage places, the project of narrating this patronage and making it part of Jain praxis through literary production occurred only in the late thirteenth through the mid-fourteenth centuries CE. 

  • Prof. Shalin Jain (University of Delhi) In the Service of the Mughals: Sheth Shantidas Jhaveri of Ahmedabad.

This proposal posits that Mughal Empire heavily drew upon the pre-existing religious cultures, popular norms and belief system to negotiate with the regional formations. A micro study of the Gujarati Jain community’s interaction with the Mughals state, through the persona of an affluent Jain community leader fills in the gaps in the existing historiography. The Mughals, when reached to the regions, negotiated with the local magnets to incorporate them within the imperial power structure. Thus, Mughal state was largely functioning beyond the circuit of the royal court and religious interactions, constantly redefining and broadening the nature of polity to enable the state to derive its legitimacy from the regional socio-economic structures. This engagement can be dealt not only to emphasize a patron-client relationship between the Mughal state and the Jain community but also to underline the ‘new forms of social power’ and ‘social agency’ that were emerging in the region of Gujarat. Beyond the moments of interaction of Jain piety with the Mughal Emperors, here endeavor is to discuss the historical process and tensions inherent in the absorption of the regional Jain community in the technologies of governance. Basically, this proposal through the persona of a leading Jain merchant of Ahmedabad Shantidas Jhaveri assesses the regional Jain community of Gujarat and its engagement with the Mughal state. Shantidas, in spite of not being as great as Virji Vora in material terms, became a type of icon and his domineering presence in the Jain sources presents in as the representative of the region al Jain community of Gujarat. Through his economic and social role vital for the Mughals and religious and cultural connection with the Jain community, Shantidas could fix-up certain moral and immoral practices to ascertain his individual authority. Thus, the one who identifies with the ‘community’ and engages with the ‘State’ remains alive in the public memory. Here the symbolic meaning of philanthropy as practiced by the members of the Jain community and their agency in the regional life of the community too gets unfolded through the study of the social world of a Jain individual.

1:00 PM Lunch

2:30 PM Session 2.

Chair: Prof. Tine Vekemans (Ghent University)

  • Prof. Mark Hale (Concordia University) Pahlavi, Avestan and Sanskrit: Zoroastrian Translation Techniques.

This study focusses on the Sanskrit translations of major Zoroastrian texts originally composed in Avestan or Pahlavi. Contrasts between the translations of Neryosang and those of his contemporaries will be explored, particularly with regard to what role the translators understanding of the original texts played in their making them available to the linguistically diverse Zoroastrian communities of their day.

  • Dr. Hamid Moein (Ghent University) Dastur Ardašir Nuširvān (1597) working at the Mughal court.

The Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, amongst many of their attributes, they were very well- known for being patrons of arts, sciences, and literature. At their courts they disposed of artisans, scribes, scholars/priests, etc., from non-Muslim faiths, most notably Jains, Hindus, Parsis. Amongst these scholars, we find Dastur Ardašir Nuširvān, a Zoroastrian priest who was hired at the court of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great to compile a Persian dictionary. We find out about him in the Rivāyāts, which are a series of 26 epistolary exchanges between the Indian and Iranian Zoroastrian communities, from1478 until 1773. It is in one of these exchanges that this Dastur (Zoroastrian priestly rank) writes to Dastur Kāmdīn Padam of Broach, and he shares his experiences.

  • Prof. Jamsheed Choksy (Indiana University, Bloomington) Parsi and Irani Zoroastrians' Encounters with Muslims and Hindus in Pre-Colonial India.

Abstract will follow

  • Prof. Kaveh Yazdani (University of Connecticut) The Socio-Economic Activities of Parsis in Western India, 17th to 19th Century.

