The Tale of the Buraq's Tail: Reading the Buraq's Journey Through Indo-Persian Literature in a Comparative Study of Buraq Imagery

  • Author / Creator
    Peters, Amber E
  • In my thesis, I analyse two composite animal Buraq paintings from the Medieval Deccan. These two paintings, apparent copies of each other, are significantly different from other images of the Buraq in the Muslim world. Instead of placing the Buraq in a narrative scene, the Buraq takes up the whole visual space in an icon-like manner. The visual drama of the Buraq’s journey is placed inside its body rather than in a surrounding landscape; the Deccani Buraqs are composite animals with numerous creatures filling their bodies. Additionally, the two Buraqs feature an atypical tail: this tail is the head of a dragon. In my thesis, I begin by searching for possible interpretations of the dragon-head element through a study of dragons in Indo-Persian literature popular in the Medieval Deccan. This analysis leads me to conclude that the dragon is an embodiment of the ego that must be tamed in order to progress along a spiritual quest. From there, I interpret the other animals in the Buraq’s body through a structural analysis of romantic Indian and Persian epics connected to the Buraq imagery through their depictions of animals, steeds, and the Buraq. My research shows how the Buraq paintings illustrate the spiritual journeys of Sufi disciples. The Sufi spiritual journey is connected to the Buraq because it is often described as a Personal Mi’raj that mirrors the Prophet’s ascension to Jerusalem and the heavens that he took on the back of the angel Gabriel and the flying ungulate, the Buraq. Through allusions to Persianate literatures in the composite elements of the paintings, the Buraq images embody the stages of the Sufi spiritual journey. The animal menagerie in the Buraq references a wild landscape that the heroes of romantic epics must cross to fulfill a quest. Before the heroes can find ease in the hardship of their journey, they must find peace with themselves and with the animal-filled landscape. To navigate the wilderness, the heroes find helpers who take the form of wild animals, a trained steed, or a Sufi ascetic. As the hero strives for union with their Beloved (often understood as a symbol for God), they conquer their egos and embody ascetic traits that correspond with the teachings of Sufism. This literature reveals two archetypes: the hero who must complete a quest and a helper who guides him along his way. These archetypes correspond with the hierarchy of a Sufi tariqa or school: namely, the romantic hero becomes like a Sufi disciple who must submit to a Sufi leader who serves as a Spiritual Helper. My analysis reveals the Buraq as a symbolic archetype for the Sufi spiritual leader. While the Buraq serves as the Prophet’s vehicle accelerating his journey of Isra and Mi’raj, the Sufi leader accelerates their disciple’s spiritual journey by offering them guidance along the spiritual path. As a whole, the dialogue between the Buraq paintings and literature of the Indo-Persian tradition reveals a connection between Buraq imagery and Medieval Indian Sufi Muslim practice. The Buraq paintings act as visual allegories of the Sufi Spiritual Journey, often described as a Personal Mi’raj. The Buraq paintings connect the Prophet’s Mi’raj with the Sufi disciple’s spiritual journey through the archetype of the Spiritual Helper, a role fulfilled by the Buraq in the air and by the Sufi leader here on Earth.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.