The Preeminence of Shah Jahan in Mughal Painting

In the reign of Shah Jahan, the grandeur of Mughal painting reached to the highest level. The offering of former emperors like Humayun, Akbar, and Jahangir make it possible to get such a called which as a successor, Shah Jahan nourished with his dexterity. 

Portrait of the most favorite horse of Dara Shikoh named Dilpasand.

Mainly in the stream of portrait painting, artists of the court of Shah Jahan brought out its superiority. In the reign of Jahangir, the meaning of 'Morakka' was such a collection of paintings contained the kudos of whatever subject, shown in the painting enormously. Meanwhile, in the reign of Shah Jahan, the meaning of Morakka had been changed. Now, it formed as an album containing the portrait of the Emperor with his favorite courtiers, including even beautiful girls. Not only that, it should have with gorgeous attire and ornaments. The album should qualify to represent in the colossus courtiers of the Mughal Court. The most famous Morrakka in the reign of Shah Jahan was about his elder son named Dara Shikoh probably stored in the Indian office library of London. In the later time of 1630, Dara Shikoh gifted this album to his wife named Nadira Banu. He was also a great art-lover and art critique with a sober artistic test. Historians found a wonderful portrait of the favorite horse of Dara Shikoh named 'Dilpasand' depicted by artist Manohar, still got unmatched. The most favorite artists of Emperor Shah Jahan was Ramdas and Bulchand.

Envoy Sir Thomas Roe showing the portrait to Mughal Emperor

In fact, the eminence of portrait painting we could notice in the reign of Jahangir in a historical story that proved expertness of the royal artists of the king's court. Once a time in the reign of Jahangir, the British Governor Sir Thomas Smith sent a few paintings to the court of the Emperor Jahangir, composed by a British artists. Thomas was informed about the passion of Jahangir in art and he wanted to demonstrate their expertness. With a pleasant mood, Jahangir stored all the artworks carefully. When Thomas Roe, the envoy of the British Emperor got informed about the enthusiasm in the art of the Indian Emperor, he brought a painting as a gift depicted by Izak Oliver. It was a portrait of his friend. The reason behind such a gift was to show the fame of British artists. Jahangir pleasurably accepted the gift and challenged to Thomas that his royal artists also could do the same portrait as it is. Mr. Thomas took it lightly with a little smile and accepted the challenge. Thomas had a bit of underrate on the expertness of Indian artists. After one or two weeks, the Emperor recalled Thomas Roe to demonstrate the portraits made by his artists of the royal court and requested to pick out his piece among the other same five portraits. It was too tough for him to choose his piece among the other five he gave to the Emperor. He confessed it in his diary. After a long time; finally, he was able to choose his artwork and confessed that it was out of his knowledge that the Indian artists are quite efficient in portrait painting. The Emperor got pleased with his word and threw a grin.


Emperor Shah Jahan, the person with credit to conveying the same fame in portrait painting as it had in the reign of his father. Moreover, it got a new horizon in the reign of him which is still unmatched. 

miniature painting of Bhairava Raga, Chunar, 1591

The best-ever work of Shahjahan in the stream of Mughal miniature was [1]Ragamala paintings. It was an incredible creation of Mughal Dynasty that make their art and culture memorable forever. The Ragamala paintings based on the several rhythms of Indian classical music simultaneously indicate the six seasons of Indian climates. It was the credit of Indian miniature artists of the Mughal court that they transform those musical rhythms into figurative forms by following the ancient descriptions of anonymous sags. Probably, it was for the first time in the world; musical rhythms got alive on the canvas in human-like forms. Such an exertion based on the Ragamala paintings started in the reign of Akbar which concluded by Shahjahan. There were more than 1500 paintings composed in the Raga-Mala series and among those largest series; only 25 pieces now patronage in the Indian office library. Those 25 paintings were in the collection of Shah Jahan and in later, someone of Varanasi, got it from an unidentified source.  

