The History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting

Part - 1

Pursuing my last writing on the fascination with art in Mughal Emperors, here, I am stepping into my following discussion, which will be widely comprising all the historic events including some interesting real facts. Sometimes, a few of the discussions will look like a repetition of my previous writing; however, to make a complete discussion of a glorious historic period of art, it comes by sort.

Emperor Akbar

Akbar acquired the throne of the Emperor in his boyhood. His ancestors Babur, Humayun did not take birth in India, but Akbar did. This is why he had a kind of empathy for India. In 1569, when he started founding Fatehpur Sikri, he caused a new era in the Indian history of art. After sculptor, mason, architect; artists were called to paint the wall of Fatehpur Sikri. Paintings that were formed on the wall were nothing but a large edition of miniature painting, which was not influenced by the Ajanta paintings. But at the very time, paintings that had been running in Udaipur, Jaipur, Bikaner were explicitly impacted by the style and form of Ajanta.


 In Fatehpur Sikri, paintings were made on the sandstone previously coated with white paint. I don’t know where the white paint originated; however, if we tend to take a deep look, we can easily identify some of the paintings that were composed in Irani style and the rest of others, in Indian traditional style. Explicitly it has distinguished that several artists were being appointed to complete the mural and all the individuals worked with their very own style. 

Mir Sayyid Ali, a leading miniature artist.

In such a way, it is conjectured that the consolidation of several races had made up in the reign of Emperor Akbar, which caused prosperity in art. Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad were in the forefront among those working artists. At a later time, Mir Sayyid Ali got hold of the post of a royal proctor, and his son was appointed as Amir-ul-Omrah in the royal court of the Mughal Emperor.


The style of those murals is the flat type without having a dimensional effect, which was the traditional Indian style. Clouds in those paintings are the successor of Persian art. In that era, sculpture, and paintings were closely related to each other that we can experience in the base reliefs contained flowers, trees, animals, on the wall of the palace of Sultana.  Nevertheless, we can say that there is no relation to the Ajanta, Bikaner, and Udaipur murals with the paintings of Fatehpur Sikri. The soul of Ajanta paintings blinked by the Indian traditional spiritual thoughts and Buddhism with an eye of a devotee; whereas, the Fatehpur Sikri was motivated by the decorative illustration that was out of any spiritual impact.


There is a distinctive factor in the Mughal miniature painting, among other Indian styles and forms, which vindicate that the origin of the Mughal miniature is not in India. The specialty of the Mughal miniature is the use of calligraphy around the border of the miniature that raises a unique value of Mughal miniature art. What’s the unique point of it? Both; Persian and Chinese fonts have a painting-like value composed of brush, which is just the opposite of Indian manners. In India, to write something, people used a pen made of wicker; but from the ancient era, the Chinese and Persians used brushes to write something. This is why in Indian painting, the line drawing has been getting the primary value of any Indian painting. Thus the use of brushes in the writing style of Persian and China made a significant difference between Indian and Persian manners.


Abul Fazl presenting Akbarnama to Emperor Akbar.

 Such significance came to the Mughal miniature through the Irani Kalam (Persian art) and as an outcome, the Mughal miniature got different from the other Indian art form. At that time, scriptwriters were admired by opulent individuals and they acquired those manuscripts at a high price. Based on the historic information of [1]Abul Fazal, who was the writer of Akbarnama, published a list of famous scriptwriters, where Mohammed Husain was at the forefront among others. Mohammed was alive six years, after the death of Emperor Akbar. In those ancient manuscripts, calligraphies were more appreciated than illustration because of its versatility. There were eight types of calligraphy mentioned by Abul Fazal that had been running in Iran, Turkestan, and India. One of those was ‘Kufic’ that was skew typed diagonally in italic calligraphy. Another known as ‘nostalic’ which was round-shaped calligraphy and slightly decorative. The nostalic was the most favorite calligraphy of Emperor Akbar. According to the dry and desert-based nature of the middle east, Kufic got matched with it; But in the Indian river-based succulent nature with six climates, nostalic got matched with Indian demeanor and got the favorite of Akbar. Because Akbar was born and brought up in Indian climates. We know that the climate results in an impact not only on human nature but also on the cultural sides widely.  Abul Fazal sincerely titled his 34 number chapter as - ‘Calligraphy and Painting’ in Ain-E-Akbari volume since it took a significant place in Mughal painting. 

A Court Scene from Sadi's Gulistan painted by Basawon.

 The Indian Emperor, who was Muslim but transgressed the mandate of the orthodox staunch Muslims from his boyhood and at a later time, open a new way of art and culture with his generous heart, is not a matter of being surprised.  He did a pleasing job. Ignoring his racism, he warmly welcomed Hindu artists in his royal court and placed them with high honor. Although, such great artists as Mir Syed Ali, Abdus Samad, Farooq Kalmak previously were in his royal court. Invitee Hindu artists were Basawon, Dushyant, Keshaudas, and many others who got ordered to complete the illustration of the poems written by the poet Nizami. By shaking hands with each other, a new style in Mughal miniature formed by the art enthusiast generous-hearted Akbar, who also had the foresight and talent. The newly appointed Hindu artist hastily mastered the new style of work of those Muslim artists and reformed it in such a new way, which proved that at that time, there was a lot of highly-talented Hindu artists exist in India who could able to offer a new form in a right manner. It would be exaggerating if I say, Akbar appreciated such talent of Hindu artists. 


Following the statement of Abul Fazal, Below is a list of some great master artists came from both, Hindu and Muslim community. 

From the Hindu community, - Basawon, Dushyant, Haribus, Keshu, Mukunda, Mishkin, Madhu, Jagan, Mahes, Khem Karan, Tara, Saola, and Ram. Those were master painters in the Indian history of art. 

From the Muslim community, - Meer Syed Ali, Khwaja Abdus Samad, and Behzad.

Will be continuing.

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[1]Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, also known as Abul Fazl, Abu'l Fadl and Abu'l-Fadl 'Allami (14 January 1551 – 12 August 1602), was the grand vizier of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and author of the Akbarnama, the official history of Akbar's reign in three volumes, (the third volume is known as the Ain-i-Akbari) and a Persian translation of the Bible. He was also one of the Nine Jewels (Hindi: Navaratnas) of Akbar's royal court and the brother of Faizi, the poet laureate of Emperor Akbar.

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Last updated on - 25.09.2023