This miniature painting shows an encounter between a member of the Indian Mughal Empire elite and an ascetic, or holy man.
The holy man is a dervish, a person who has taken vows of poverty and living an austere life. His cell is depicted as a pavilion and he sits surrounded by his meagre possessions: a walking stick, pouch, book, small ceramic bowl and his prayer beads. A young attendant with a peacock-feather fan stands behind him to the left. His visitor is a youthful prince, sometimes identified as the young Jahangir (ruler of Mughal India 1605–27), who joins his hands together respectfully towards the holy man. The prince is attended by a number of figures who bear gifts for the dervish.
Many Mughal princes and emperors often visited important holy figures – both Muslim and non-Muslim personages – and also received them with great honour at court. One of the most unique characteristics of the Mughals was that they were Muslim rulers who governed a mostly non-Muslim population. This is a fact that sets them apart from other Islamic states during that time.
Miniatures reflect many aspects of Mughal life – their literature and history, court ceremonies, politics and personalities, pleasures and intellectual interests. The Emperor Jahangir prided himself on his connoisseurship in this area:
‘As regards myself, my liking for painting and my practice in judging it have arrived at such a point that when any work is brought before me, either of deceased artists or of those of the present day, without the name being told me, I can say on the spur of the moment that it is the work of such and such a man.’
This miniature shares many characteristics of the long tradition of Islamic miniature painting. It has incredible detail both in the foreground and background, and rich and subtle colours with a close and accurate depiction of nature.