This paper examines the socio-economic conditions for the ascendancy of the Zoroastrian community in Western India (Gujarat and Bombay) between the 17th and 19th century. This study reinforces the well-established thesis on the role played by the Parsis in the development of capitalism in India. What distinguishes it from other narratives is the periodization of this development and the consideration of Parsi agency in Mozambique. The cooperation of the Parsis with the European trade companies and private European traders as of the mid-17th century – most notably, their links to the British East India Company (EIC), which greatly boosted the Zoroastrian communities of northwestern India – will be investigated. We will depict how the Parsis, who had been predominantly peasants, farmers and artisans from the 10th to 17th centuries, increasingly encroached on trade, moneylending and brokerage. Because of their accumulated wealth, their numbers as well as their influence augmented throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They ranked among the most powerful merchants in 19th century Zanzibar, as well as the country that was renamed Mozambique by the Portuguese. 

6:30 PM Conference Dinner

Friday/FEB. 10th/2023

9:30 AM Session 3.

Chair: Dr. Arthur Dudney (University of Cambridge)

  • Prof. Audrey Truschke (Rutgers University Rutgers University) Many Jain Experiences with Indo-Muslim Power in Gujarat.

Gujarat has long been both a frontier zone and hosted a substantial Jain population. In this paper, I look at where those two features come together in Jain negotiations with medieval and early modern Indo-Muslim power in the region. Specifically, I investigate how different Jain figures negotiated with Indo-Muslim dynasties and rulers over several centuries in a series of vignettes that illustrates the options and limitations encountered by members of this minority religious group over time. I prioritize diversity within the Jain community, looking at travellers, merchants, and monks. I also address different points in the formulation of Muslim-led dynasties, stretching from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. This analysis sheds light on the wide variety of Jain experiences and also the nature of Indo-Muslim political authority in Gujarat.

  • Dr. Basile Leclere (Lyon 3 University) Rāma’s Journey into the Yavana RealmReading Sanskrit Drama at the Court of Sultan Mahmud Begra

In the first decades of the thirteenth century took place –in the words of the famous Indian scholar B. J. Sandesara– the “last political and cultural revival of Hindu Gujarat”, before the annexation of the region to the Delhi Sultanate. Indeed, the prince Vīradhavala from the Vaghelā branch of the Caulukya Dynasty and his Jain ministers Vastupāla and Tejaḥpāla repelled attacks from many sides and held at Dholka, a court that attracted many poets and scholars. First and foremost, the Nāgara Brahmin Someśvara, hereditary chaplain of the Caulukya Dynasty, highly contributed to the prestige of his patrons by composing several Sanskrit texts of the most renowned genres. Most notably, he retraced in a mahākāvya in nine cantos, the Kīrtikaumudī, the history of Gujarat from the advent of the Caulukya Dynasty up to Vastupāla’s ministership, but he also wrote a mythological mahākāvya in fifteen cantos, the Surathotsava. He also showed a marked interest for the legend of Rāma, which he retold twice, as a century of verses on one hand, the Rāmaśataka, and as a heroic drama on the other hand, the Ullāgharāghava. What is very specific about the latter text is that one of the extant manuscripts was copied down for the reading of two Muslim dignitaries, Khān Hasīl and Khān Burhān, under the reign of Sultan Mahmud Begra. What reasons could have impelled these people to do so? What kind of interest could they have in such text, written in Sanskrit language? Besides trying to learn more about these courtiers, I will tackle these issues by considering how culturally and politically relevant could have been, for later elites, of a Rāma play written by a royal chaplain of Brahmin descent.

  • Dr. Meia Walravens (Antwerp University) Writing Gujarat in Islamic universal history: The Ṭabaqāt-i Maḥmūd Shāhī of ʿAbd al-Karīm Nīmdihī

