Bīdil’s Portrait

Asceticism and Autobiography

in Philological Encounters
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.



Have Institutional Access?

Login with your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


In 1704 the Indo-Persian Sufi and poet Mirzā ʿAbdul Qādir ʿBīdil’ completed an autobiography entitled The Four Elements (Chahār ʿunṣur). Into the fourth “Element” of this text he set an account of a portrait of himself painted around 1677 by Anūp Chhatr, a painter famous for his portraits in the imperial Mughal ateliers of the time. Initially refusing his painter-acquaintance permission to paint him, Bīdil finally yields and is astonished at how the resulting portrait duplicates him like a mirror. After marveling at it for a decade, he falls ill. His friends visit him in his sickbed and one of them, leafing through his anthology of texts, comes upon the painting. He exclaims at how faded it is. Bīdil himself can barely make it out on the page. When he recovers his health, he opens the anthology to examine the faded portrait and is astonished and shocked, as his friends are, to see that it has recovered its brilliant colors. He tears the painting up.

This essay reads this ekphrastic account of self-transformation as an autobiographical and iconoclastic interpretation, playing on philosophical, literary and painterly traditions of visuality, in particular Ibn ʿArabi’s (d. 1240, Andalusia) theory of the imagination. Among the questions that will be pursued are: what understandings of self and self-transformation did Bīdil renew by this interpretation? How is this episode a focusing of concerns that pervade all of The Four Elements? What kind of reader and reading practices did this autobiography assume? And, finally, does an understanding of Bīdil’s iconoclastic self-transformation—turning on this episode—prepare us to better understand his works in other genres?

  • ʿĀlīNiʿmat KhānVaqāʿī1873KanpurNaval Kishor

  • AnṣārīKhwājah AbdullāhMunājāt va guftār-i pīr-i Herāt1390/1970KabulThālith

  • AnṣārīNūr al-ḤasanFārsi adab ba ʿahd-i Aurangzeb1969DelhiIndo-Persian Society

  • ʿArabīIbn.al-Futūḥat al-makkiyyahAccessed August 3 2013http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/articles/mr_introduction.html#_ftn2

  • ʿArabīIbn.BewleyAyeshaThe Seals of Wisdom (Fusus al-hikam)Accessed on August 3 2013http://bewley.virtualave.net/fusus.htm

  • ĀrzūSirāj al-Dīn ʿAlī Khān“ʿAṭiyah-i kubrā”ʿAṭiyah-i kubrā va mawhibat-i ʿuẓmā1381/2002TehrānFirdaws

  • BeltingHansSchneiderDeborah LucasFlorence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science2011Harvard University Press

  • Be-ṣabrBālmukundMasnavī lakht-i jigar1999New DelhiAnjuman-i taraqqi-i urdu

  • BīdilDīvān-i Bīdil: jild-i avval1376/1998TehrānIntishārāt-i Ilḥām

  • BīdilDīvān-i Bīdil: jild-i duvvum1376/1998Tehrānmu’assasa-yi intishārāt-i Ilḥām

  • Bīdil“Chahār ‘unṣur.”Āvāzʾhā-i Bīdil1386/2007TehranMuʾassasah-i Intishārāt-i Nigāh

  • Bīdil“Nikāt.”Āvāzʾhā-i Bīdil1386/2007TehranMuʾassasah-i Intishārāt-i Nigāh

  • Bīdil“Ruqaʿāt.”Āvāzʾhā-i Bīdil1386/2007TehranMuʾassasah-i Intishārāt-i Nigāh

  • BruijnThomas deRuby in the Dust: Poetry and History in Padmāvat by the South Asian Sufi Poet Muḥammad Jāyasī2012LeidenLeiden University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BurckhardtTitusRaufBulentMystical Astrology According to Ibn ʿArabiLouisvilleFons Vitae, 2001

  • ChandraSatishParties and Politics at the Mughal Court: 1707-17402002DelhiOxford University Press

  • ErnstCarl“The Man without Attributes: Ibn ʿArabi’s Interpretation of Abu yazid al-Bistami.”Accessed June 29 2012www.unc.edu/⁓cernst/articles.ht

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FaruqiShamsur Rahman“A Stranger in the City: the Poetics of Sabk-i Hindi.”Accessed July 13 2012http://ftp.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/srf/sabkihindi/srf_sabk_i_hindi.pd

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FrishkopfMichael“Authorship in Sufi Poetry.”Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics20032378108

  • GenetteGerardPalimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree1997LincolnUniversity of Nebraska Press

  • GhaniAbdulLife and Works of Abdul Qadir Bedil1960LahoreUnited Publishers

  • GhazāliAbū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Kīmīyā-yi saʿādat: jild-i avval1370/1991TehranShirkat-i intishārāt-i ʿilmī va farhangī

  • GhelīchkhāniḤamidrezāIṣṭilahāt-i nuskha-pardāzī dar divān-i bīdil-i dihlavī2011New DelhiCenter for Persian Research, Office of the Cultural Counselor, Islamic Republic of Iran

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HādiNabiMirzā Bedil2009DelhiEducational Publishing House

  • HoutsmaM. ThHoutsmaM. Th.“Kāhin.”E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopedia of Islam1913-1936Volume 4624626

