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Chapter: 11th History : Chapter 14 : The Mughal Empire

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The Madrasas continued to be concerned principally with Muslim theology and its vast literature.

Science and Technology

The Madrasas continued to be concerned principally with Muslim theology and its vast literature. In great learning centres like Varanasi, astrology was taught and there was no institution in India, as noted by the French traveller Bernier, to the standards of colleges and universities in Europe. This made the imparting of scientific subjects almost impossible. Attention was, however, given to mathematics and astronomy. Akbar’s court poet Faizi translated Bhaskaracharya’s famous work on mathematics, Lilavati. Despite the presence of Europeans, there was no influence of them on the Indian society during the Mughal period.

The method of water-lift based on pin- drum gearing known as Persian wheel had been introduced during Babur’s time. A complicated system of water lift by a series of gear-wheels had been installed in Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar was also credited with popularizing the device of cooling water using saltpetre. He is also the first known person in the world to have devised the ‘ship's camel’, a barge on which the ship is built to make it easier for the ship to be carried to the sea. Some mechanical devices like the screw for tightening, manually driven belt -drill for cutting diamonds were in use. Agricultural tools continued to be the same, made entirely of wood. In metallurgy, the inability to produce cast iron remained an obvious drawback. As Irfan Habib observed, ‘India’s backwardness in technology was obvious when the matchlock remained the most common weapon in Indian armies. In Europe the flintlock had long come into use. Indians continued to use the expensive bronze cannon, long after these had become obsolete in Europe. This was because of India’s inability to make cast iron even in the seventeenth century.


Architectural progress during the Mughals is a landmark in world art. Mughal buildings were noted for the massive structures decorated with bulbous domes, splendorous minarets, cupolas in the four corners, elaborate designs, and pietra dura (pictorial mosaic work). The mosques built during the time of Babur and Humayun are not of much architectural significance. The Sur dynasty left behind a few spectacular specimens in the form of the Purana Qila at Delhi, and the tombs of Sher Shah and Islam Shah at Sasaram in Bihar. The Purana Qila with a raised citadel and the tombs on a terraced platform surrounded by large tanks were novel features.

During Akbar’s reign, Humayun’s tomb was enclosed with gardens and placed on a raised platform. Built by Indian artisans and designed by Persian architects it set a pattern to be followed in the future. The Agra fort built with red sandstone is a specimen where Rajput architectural styles were also incorporated. The new capital city of Akbar Fatehpur Sikri enclosed within its walls several inspiring buildings. The magnificent gateway to Fatehpur Sikri, the Buland Darwaza, built by Akbar with red sandstone and marble is considered to be a perfect architectural achievement. The mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandra near Agra started by Akbar and completed by Jahangir includes some Buddhist architectural elements. The tomb of Itimad-ud-daula, father of Nurjahan, built by Jahangir was the first Mughal building built completely with white marble.

Mughal architecture reached its apex during the reign of Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal is a marble structure on an elevated platform, the bulbous dome in the centre rising on a recessed gateway with four cupolas around the dome and with four free-standing minarets at each of its corners is a monument of universal fame. The Red Fort in Delhi, encompassed by magnificent buildings like Diwan-i Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, Moti Mahal and Hira Mahal reflect the architectural skills of the times of Shah Jahan. The Moti Masjid inside the Agra Fort made exclusively of marble, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, with its lofty gateway, series of domes and tall and slender minarets are the two significant mosques built by Shah Jahan. He also established a new township, Shah jahanabad (present-day Old Delhi) where Red Fort and Jama Masjid are located. Aurangzeb’s reign witnessed the construction of Badshahi mosque in Lahore and the marble tomb of Rabia ud daurani, known as Bibi-ka-maqbara (Tomb of the Lady) at Aurangabad.

The Shalimar Gardens of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are showpieces of Indian horticulture. Apart from the many massive structures, the Mughals contributed many civil works of public utility, the greatest of them being the bridge over the Gomati river at Jaunpur. The most impressive feat is the West Yamuna Canal which provided water to Delhi.

Mughal architecture influenced even temple construction in different parts of the country. The temple of Govind Dev at Vrindavan near Mathura and Bir Singh’s temple of Chaturbhuj at Orchchaa (Madhya Pradesh) display Mughal influence.


The Mughals achieved international recognition in the field of painting. Mughal miniatures are an important part of the museums of the world. Ancient Indian painting traditions kept alive in provinces like Malwa and Gujarat along with the central Asian influences created a deep impact in the world of painting. The masters of miniature painting, Abdu’s Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali, who had come to India from Central Asia along with Humayun inspired Indian painters. The primary objective of painting was to illustrate literary works. The Persian text of Mahabharata and Akbar Namah were illustrated with paintings by various painters. Daswant and Basawan were famous painters of Akbar’s court. European painting was introduced in Akbar’s court by Portuguese priests. During Jahangir’s time portrait painting and the painting of animals had developed. Mansur was a great name in this field. The great Dutch painter Rembrandt was influenced by Mughal miniatures. While Shah Jahan continued the tradition of painting, Aurangzeb’s indifference to painting led to dispersal of the painters to different parts of the country and thereby led to promotion of painting in the provinces.