After the murder of the famous Bahmani vizier Maḥmūd Gāwān in 1481, his secretary ʿAbd al-Karīm Nīmdihī left India’s Deccan region for Gujarat in 1482, where he remained until his death around 1501, with a brief interlude spent in Hormuz between 1484 and 1487. A native of Laristan, Nīmdihī was one of many Persian immigrants in the Indian subcontinent who brought their skills to bear on the political projects of South Asian sultanates. Following his work as a secretary in the Bahmani sultanate, in which capacity he drafted numerous Persian and Arabic letters, he composed a universal history for the sultan of Gujarat called Ṭabaqāt-i Maḥmūd Shāhī. A colossal work, it reviews Islamic history from the prophet Muḥammad up to contemporary developments in Gujarat and neighbouring “Indian” sultanates. In this paper, I discuss how this work fits within a tendency in the late medieval and early modern period to connect regional accounts to a “universal” understanding of Islamic history. In other words, this paper will elucidate how Persian scholar-secretaries like Nīmdihī tried to integrate (the literary image of) their adoptive countries more closely into the wider Islamic world, drawing on their own experiences as transregional migrants and on their long-distance networks.

11:00 AM Coffee Break

11:30 AM Session 4.

Chair: Dr. Hamid Moein (FWO/Ghent University)

  • Prof. Jyoti Gulati Balachandran (Pennsylvania State University) Accommodating Spiritual Diversity in the Gujarat Sultanate.

This paper turns the focus to the diversity of belief and orthopraxis that existed within the Muslim community under the Gujarat Sultans. It highlights the presence of multiple spiritual fraternities and the manner in which they were accommodated by the Gujarat sultans in their realm. As the many episodes recounted in the contemporary literature produced by courtiers and Sufi disciples suggest, while the presence of prominent spiritual preceptors could undermine the authority of the sultans, royal patronage to certain Sufis could also serve to consolidate sultans’ authority in significant ways. The Sufi networks were further integral in connecting the Gujarat Sultanate to the larger Islamic scholarly communities, especially across the Indian Ocean. As this paper evaluates the role of Sufi spaces in the consolidation of the sultans’ rule, it pays special attention to the relative importance of certain Sufis from different spiritual lineages throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

  • Prof. Iqbal Akhtar (Florida International University) Exploring Islamic hybridity in medieval Punjab and Sindh

This paper will explore the ways in which the Khoja caste community integrated Islamic and Indic ideas of Divine through vernacular devotionals in their indigenous scripts and dialects of what is now regarded as Gujarati, Sindhi, and Hindustani. The Khoja community represents and important step in the Islamization of the region as this mercantile community eventually helped seed Shia Islamic ideas throughout the Western Indian Ocean region.  

  • Dr. Annalisa Bocchetti (Ghent University) Sufi poetic and political rhetoric: Rise and Development of the Premakthā Genre During Sultanate and Mughal India

The Indian Sufi romances or tales (premakathās), written in the Avadhī language by poets with Muslim roots, are mystical narratives that took hold in North India but have long circulated throughout the subcontinent, defying linguistic and literary boundaries. As Digby demonstrates in his study, these narratives emerged from a process of indigenization that can be traced to the immigration and settlement of Muslims into the provinces of the Delhi Sultanate towards the end of the fourteenth century (Digby 2004: 340–43). Their authors produced mystical poetry that was appealing to multicultural audiences, incorporating local and Perso-Islamic religious and poetic imagery while adapting them to local Indian sensibilities (Behl 2016: 1–3, 286-287). In light of their emergence in a highly political and multicultural environment, I attempt to read them against the background of regional sultantes which took hold in India, including the Gujarat Sultanate (1407-1573), whose religious and cultural politics indirectly resonate through their narration.

1:00 PM Lunch

2:30 PM Session 5.

Chair: Prof. Samira Sheikh (Vanderbilt University)

  • Prof. Olle Qvarnström (Lund University) Pilgrimage and Storytelling: Jain Adaptation to Muslim Rule during the Delhi Sultanate

Abstract will follow

  • Dr. Sander Hens (Ghent University) Melting stone-like men in Merutuṅga’s Prabandhacintāmaṇi (1305): a Jain poet-historian’s attempt to unify religious differences?