The related image about the Bhairava Raga, the third musical rhythm of Indian classical music. The suggested performing time is dawn, just before the sunrise. It also related to the hottest summer season and the demonstrated figurative form is Lord Shiva, one of the most important deities in Hinduism. To know more about it, just visit to my previous article related to this Bhairava Raga  

All those above-stated artworks mostly based on the [2]Rajput Kalam. Here I want to share that Indian miniature formed in several styles based on the regional community such as [3]Kangra Kalam, [4]Basoli Kalam, etc. All the regional styles assorted in the Mughal miniature and it is the main focal point that Emperors of the Mughal Kingdom adopted all the forms and styles that mingled in the exotic Persian style and reformed it to a very own Indian genre.   


Will continue 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. Ragamala paintings are a series of illustrative paintings from medieval India based on Ragamala or the "Garland of Ragas", depicting various Indian musical modes called Ragas. They stand as a classical example of the amalgamation of art, poetry and classical music in medieval India.

Ragamala paintings were created in most schools of Indian painting, starting in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are today named accordingly as Pahari Ragamala, Rajasthan or Rajput Ragamala, Deccan Ragamala, and Mughal Ragamala.

In these painting each raga is personified by a color, mood, a verse describing a story of a hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika), it also elucidates the season and the time of day and night in which a particular raga is to be sung; and finally most paintings also demarcate the specific Hindu deities attached with the raga, like Bhairava or Bhairavi to Shiva, Sri to Devi etc. The paintings depict not just the Ragas, but also their wives, (raginis), their numerous sons (ragaputra) and daughters (ragaputri).

2. Rajput Kalam, also called Rajasthani painting, evolved and flourished in the royal courts of Rajputana in India. Each Rajputana kingdom evolved a distinct style, but with certain common features. Rajput Kalams depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana. Miniatures in manuscripts or single sheets to be kept in albums were the preferred medium of Rajput Kalam, but many paintings were done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts, havelis, particularly, the havelis of Shekhawati, the forts and palaces built by Shekhawat Rajputs.

The colours were extracted from certain minerals, plant sources, conch shells, and were even derived by processing precious stones. Gold and silver were used. The preparation of desired colours was a lengthy process, sometimes taking 2 weeks. Brushes used were very fine.

3. Kangra Kalam is the pictorial art of Kangra, named after Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, a former princely state, which patronized the art. It became prevalent with the fading of Basohli school of painting in mid-18th century,[1][2] and soon produced such a magnitude in paintings both in content as well as volume, that the Pahari painting school, came to be known as Kangra paintings.

Though the main centres of Kangra Kalam (paintings) are Guler, Basohli, Chamba, Nurpur, Bilaspur and Kangra. Later on this style also reached Mandi, Suket, Kulu, Arki, Nalagarh and Tehri Garhwal (represented by Mola Ram), and now are collectively known as Pahari painting, covering the style that was patronized by Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Pahari paintings, as the name suggests, were paintings executed in the hilly regions of India, in the sub-Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. It is in the development and modification of Pahari paintings, that the Kangra School features. Under the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand (c.1765-1823), it became the most important center of Pahari painting. To see some of these master pieces one can visit the Maharaja Sansar Chand Museum, adjoining the Kangra Fort in Kangra Himachal. This museum has been founded by the erst-while Royal Family of Kangra.

4. Basholi (Basoli) is a town in Kathua district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is situated on the right bank of River Ravi at an altitude of 1876 ft. It was founded by Raja Bhupat Pal sometime in 1635. It was known for magnificent palaces which are now in ruins and miniatures paintings (Basohli painting). A famous Sikh-Mughal battle was fought at Basoli.

Basholi is widely known for its paintings called Basholi Kalam, which are considered the first school of Pahari paintings, and which evolved into the much prolific Kangra paintings school by mid-eighteenth century. The painter Nainsukh ended his career in Basholi.

Share it

Subscribe to RSS

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