Music and Dance

According to Ain -i-Akbari, Tansen of Gwalior, credited with composing of many ragas, was patronised by Akbar along with 35 other musicians. Jahangir and Shah Jahan were patrons of music. Though there is a popular misconception that Aurangzeb was against music, a large number of books on Indian classical music were written during his regime. His queens, princes and nobles continued to patronise music. The later Mughal Muhammad Shah was instrumental in inspiring important developments in the field of music. Paintings in Babur Namah and Padshah Namah depict woman dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments.


Persian, Sanskrit and regional languages developed during the Mughal rule. Persian was the language of administration in Mughal Empire and the Deccan states. It influenced even the Rajput states where Persian words were used in administration. Abul Fazal patronised by Akbar compiled the history of Akbar in Akbar Nama and described Mughal administration in his work Ain-i-Akbari. The Ain-i-Akbari is commendable for its interest in science, statistics, geography and culture. Akbar Namah was emulated by Abdul Hamid Lahori and Muhammad Waris in their joint work Padshah Nama, a biography of Shah Jahan. Later Muhammad Kazim in his Alamgir Nama, a work on the reign of the first decade of Aurangzeb, followed the same pattern. Babur’s autobiography written in Chaghatai Turkish was translated into Persian by Abdur Rahim Khan-e- Khanan. Dabistan is an impartial account of the beliefs and works of different religions. Persian literature was enriched by translations of Sanskrit works. The Mahabharata was translated under the supervision of Abul Faizi, brother of Abul Fazal and a court poet of Akbar. The translation of Upanishads by Dara Shukoh, entitled Sirr-I-Akbar (the Great Secret), is a landmark. The Masnawis of Abul Faizi, Utbi and Naziri enriched Persian Poetry in India.

The Sanskrit works produced during the Mughal rule are impressive. Sanskrit literature of this period is noted for the kavyas and historical poetry. Rajavalipataka, a kavya, written by Prajna bhatta which completed the history of Kashmir belonged to reign of Akbar. Graeco-Arabic learning was transmitted to India through Persian works in the form of Sanskrit translations. Akbar’s astronomer Nilakantha wrote the Tajika Neelakanthi, an astrological treatise. Shah Jahan’s court poet Jaganatha Panditha wrote the monumental Rasagangadhara.

The greatest contribution in the field of literature during the Mughal rule was the development of Urdu as a common language of communication for people speaking different dialects. Regional languages acquired stability and maturity and some of the finest lyrical poetry was produced during this period. Abdur Rahim Khan-e- Khanan composed Bhakti poetry with a blend of Persian ideas of life and human relations in the Brij form of Hindi. Tulsidas who wrote in Awadhi, the Hindi dialect spoken in the eastern Uttar Pradesh, was very popular for his devotional ideals. Marathi literature had an upsurge due to the literary contribution of Eknath, Tukaram, Ramdas and Mukteshwar during this period. Eknath questioned the superiority of Sanskrit over other languages. The verses of Tukaram kindled monotheism. Mukteshwar composed Ramayana and Mahabharata in literary Marathi.

Krishnadevaraya, the Vijayanagar ruler, through his Amuktamalyada (an epic poem on the Tamil woman poet, Andal) and his court Poet Allasani Peddana with his Manu Charitra were the leading beacons of Telugu literature during this period. Malayalam which had separated from Tamil as a language received a separate literary identity during this period. Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed in Malayalam. In Assamese language the tradition of Bhakti poetry was emulated by Shankara Deva who initiated a new literary tradition. Assamese literary works were produced in the fields of astronomy, arithmetic, and treatment of elephants and horses. Ramayana and Mahabharata were also retold in the Assamese language. The Chaitanya cult which portrayed the love of Krishna and Radha in poetic verses promoted Bengali literature. The Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs compiled by Guru Arjun in which the verses of the Sikh Gurus as well as Shaikh Farid and other monotheists are a landmark in the evolution of Punjabi language.

During this period Tamil literature was dominated by Saivite and Vaishnavite literature. Kumaraguruparar, a great Saiva poet, is said to have visited Varanasi in the late seventeenth century. He composed important literary works such as Meenakshiammai Pillai Tamil and Neethineri Vilakkam. Thayumanavar wrote highly devotional verses with compassion for all humanity and he formulated a sanmarga that tried to bridge differences between the various Saivite sects. The Christian missionaries like Roberto de Nobili and Constantine Joseph Beschi contributed much to Tamil language.

The empire the Mughals built at the national level made an everlasting impact on India as they knit the fragments into a single political unit, well aided by an effective central administration. Multiple identities also got synthesized in the process leading to the evolution of a unique culture that is Indian.

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