The Mughal Empire

During the Mughal Empire (1526-1858), India grew into a prolific center of
cultural cultivation, literary pursuit, and architectural marvel.

Shah Jahan On GlobeThe Mughal dynasty ruled most of northern India from the early 16th to the mid-18th century. The Mughal dynasty was notable for about two centuries of effective rule over much of India, for the ability of its rulers, who through seven generations maintained a record of unusual talent, and for its administrative organization. During the Mughal Empire. India grew into a prolific center of cultural cultivation, literary pursuit, and architectural marvel.

The Mughal dynasty was established with the crushing victory of Babur at Panipat in 1526. Babur was a direct descendant of Timur through his father, and a descendant also of Genghis Khan through his mother.

Babur's son Humayun was dissolute and wayward in his early years and the Mughal Empire fell to the Suris in 1540. The tomb of Sher Shah Suri is an architectural masterpiece that was to have a profound impact on the evolution of Indo-Islamic architecture.

Humayun reestablished the Mughal Empire in 1555. His tomb at Delhi represents an outstanding landmark in the development and refinement of the Mughal style. It was designed in 1564, eight years after his death, as a mark of devotion by his widow.

Architecture flourished during the reign of Humayun's son Akbar. One of the first major building projects was the construction of a huge fort at Agra. The massive sandstone ramparts of the Red Fort are another impressive achievement. The most ambitious architectural exercise of Akbar, and one of the most glorious examples of Indo-Islamic architecture, was the creation of an entirely new capital city at Fatehpur Sikri.

After the death of Akbar in 1605, his son, Prince Salim, ascended the throne and assumed the title of Jahangir, "Seizer of the World". The Mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandra, outside Agra, represents a major turning point in Mughal history, as the sandstone compositions of Akbar were adapted by his successors into opulent marble masterpieces. Jahangir is the central figure in the development of the Mughal garden. The most famous of his gardens is the Shalimar Bagh on the banks of Lake Dal in Kashmir. Jahangir pursued his delight in the more refined art of miniature painting, bringing about a golden age of painting at the Mughal court.

Jahangir's son Prince Khurram ascended the throne in 1628 as Emperor Shah Jahan. His reign is characterized by monumental architectural achievements as much as anything else. The single most important architectural change was the use of marble instead of sandstone. He demolished the austere sandstone structures of Akbar in the Red Fort and replaced them with marble buildings.

Taj MahalIn 1638 Shah Jahan began to lay out the city of Shahjahanabad beside the Jamuna river. The Red Fort at Delhi represents the pinnacle of centuries of experience in the construction of palace-forts. Outside the fort, he built the Jami Masjid, the largest mosque in India. However, it is for the Taj Mahal, which he built as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, that he is most often remembered. Symmetry and balance between the parts of a building were always stressed, while the delicacy of detail in Shah Jahan’s decorative work has seldom been surpassed.

The remarkable flowering of art and architecture under the Mughals is due to several factors. The empire itself provided a secure framework within which artistic genius could flourish, and it commanded wealth and resources unparalleled in Indian history. Under the patronage of the Mughal emperors, Persian, Indian, and various provincial styles were fused to produce works of unusual quality and refinement. The Mughal rulers themselves were extraordinary patrons of art, whose intellectual caliber and cultural outlook was expressed in the most refined taste.