  • HujwiriʿAli bin Usmān al-Jullābi alNicholsonR.A.Kashf al-mahjūb: the Oldest Persian Treatise in Sufism1936LondonLuzac

  • KeshavmurthyPrashant“The Local Universality of Poetic Pleasure: Sirājuddin ʿAli Khān Ārzū and the Speaking Subject.”Indian Economic and Social History Review2013502745

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • KhānDargāh QulīMuraqqaʿ-i dehlī1941HyderabadTaj Press

  • KhvushgūBindrāban DāsSafīnah-i Khvushgū: daftar-i thālith1959PatnaIdārah-i taḥqīqat-i ʿArabī va Fārsī

  • KhusrawAmīrDībāchah-i dīvān-i ghurrat al-kamāl1975LahoreMatba‘-i ʿaliya

  • LangermannY. TzviHogendijkJan P.SabraAbdelhamid I.“Another Andalusian Revolt? Ibn Rushd’s Critique of Al-Kindi’s Pharmacological Computus.”The Enterprise of Science in Islam: New Perspectives2003LondonMIT Press351352

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LosenskyPaulWelcoming Fighani: Imitation and Poetic Individuality in the Safavid-Mughal Ghazal1998Costa MesaMazda Publishers

  • MinissaleGregoryImages of Thought: Visuality in Islamic India: 1550-17502006New CastleCambridge Scholars Press

  • MinissaleGregory“The Dynamics of the Gaze in Mughal Painting.”Marg200658No. 251

  • MinissaleGregory“Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Mughal Miniatures: Some Observations on the Outward Gazing Figure in Mughal Art.”Marg200758No. 34049

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MitchellW.J.T“Ekphrasis and the Other.”Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation1994ChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muḥammad Ghulām Muḥammad binSharḥ-i yūsuf u zulaykhāms bw Ivanow 0064. Redpath Library McGill University Montreal Canada.

  • MurataSachikoChinese Gleams of Sufi Light: Wang Tai-yu’s Great Learning of the pure and Real and Liu Chih’s Displaying the concealment of the Real Realm; with a new translation of Jami’s Lawāʾih from the Persian by William C. Chittick2000AlbanyState University of New York Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PelloStefanoBuschA.de BruijnT.“Persian as a Passe-partout: The Case of Mirzā ʿAbd al-Qādir Bīdil and his Hindu disciples.”People in Motion Ideas in Motion: Culture and Circulation in Pre-Modern South Asia2013LeidenBrill

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RoxburghDavid J“Kamal al-Din Bihzad and Authorship in Persian Painting.”Muqarnas200017119146

  • RūmīJalāl al-DīnMasnavī-i Maʿnavī: daftar-i avval1373/1994TehrānPizhmān95

  • RūmīJalāl al-DīnMasnavī-i Maʿnavī: daftar-i panjum1373/1994TehrānPizhmān95

  • SaʿdiʿAbudullāh Musliḥ al-Kitāb-i gulistān1360/1942Tehranchap-khana-yi gulshan

  • SaljuqiSalāḥuddīnNaqd-i bīdil1388/1968TehranMuhammad Ibrahim Shari‘ati Afghanistani

  • ‘Shafīq’Lacchmī NārāyanTazkirah-i Gul-i Raʿnā1967HyderabadʿAhd-āfarīn Press

  • ShirāziNūruddīn Muḥammad AbdullāhʿIlājāt-i dārā shukūhi or Ṭibb-i dārā shukūhims 6226 Kitāb-khānah-i majlis Tehrān Irān

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SiddiqiMoazzam“ ʿAbdul Qādir Khān Bīdel.”Enyclopedia IranicaAccessed August 3 2013http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bidel-bedil-mirza-abd-al-qader-

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • QasemiSharif Husain“Chahār Onṣor.”Encyclopedia IranicaAccessed August 3 2013http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cahar-onsor-four-elements-an-autobiographical-work-in-prose-by-the-poet-and-sufi-abul-maani-mirza-abd-al-qader-b

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RiẓāMuḥammadPainting 7573 folio 25r. British Library London England

  • SoucekPriscillaEttinghausenRichard“Nizami on Painters and Painting.”Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art1972New YorkThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SoucekPriscilla“The Theory and Practice of Portraiture in the Persian Tradition.”Muqarnas20001797108

  • StewartDevin J“Saj‘ in the Qur’an: Prosody and Structure.”Journal of Arabic Literature199021No. 2101139

  • VermaSom PrakashMughal Painters and their Work: a Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue1995DelhiOxford University Press

  • ZatalliJaʿfarZatal-nāma: Kulliyāt-i Jaʿfar Zatalli2011DelhiAnjuman taraqqi-i Urdu

  • ZippoliRicardoChirā sabk-i hindi dar dunyā-yi gharb sabk-i bāruk khwānda mishavad?1984Tehrananjuman-i farhangī-i itāliyā, bakhsh-i bāstānshināsī

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • View in gallery
    Portrait by Anūp Chhatr of the Emperor Aurangzeb, “Credit: Portrait of the Emperor Aurangzeb, India, 1658-59 (ink on paper) Chattar, Anup (fl.c.1640-79) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images / The Bridgeman Art Library”
Index Card
Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 24 24 4
Full Text Views 1 1 1
PDF Downloads 1 1 1
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0