In this paper I attempt to explore the guiding literary-historical rationale behind Merutuṅga’s Prabandhacintāmaṇi (1304), one of the most well-known and most-used sources about the history of Gujarat during the turbulent period between the formation and early expansion of Sultanate rule. Although the temporal focus, in terms of theme, excludes the history of Alauddin's military campaigns in the region, like the two invasions during the rule of the Vaghela king Karṇa (1299 and 1304), the text is clearly aware of this new round in the region’s troubled political-cultural history. Arguably, this awareness can be read into several of the stories that comment on the interaction between Jains and Muslims – even though, importantly, the text’s focus remains on Jaina-Shaiva interactions. In this paper, I will zoom in at the story of Vastupāla lending passage to a Muslim saint on his way to Mecca, and the curious, ensuing episode involving Vastupāla's request to obtain marble from a mine (in Sultanate territory) to build an icon of Pārśvanātha - who decides to strike down the image in anger and curse the devoted Jain minister. Instead of treating Merutuṅga’s text as a more or less random collection of such and other historical narratives with useful historical information about bygone times, I will try to examine such episodes through the lens of the author's opening and concluding verses: not his often-quoted definition of the prabandha genre, but through his (always-neglected) invocation of the eighth tīrthaṅkara Candraprabhā, whose moon-like wisdom is said to have the power “to melt stone-like men” and the concluding remark about the Moon’s never-ending dice-game with the Sun. I hope to demonstrate that throughout Prabandhacintāmaṇi, the “Wishfulfilling-gem of narratives” – often translated as the “wishing-stone” - the author purposefully uses images of planetary movement and light, stones and gems (their mining, and their worship in the form of icons or material wealth) as structuring themes to comment on issues of blockage and obfuscation. In Merutuṅga’s stories, everyone - regardless of the adopted religious identities – appears to walk the same, difficult road toward worldly and spiritual peace and fortune. But this shared path tends to get blocked by both time- and man-made divisions and boundaries, necessitating the poet’s (often hopeless) quest to melt these away.

  • Simon Winant (Ghent University) Kingly Vices and Jain Virtues: A 13th-century Jain Mahābhārata adaptation, Jain prabandhas & Jain anxieties towards non-Jain rulers.

As an influential minority in Gujarāt, Jains sought to safeguard their religious rights and promote Jain ethics in their contacts with Islamicate rulers such as the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal court. Jaina texts occasionally mention Jain community leaders seeking farmāns from the Delhi sultans to organise pilgrimages and to restore pilgrimage centres such as Śatruñjaya. Similarly, as explored by Truschke in ‘Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court’ (2016), Jains working at the Mughal court sometimes lobbied for policies regarding animal slaughter during Jain festivals. In this paper, I will demonstrate how Jains’ interest in influencing Gujarāt-based rulers to pursue Jain virtues is a long-standing tradition that antedates Islamicate rule in that region. Through a comparison of Devaprabhasūri’s Pāṇḍavacarita, a 13th-century Jain Mahābhārata adaptation composed in the courtly environments of the Caulukya and the Vāghela dynasty, both of which are predominantly Hindu, with historical anecdotes from Jain semi-historical texts of the Prabandha-genre, I will to shed light on Jain anxieties concerning non-Jain rulers. The Pāṇḍavacarita’s preoccupation with vyasanas (vice) such as hunting  (pāparddhi/mṛgayā) in its treatment of kṣatriya characters such as Śāntanu and Vicitravīrya seems to be informed by these anxieties. By connecting the Pāṇḍavacarita’s exploration of vyasana with semi-historical anecdotes from Prabandhas, I wish to explore this continuity of Jain engagement as a religious minority with the rulers of Gujarāt.

4:00 PM Open Round Table

5:00 PM Conclusion & Goodbye


  • Dept. Languages and Cultures - Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2t
    Ghent, Belgium

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


  • Friday, February 10, 2023
  • Thursday, February 09, 2023

Attached files


  • religious diversity, islamic gujarat, parsis, jain, hindu, mughal


  • Tine Vekemans
    courriel : tine [dot] vekemans [at] ugent [dot] be

Information source

  • Hamid Moein
    courriel : hamid [dot] moeinziaei [at] ugent [dot] be


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Serving the Sultan: Religious Diversity in Gujarat Under Islamic Rule », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Thursday, November 03, 2022,

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