The Mughal period saw important social and economic developments. During this period, many European travelers and traders came to India and their accounts contain a mine of information about the socio-economic conditions of India. In general, they described the wealth and prosperity of India and also the luxurious life of the aristocratic classes. On the other side, they also mentioned the poverty and sufferings of the ordinary people such as peasants and artisans.
The nobles of the Mughal period formed a privileged class. Most of them were foreigners such as Turks and Afghans. But there was tussle between them throughout this period. However, many of them settled down in India and made it their permanent home. They readily assimilated themselves into the Indian society and culture. At the same time they retained some of their personal traits. From the time of Akbar, the Hindus, particularly the Rajputs were included in the nobility. For example, mention may be made about Raja Man Singh, Raja Birbal and Raja Todar Mal. Later, the Marathas also joined the Mughal service and rose to the position of nobles.
The Mughal nobles were paid high salaries but their expenses were also very high. Each noble maintained a large number of servants, horses, elephants, etc. The nobles tried follow the luxurious life style of the Mughal emperors. They wore fine clothes and ate imported fruits. Costly jewels were worn by men and women. They also made costly presents to the emperors.
While the wealthy people wore silk and cotton clothes, the poor people wore the minimum cloths. They suffer from insufficient clothing even during the winter. Nikitin observed that the people of Deccan were bare-footed. It might be due to high cost of leather. Rice, millets and pulses were the staple food of the common people. Fish was popular on the coastal region. While ghee and oil were cheaper, salt and sugar were more expensive. As plenty of cattle were kept by the rural people, milk and milk products were available in plenty.
An estimate claims that the population of India at the beginning of the seventeenth century was about 125 million. As plenty of land was available for cultivation, agriculture was prosperous. A large variety of crops such as wheat, rice, gram, barley, pulses were cultivated. Commercial crops such as cotton, indigo, sugarcane and oil-seeds were also cultivated. During the seventeenth century two new crops, namely, tobacco and maize were added. Potato and red chillies came later in the eighteenth century. But, no new agricultural technique was introduced during this period. However, India was able to export food items like rice and sugar to the neighbouring countries.
The Indian trading classes were large in numbers and spread throughout the country. They were well organized and highly professional. Seth, bohra traders specialized in long distance trade while local traders were called banik. Another class of traders was known as banjaras, who specialized in carrying bulk goods. The banjaras used to move to long distances with their goods on the back of oxen. Bulk goods were also taken through rivers on boats. The trading community did not belong to one caste or religion. The Gujarathi merchants included the Hindus, Jains and Muslims. In Rajasthan, Oswals, Maheshwaris and Agarwals came to be called the Marwaris. Multanis, Khatris and Afghanis conducted trade with central Asia. In south India, the Chettis on the Coramandal coast and the Muslim merchants of Malabar were the most important trading communities.
Bengal exported sugar, rice as well as delicate muslin and silk. The Coramandal coast became a centre of textile production. Gujarat was an entry point of foreign goods. From there, fine textiles and silk were taken to north India. Indigo and food grains were exported from north India through Gujarat. It was also the distribution centre for the luxury products of Kashmir such as shawls and carpets. The major imports into India were certain metals such as tin and copper, war horses and luxury items such as ivory. The balance of trade was maintained by the import of gold and silver. The growth of foreign trade had resulted in the increased import of gold and silver in the seventeenth century. The Dutch and English traders who came to Gujarat during the seventeenth century, found that Indian traders were alert and brisk.
The Mughal period witnessed a significant and widespread development in cultural activity. It was manifest in the sphere of art and architecture, painting, music and literature. In this cultural development, Indian traditions were blended with Turko-Iranian culture which was brought into India by the Mughals.
The architecture of the Mughals includes the magnificent forts, palaces, public buildings, mosques and mausoleums. The Mughals were fond of laying gardens with running water. Some of the Mughal gardens such as the Nishat Bagh in Kashmir, the Shalimar Bagh at Lahore and the Pinjore garden in the Punjab have survived even today. During the reign of Sher Shah, the mausoleum at Sasaram in Bihar and the Purana Qila near Delhi were built. These two monuments are considered as the architectural marvels of medieval India.
Large scale construction of buildings started with the advent of Akbar. He built many forts and the most famous one was the Agra Fort. It was built in red sandstone. His other forts are at Lahore and Allahabad. The climax of fort-building reached its climax during the reign of Shah Jahan. The famous Red Fort at Delhi with its Rang Mahal, Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-Khas was his creation.
