Understanding Mughal Art and Architecture

Understanding Mughal Art and Architecture

Mughal Art and Architecture

The Indo-Islamic architecture mentions the art of Indian architecture, carried from the cultural mixing after the dawn of Muslim rulers into the sub-continent.

The most essential coup that the Turkish rulers brought was the use of the arch. The Arabs borrowed this from the Eastern Roman Empire at Byzantine. The new architectural form made that using a mortar of a superior kind used geometrical and floral decorative designs, partially obtained from a built tradition of primeval architecture. The Muslim rulers, did not embellish buildings with human and animal figures and filed the panels with inscriptions from Quran.

Art simply refers to the expression of skill whereas architecture means the art of building generally by structures. Both proclamations speak for the aesthetic side of human beings. There is a slow improvement in people’s aesthetic sense due to the development of science and technology.

Let’s have a glimpse of Mughal art and architecture and how it evolved. The Mughals had enough time to rule. They were able to deploy the resources of India to build such buildings and monuments that would help to glorify their rule over India. The Mughal art and architecture was a combination of Indian, Persian, Central Asian, and skills and designs of Europe.

Mughal architecture is not just about beauty and grandeur but it is also about functionality. So, we very often mistake the factors of beauty with its functional elements, and in this article, we are going to look at the functional aspects of some Mughal architecture.

Mughal Empire

As we know, India is one of the oldest round the clock inhabited places on Earth. It’s one of the most heavily populated regions in the world too. So, there have been a lot of people to leave their mark on the history of this subcontinent over the golden age. Every group of people who called this region home had their impact, and the Mughals are no exception. In India, they were one of the greatest empires.

The Mughal Empire ruled hundreds of millions of people. India became united under one rule and had very prosperous cultural and political time during the Mughal rule. There were many Muslim and Hindu kingdoms split throughout India until the founders of the Mughal Empire came. Some men such as Babur, grandson of the Great Asian conqueror Tamerlane and the conqueror Genghis Khan from the northern region of Ganges, river valley, who decided to take over Khyber, and eventually, all of India.

The Mughal Empire was a military state dominating the subcontinent from roughly 1526 to 1857. Formally the Mughals claimed Turkish/Mongolian ancestry had close cultural connections to the Arabian Peninsula. While still being ingeniously innovative, their cultural practices were intensely linked to many others across Eurasia. And as a result of that, they left some valuable legacies in India, making them stand out among the millions. Mughal architecture is an exclusive Indo-Islamic architectural design that developed in northern and central India under the aegis of Mughal emperors from the 16th to the 18th century.

The Mughal Empire expanded far and wide throughout much of the Indian-subcontinent, and during this prosperity, art flourished. The empire covered 3.2 million square kilometers, with over 150 million people, which also constitutes of the one-quarter of the earth’s population at the time.

Babur (1526-1530)

The great-grandson of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan was known to be the first Mughal emperor ever in Indian history. He confronted and defeated Lodhi in 1526 at the first battle of Panipat, and so came to establish the Mughal Empire in India. Babur ruled until 1530 and was further succeeded by his son Humayun.

Humayun (1530-1540 and 1555-1556)

The eldest son of Babur succeeded after his father and became the second emperor of the Mughal Empire. He ruled India for nearly a decade but Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler ousted him. Humayun wandered for about 15 years after his defeat. Meanwhile, Sher Shah Suri died and Humayun was able to defeat his successor, Sikandar Suri, and regain his rule of the Hindustan. However, soon after, he died in 1556 at the young age of 48 years.

Sher Shah Suri (1540-1545)

Sher Shah Suri was an Afghan leader who annexed the Mughal Empire after defeating Humayun in 1540. He held the Delhi throne for no more than five years, but his reign became an important stage in the Sub-continent. As a king, he has several achievements to his credit. He built an efficient public administration. He set up a revenue collection system based on the measurement of land. Justice was on the side of the common man.

