The Mughal Empire in India

By on 2-15-2010 in Asia, History & Traditions

Taj Mahal

Introduction

Babur, descendent of the famous Mongol warriors Timur and Ghengis Khan, swept across the Khyber Pass in 1526 and established the Mughal Empire in India. For the next 200 years, the Mughals ruled most of the Indian subcontinent.

The Mughals were known to use brutal tactics to subjugate their empire, but their approach in India was different. They followed a policy of integration with Indian culture, displaying religious tolerance and patronizing Hindu culture. Akbar, Babur’s grandson, was famous for this. He outlawed animal slaughter on Hindu and Jain holy days and rolled back unfair taxes on non-Muslims. He married a local princess, allied with the local Maharajas and attempted to fuse Turko-Persian culture with ancient Indian styles, creating a unique style of architecture. Akbar’s successors added to the Mughal heritage.

The erosion of religious tolerance coupled with increased brutality during the rule of Akbar’s grandson Aurangzeb, resulted in the downfall of the Mughal Empire.  Aurangzeb tried to establish Muslim dominance by destroying prominent Hindu temples and imposing unreasonable taxes on non-Muslims.

After the 1857 uprising in India, the British imprisoned and exiled the then Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, bringing the Mughal rule in India to an end.

Art and Craft

Unlike other invaders who were skilled at fighting wars and little else, the Mughal rulers had a taste for the finer things in life; they appreciated beautifully designed artifacts and enjoyed cultural activities.

The Mughal period is often referred to as the golden period in the history of Indian art, craft, architecture and culture. The Mughal rulers brought with them a rich heritage, which they had acquired from Persia. They introduced many new forms of art such as carpet weaving, inlay work, brocades, enameling and glass engraving. The renowned Peacock Throne of the Mughals is perhaps one of the best examples of gem inlay work and metal craft.

Art forms such as the famous Mughal miniature paintings, enameled jewelry and Pietra dura – exquisite stone inlay work which can be seen at the Taj Mahal – flourished under the Mughal Empire. Their miniature paintings influenced many schools of art such as Rajasthan paintings and the Kangra Pahari schools of miniatures. The Persian style, which blends scripts into the design, gained prominence and was used in several murals. The style became popular and seeped into Hindu temples too, especially in Kaithal, Kalayat and Rohtak.

Architecture

Mughal architecture was a combination of Indian, Islamic and Persian styles of art. The Mughals built majestic mosques, forts, gates, palaces, public buildings, gardens and water tanks. The use of running water in the palaces they built was a unique feature of Mughal architecture.

Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore were the chosen venues for most of the important Mughal buildings. Among the notable Mughal structures are the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Red Fort in Delhi, Humayun’s tomb at Delhi, the tomb of Khan-i- Khanan in south Nizamuddin, the mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandara outside Agra, Jahangir’s tomb at Shahdara across the Ravi from Lahore, the tomb of Aurangzeb’s wife at Aurangabad and Nawab Safdar Jang’s tomb at Delhi.

Akbar was the first Mughal ruler to undertake construction on a large scale and the first great Mughal monument was the tomb he built for his father, Humayun. However, the most notable of Akbar’s constructions was the fort-palace at Fatehpur Sikri, Agra. Red sandstone was inlaid with white marble; the surfaces were ornately carved outside and painted inside. The fort had many low arches and bulbous domes that characterized the Mughal style during Akbar’s reign.

With the firm establishment of the Mughal dynasty, architectural development reached its zenith. Towards the end of Jahangir’s rule, the practice of constructing marble buildings and decorating their walls with floral designs of semiprecious stones became common.

The crowning glory of Mughal architecture and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world is the Taj Mahal in Agra, a tomb that Shah Jahan built for his wife Mumtaz, who died during childbirth. The Red Fort in Delhi is another of his great achievements.

The influence of the Mughal style of architecture can be seen in the construction of the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar. Complete with arches and domes it incorporates many features of Mughal architecture.

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