The Mughal Art and Architecture


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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

Art and Architecture during Mughals

The Mughal era in India (1526-1857) witnessed remarkable developments in art, architecture, literature, and painting. Mughal art and architecture showcased a unique blend of Persian, Indian, and Central Asian influences. 

  • Architecture: Grand monuments like the Taj Mahal and Red Fort were constructed, exemplifying the exquisite use of marble, intricate carvings, and impressive domes. 
  • Literature: Mughal literature flourished with the patronage of emperors like Akbar and Shah Jahan, producing masterpieces such as the Akbarnama and the poetry of Mirza Ghalib. 
  • Painting: Miniature painting reached its zenith during this period, characterised by delicate brushwork, vibrant colours, and vivid storytelling. 
  • Cultural impact: These artistic achievements left an indelible mark on India's cultural landscape and continue to captivate people to this day.


Architecture of the Mughals

Architectural progress during the Mughals is a landmark in world art. Mughal buildings were noted for the massive structures decorated with bulbous domes, splendorous minarets, cupolas in the four corners, elaborate designs, and pietra dura.

  • Babur and Humayun: The mosques built during the time of Babur and Humayun are not of much architectural significance. 
  • Sur dynasty: The Sur dynasty left behind a few spectacular specimens: the Purana Qila at Delhi and the tombs of Sher Shah and Islam Shah at Sasaram in Bihar. 
    • The Purana Qila, with a raised citadel and the tombs on a terraced platform surrounded by large tanks, were novel features. 
  • Akbar’s contribution: 
    • During Akbar’s reign, Humayun’s tomb was enclosed with gardens and placed on a raised platform. 
      • Built by Indian artisans and designed by Persian architects, it set a pattern to follow. 
    • The Agra Fort, built with red sandstone, is a specimen where Rajput architectural styles were incorporated. 
    • The new capital city of Akbar Fatehpur Sikri enclosed within its walls several inspiring buildings. 
    • The magnificent gateway to Fatehpur Sikri, the Buland Darwaza, built by Akbar with red sandstone and marble, is considered a perfect architectural achievement. 
  • Jahangir’s Contribution: 
    • The mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandra near Agra, started by Akbar and completed by Jahangir, includes some Buddhist architectural elements
    • The tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah (father of Nurjahan), built by Mughal queen Nur Jahan during Jahangir’s reign, was the first Mughal building built entirely with white marble. 
  • Shah Jahan’s Contribution: Mughal architecture reached its apex during the reign of Shah Jahan. 
    • The Taj Mahal is a marble structure on an elevated platform, the bulbous dome in the centre rising on a recessed gateway with four cupolas around the dome and with four free-standing minarets at each of its corners is a monument of universal fame. 
    • The Red Fort in Delhi, encompassed by magnificent buildings like Diwan-i Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, Moti Mahal and Hira Mahal, reflect the architectural skills of the times of Shah Jahan. 
    • The Moti Masjid inside the Agra Fort is made exclusively of marble; the Jama Masjid in Delhi, with its lofty gateway, series of domes and tall and slender minarets, are the two significant mosques built by Shah Jahan. 
    • He also established a new township, Shahjahanabad, where Red Fort and Jama Masjid are located. 
    • Auragzeb’s contribution: Aurangzeb’s reign witnessed the construction of Badshahi mosque in Lahore and the marble tomb of Rabia ud Daurani, known as Bibi-ka-maqbara (Tomb of the Lady) at Aurangabad. 
  • Shalimar Gardens: The Shalimar Gardens of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are showpieces of Indian horticulture.
  • Civil works:  Apart from the massive structures, the Mughals contributed many civil works of public utility, the greatest being the bridge over the Gomati River at Jaunpur
    • The most impressive feat is the West Yamuna Canal which provided water to Delhi. 
  • Influence on regional architecture: Mughal architecture influenced even temple construction in different parts of the country. 
    • The temple of Govind Dev at Vrindavan near Mathura and Bir Singh’s temple of Chaturbhuj at Orchha (Madhya Pradesh) display Mughal influence.



Mughal Painting

The Mughals achieved international recognition in painting. 

  • Tradition: Ancient Indian painting traditions kept alive in provinces like Malwa and Gujarat, along with the Central Asian influences, created a profound impact on the world of painting. 
    • The masters of miniature painting, Abdu’s Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali, who had come to India from Central Asia along with Humayun, inspired Indian painters.
  • Objective: The primary objective of painting was to illustrate literary works. 
  • Miniature painting: Mughal miniatures are an important part of the museums of the world. 
  • Other aspects of painting: 
    • Various painters illustrated the Persian text of Mahabharata and Akbar Namah with paintings.
    • Daswant and Basawan were famous painters of Akbar’s court. 
    • European painting was introduced in Akbar’s court by Portuguese priests. 
    • During Jahangir’s time, portrait painting and the painting of animals had developed. Mansur was a great name in this field. 
    • Mughal miniatures influenced the great Dutch painter Rembrandt. 
  • Decline: While Shah Jahan continued the tradition of painting, Aurangzeb’s indifference to painting led to the dispersal of the painters to different parts of the country, thereby promoting painting in the provinces. 


