Indian Paintings of the Mughal Period

In the history of the Indian painting, the era of the Mughal Kingdom was one of the most important times when Indian traditional art got prospered with the exotic Persian art and culture. Interlacing the Persian art with Indian tradition, it also got a freshness and polished form. From this time, the Indian miniature reached the highest label of aesthetic value considered later as the icon of India. 


In the perspective of history of the Persian style painting, we somehow acknowledge the three divisions of it. First is Mongol, next Timurid and at last Safavid. Granting some beliefs followed the treatises of Islam that stated; - as a rule, who paint the portrait of someone will have to transfer his soul to that painted portrait after his death. Therefore, portrait painting is prohibited in all manners of the said religion. It's the reason we never find any illustration in the most ancient Arabic manuscripts. After getting some relaxation on the rule stated above, we first noticed the head of Byzantine Christ in the coin of Ayubi Sultans.  A notable discovery of Islamic manuscript titled Market-e-Hariri composed with some hand drawn illustration in 1237 and it was the first painting in Islamic stream. 


In this discussion, I want to focus on the progress of the Indian ancient painting by considering the exotic Mughal emperors and their Persian style of art. To do so, we need to know a bit about those emperors and their cultural activities.

The Painting of Beehzad.

The first emperor of the Mughal kingdom was Babur who attracted India on 1525. He invaded India and conquered the territory that extended from the Oxus to Patna. He expired after five years. It is known to all that except the rainy season, he normally disliked all the things of India; however, he too took into account the painting to make it better in all terms. I got a name known as Beehzad admired by the emperor Babur who concluded in his diary as the Greatest artist of all times. There is another great miniature artist performed in that era named Shapur, however, Beehzad was really an 'all-time greatest artist' recalled by several emperors of Mughal kingdom. 


 Based on several historical resources, I know an emperor who ordered to illustrate the poem titled, Dastan-e-ameer-hamza[1] to artist Mir Syed Ali at the time, when his wife was pregnant. It is astonishing because at that time, he lost everything even the kingdom of Mughal and was running away elsewhere to get deliverance from the enemy. He had no way to pay the remuneration to the artist but had the huge passion for art. I do not know how he paid to that artist but the painting still is a milestone in the history of Indian art. Do you guess the name of that emperor? Yes, he was Humayun, the son of Babur.  In 1550, when he got back his throne of emperor once again, the Mir Syed Ali, the artist of Dastan-e-ameer-hamza and Abdus Samad invited to the king's court of Humayun as the royal artists. Who was the Mir Syed Ali? He was the son of the great artist of that era named Mir Mansur. 

It was the order of the ill-starred Emperor Humayun completing the Dastan-e-ameer-hamza in a book of twelve parts, and each part would contain 100 paintings. It was a tragedy that the album to whom it was composed for, got expired. In the Umarcote, the life of his wife be over after the birth of Akbar. Humayun dedicated the first volume of that book to the reminiscence of his wife.  As far as I know, some of those paintings are still showing in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. They obtained that precious album from India.  


After the demise of Humayun, Mir Syed Ali had been continuing in his royal court as he was. In the earlier stages of the Mughal painting, most of all the techniques of it were exotic; I mean Safavid; however, within a short of time, we can notice major changes in style and new implementation of several methods. The exertion of Beehzad in portrait painting in Iranian style got a new recognition which later improved with Mughal tradition. In fact, Mughal painting is actually the exotic Persian style painting and in the stream of portrait painting, Iranian method make it prosper in all aspects.  With the portrait painting, uses of other supplementary objects like flowers, birds, etc helped to prominent the main figure of the portrait. It equally decorates the portrait as well.  We can additionally notice the uses of vibrant colors.  The detailing of each element of the painting with fine brushes which undoubtedly pronounce the Indian tradition. There was nothing the impact of Persian style anyhow.  

Most of all the Mughal miniatures of that era depicted on a cloth since the paper was far-off to the artists. In the first half of the sixteenth century, we can conclude that most of the Mughal paintings were just the deformity of Iranian style; however, it is astounding that in those earlier times, the impact of Indian tradition noticeably appeared in the Mughal paintings.  None of the artists of that era overlooked the Indian traditional artistry, rather it was their endeavor how they could implement such style in their paintings.   


Will be continuing in next episode

[The article is subject to copyright act. If you want to use any part of this article, please contact the author for permission] 


1. The Hamzanama (Persian/Urdu: حمزه نامه Hamzenâme, Epic of Hamza) or Dastan-e-Amir Hamza (Persian/Urdu: داستان امیر حمزه Dâstâne Amir Hamze, Adventures of Amir Hamza) narrates the legendary exploits of Amir Hamza, an uncle of Muhammad, though most of the stories are extremely fanciful, "a continuous series of romantic interludes, threatening events, narrow escapes, and violent acts". The stories, from a long-established oral tradition, were written down in Persian, the language of the court, in multiple volumes.

Most of the characters of the Hamzanama are fictitious. In the West the work is best known for the enormous illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Humayun in about 1562. The Hamzanama contains 46 volumes and has approximately 48000 pages. It is said that Dastaan-e-Ameer-Hamza was written in the era of Mahmud of Ghazni.

The text augmented the story, as traditionally told in dastan performances. The dastan (storytelling tradition) about Amir Hamza persists far and wide up to Bengal and Arakan, as the Mughals controlled those territories.



All the contains of this website are subject to the intellectual property copyright act. If you want to reuse any contain such as article or image, please contact the artist for permission.

Last updated on - 25.09.2023