Numerous civil works were carried out during his short rule: planting trees, wells, and building of Sarai (inns) for travelers were all of his accomplishments. He paved the roads, and built the grand trunk road from Delhi to Kabul. However, Sher Shah did not survive long after his accession on the throne and died in 1545.

Mughal Art

Let’s begin by taking a glimpse at the arts of the Mughal Empire. The Mughals believed in education and in demonstrating their refinement and benevolence through the arts, so these became important parts of India during this time. One of the most notable developments was in painting.

What we now call Mughal painting appeared as a combination of Persian and Indian artistic traditions during the rule of Humayun, the second emperor of the Mughal dynasty. While he exiled from India, Humayun exposed to Persian miniature painting, immensely used to represent Islamic manuscripts.

When Humayun returned to India, he brought artists with him and set up royal workshops to develop the Mughal design of painting. His best-known commission is a collection of poems from the famous Muslim poet Nizami Ganjavi. The Khamsa, or collection of works, contains almost 40 miniature paintings to accompany the poems.

Refined Mughal painting

Over the next century, the Mughal painting further refined. While originally very Persian, it became reformulated through Indian color schemes and aesthetics. Mughal paintings tend to be colorful and finely painted, highlighting scenes from nature, history, and court life. The design contains of a mixture of flattened abstraction with illusions of depth and complex designs.

The Mughal artistic tradition, mainly expressed in painted miniatures, as well as small luxury objects, was eclectic, borrowing from Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Renaissance European stylistic and thematic elements. Mughal emperors often took in Iranian bookbinders, illustrators, painters, and calligraphers from the Safavid court due to the correspondences of their Timurid designs, and due to the Mughal affinity for Iranian art and calligraphy. Miniatures commissioned by the Mughal emperors primarily focused on large projects illustrating books with eventful historical scenes and court life, but later included more single images for albums, with portraits and animal paintings displaying a profound appreciation for the serenity and beauty of the natural world. For example, Emperor Jahangir authorized brilliant artists such as Ustad Mansur to realistically portray unusual flora and fauna.

Mughal painting is a particular design of South Asian, specifically, modern-day India and Pakistan, and it is confined to miniatures either as book demonstrations or as single works. It appeared from Persian miniature painting itself partly of Chinese origin and developed in the court of the Mughal Empire.

Patronizing their Persian painters, the Mughals took great interest in paintings that reflected a collaboration of Indo-Persian synthesis. Originating from the time of the Turkish-Afghan Delhi Sultanate, the paintings flourished under the rule of Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, the Mughal rulers. The art of Mughal painting flourished over time and evolved into realistic portraiture.


It is worth mentioning that the Mughals were the great builders. The influence of the Persian was the overpowering feature of the art as the rulers themselves were from those lands. It is not wrong to say that art had seen a revolution under the Mughals who wanted to completely modify stone into an emblem of their prestige. The forts and the monuments illustrated the personal ideals of the rulers who wanted the upcoming generations to remember them and glorify their rule. So the existing Mughal buildings represent a past generation and its ideals.

Every painting project involved various talented artists and each one had a specific role to play. While some of them worked on the composition, the next set of artists will take care of the actual painting. The last set of artists will concentrate on the smallest details of the art.

Persian artists such as Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad played a key role in the growth of Mughal painting. Later, in the 16th-17th centuries, artists such as Daswant, Basawan and Miskin worked at the Mughal court and supported it.

During Akbar’s rule, an artist named Kesu Das started implementing European techniques in Mughal paintings. A renowned painter named Govardhan worked under three major Mughal emperors – Akbar, Jahangir and, Shah Jahan. Other prominent artists of the Mughal period were Kamal, Mushfiq, and, Fazl. Many other artists, including Bhawanidas and Dalchand, started working at Rajput courts when the Mughal Empire began to go down. Thus, the commencement of Mughal Era in India was brought about a lot of modifications in the overall country. Its examples are present even today in the form of majestic monuments, forts, palaces, and tombs.

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