In Persian and Arabic ‘ain carries several meanings, including “eye, vision, a fountain, wellspring, or source.” The poetry of the Sufi shaikh Shah Ni‘matullah Vali (Kirman-Mahan, Iran, 1330–1431) inscribed in the shrine of the Bahmani sultan Ahmad Shah al-Wali al-Bahmani (Ashtur, Deccan India, r. 1422–1436) is full of wordplay on ‘ain. Just as the inscriptions in Ahmad Shah's shrine (khānqāh) draw heavily on each of these meanings, its murals give sight to these ‘ains. The paintings recognizably depict poetic allusions, and calligraphic talismans intensify each utterance. The shrine is surrounded by water sources, placing emphasis on instances when ‘ain means fountain. This article offers an interpretation of the decorative program in the shrine of Ahmad Shah, and argues that this monument demonstrates a phenomenon where a poetic text is integrated into a profoundly aestheticized space.
The Bahmani empire of Gulbarga and Bidar was the first Islamicate court culture to flourish in South-Central India and unified a vast territory from which the Deccani sultanates later emerged. This article demonstrates how the shrine of Ahmad Shah exemplifies a broader genealogy of Deccani refractions of the Timurid International Style. While the large-scale migration of Ni‘matullahi Sufis from Iran to the Deccan imported certain aesthetic sensibilities, this research also draws attention to how local visual culture is reflected in the shrine's murals. It speculates how the careful planning of this site would have involved the collaboration of Indian and Iranian nobility, architects, and painters.