Akbar also built a palace-cum-fort complex at Fatepur Sikri (City of Victory), 36 kilometres from Agra. Many buildings in Gujarathi and Bengali styles are found in this complex. Gujarathi style buildings were probably built for his Rajput wives. The most magnificent building in it is the Jama Masjid and the gateway to it called Buland Darwaza or the Lofty Gate. The height of the gateway is 176 feet. It was built to commemorate Akbar's victory over Gujarat. Other important buildings at Fatepur Sikri are Jodh Bai's palace and Panch Mahal with five storeys.
During Akbar's reign, the Humayun's tomb was built at Delhi and it had a massive dome of marble. It may be considered the Taj Mahal. Akbar's tomb at Sikandara near Agra was completed by Jahangir. Nur Jahan built the tomb of Itimaddaulah at Agra. It was constructed wholly of white marble with floral designs made of semi-precious stones on the walls. This type of decoration was called pietra dura. This method became more popular during the reign of Shah Jahan. The pietra dura method was used on a large scale in the Taj Mahal by Shah Jahan. Taj Mahal is considered a jewel of the builder's art. It contains all the architectural forms developed by the Mughals. The chief glory of the Taj is the massive dome and the four slender minarets.
The decorations are kept to the minimum.
Mosque building had reached its peak during Shah Jahan's reign. The Moti Masjid at Agra was built entirely in white marble. The Jama Masjid at Delhi was built in red stone.
The Mughal architectural traditions continued in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Their influence in the provincial kingdoms is clearly visible. Many features of Mughal tradition can be seen in the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
The contribution of Mughals to the art of painting was remarkable. The foundation for the Mughal painting was laid by Humayun when he was staying in Persia. He brought with him two painters - Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdal Samad to India. These two painters became famous during Akbar's reign. Akbar commissioned the illustrations of several literary and religious texts. He invited a large number of painters from different parts of the country to his court. Both Hindus and Muslims joined in this work. Baswan, Miskina and Daswant attained great positions as Akabar's court artists.
Illustrations of Persian versions of Mahabharata and Ramayana were produced in miniature form. Many other Indian fables became the miniature paintings in the Art Studio established by Akbar. Historical works such as Akbar Nama also remained the main themes of Mughal paintings. The most important work is Hamznama, which consisted 1200 paintings. Indian colours such as peacock blue, Indian red began to be used.
Mughal paintings reached its climax during the reign of Jahangir. He employed a number of painters like Abul Hasan, Bishan Das, Madhu, Anant, Manohar, Govardhan and Ustad Mansur. Apart from painting the scenes of hunting, battles and royal courts, progress was made in portrait painting and paintings of animals. Many albums containing paintings and calligraphy were produced during the Mughal period. Later, the influence of European painting could be seen.
Music had also developed under the Mughals. Akbar patronized Tansen of Gwalior. Tansen composed many ragas. Jahangir and Shah Jahan were also fond of music.
Persian language became widespread in the Mughal Empire by the time of Akbar's reign. Abul Fazl was a great scholar and historian of his period. He set a style of prose writing and it was followed by many generations. Many historical works were written during this period. They include Ain-i-Akbari and Akabar Nama authored by Abul Fazl. The leading poet of that period was his brother Abul Faizi. The translation of Mahabharata into the Persian language was done under his supervision. Utbi and Naziri were the two other leading Persian poets.
Jahangir's autobiography, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri was famous for its style. He also patronized many scholars like Ghiyas Beg, Naqib Khan and Niamatullah. Shah Jahan also patronized many writers and historians like Abdul Hamid Lahori, author of Padshah Nama and Inayat Khan who wrote Shah Jahan Nama. His son Dara Shikoh translated the Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads into the Persian language. Many historical works were written during the reign of Aurangazeb. Famous dictionaries of the Persian language were also compiled during the Mughal period.
Regional languages such as Bengali, Oriya, Rajasthani and Gujarathi had also developed during this period. Many devotional works including the Ramayana and Mahabharata were translated into regional languages. From the time of Akbar, Hindi poets were attached to the Mughal court. The most influential Hindi poet was Tulsidas, who wrote the Hindi version of the Ramayana, theRamcharitmanas.