Music and Dance during the Mughal Dynasty

  • Musicians: According to Ain-i-Akbari, Tansen of Gwalior, credited with composing many ragas, was patronised by Akbar and 35 other musicians. 
  • Royal Patronage: Jahangir and Shah Jahan were patrons of music.
    • Though there is a popular misconception that Aurangzeb was against music, many books on Indian classical music were written during his regime. 
    • His queens, princes and nobles continued to patronise music. 
  • Later Mughals: The later Mughal Muhammad Shah was instrumental in inspiring important developments in the field of music. 
    • Paintings in Babur Namah and Padshah Namah depict women dancing to accompany musical instruments. 


Literature during the Mughals

Persian, Sanskrit and regional languages developed during the Mughal rule. 

  • Persian literature: Persian was the language of administration in the Mughal Empire and the Deccan states. It influenced even the Rajput states, where Persian words were used in administration. 
    • Abul Fazal: He was patronised by Akbar, compiled the history of Akbar in Akbar Nama and described the Mughal administration in his work Ain-i-Akbari
      • The Ain-i-Akbari is commendable for its interest in science, statistics, geography and culture. 
      • Abdul Hamid Lahori and Muhammad Waris emulated Akbar Namah in their joint work Padshah Nama, a biography of Shah Jahan. 
      • Later, Muhammad Kazim followed the same pattern in his Alamgir Nama work during the reign of the first decade of Aurangzeb
    • Babur’s autobiography was written in Chaghatai Turkish and was translated into Persian by Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan
    • Dabistan: It is an impartial account of the beliefs and works of different religions. 
  • Translations: Persian literature was enriched by translations of Sanskrit works. 
    • The Mahabharata was translated under the supervision of Abul Faizi, brother of Abul Fazal and a court poet of Akbar. 
    • The translation of Upanishads by Dara Shukoh, entitled Sirr-I-Akbar (the Great Secret), is a landmark. 
    • The Masnawis of Abul Faizi, Utbi and Naziri enriched Persian Poetry in India. 
  • Sanskrit literature: The Sanskrit works produced during the Mughal rule are impressive. Sanskrit literature of this period is noted for the kavyas and historical poetry. 
    • Rajavalipataka, a kavya written by Prajna Bhatta, which completed the history of Kashmir, belonged to the reign of Akbar. 
    • Graeco-Arabic learning was transmitted to India through Persian works in the form of Sanskrit translations. 
    • Akbar’s astronomer Nilakantha wrote the Tajika Neelakanthi, an astrological treatise. 
    • Shah Jahan’s court poet Jaganatha Panditha wrote the monumental Rasagangadhara
  • Urdu literature: The most significant contribution in the field of literature during the Mughal rule was the development of Urdu as a common language of communication for people speaking different dialects. 
  • Literature in regional languages: Regional languages acquired stability and maturity, and some of the finest lyrical poetry was produced during this period. 
    • Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan composed Bhakti poetry blending Persian ideas of life and human relations in the Brij form of Hindi. 
    • Tulsidas, who wrote in Awadhi, the Hindi dialect spoken in eastern Uttar Pradesh, was very popular for his devotional ideals. 
    • Marathi literature had an upsurge due to the literary contribution of Eknath, Tukaram, Ramdas and Mukteshwar during this period. 
      • Eknath questioned the superiority of Sanskrit over other languages. 
      • The verses of Tukaram kindled monotheism. 
      • Mukteshwar composed Ramayana and Mahabharata in literary Marathi.


Previous Year Questions (PYQs)



Q) Persian literary sources of mediaeval India reflect the spirit of the age. Comment. (2020)




Q)  Who among the following Mughal Emperors shifted emphasis from illustrated manuscripts to the album and individual portraits?

(a) Humayun

(b) Akbar

(c) Jahangir

(d) Shah Jahan


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) What are Kabir’s Dohas?

Kabir's Dohas are short, rhyming couplets in Hindi or Braj Bhasha that express profound spiritual and philosophical teachings. They often address the complexities of human existence, the nature of reality, and the path to self-realisation, conveying profound wisdom in a simple and accessible manner.


Q) What are the major works of Mirza Ghalib?

Mirza Ghalib, the celebrated Urdu and Persian poet, is known for his remarkable collection of Urdu ghazals titled "Diwan-e-Ghalib." Also, his insightful and introspective letters, known as "Letters of Ghalib" or "Ghalibnama," are considered significant literary works that glimpse his life and thoughts.