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Influence of Jahangir on Indian Painting: A Historical Perspective

Updated: Mar 28

Meanwhile, under the influence of folk-tale-based literature from India and West Asia, Emperor Akbar commissioned the creation of a novel album in 1560 entitled Tutinama. The meaning of Tutinama is, 'a tell of a parrot'. The project was finalized in 1565 and is believed to be housed at the Cleveland Museum.

a scene from the Tutinama paintings
a scene from the Tutinama (1556–1565) paintings

With the inclusion of illustrated artworks from Tutinama[1], a significant shift was observed in the depiction of Hamzanama. The artist imbued an intense emotional atmosphere into the painting, resulting in tension never seen in Indian art. This innovation established a new tradition within Indian art that was absent from previous manuscript works or other forms of artistic expression. Indeed, through Hamzanama, Mughal miniature painting surpassed even Persian art and reached new heights.

Starting from 1570, the Akbari era ushered in a new wave of artistic possibilities, resulting in numerous albums that even Abul Fazal - the biographer - struggled to recall. The details of these paintings, including dates, artists' names, and years, remain elusive due to their rapid dispersal into various museums and private collections without proper documentation. Despite limited information on the albums and related illustrations available today, historians have determined that all illustrations were created between 1589 and 1605.

 In this article, I am delighted to share the names of some notable ancient Indian miniature artists from the Mughal Kingdom. Despite their significant contributions to modern art, many Indians remain unfamiliar with these artists, often dismissing them as 'undefined.' These pioneers of modernism in Indian painting rejected traditional concepts and instead focused on creating a unique style that ignored reality. The following are the names of these extraordinary artists: Abdus Samad, Abul Hassan, Aka Riza, Akil Khan, Beehzad (Parsian), Bhabani Das, Bichitra, Beehzad (son of Abdus Samad), Dashyant, Gobardhan, Kamal Kashmiri, Keshu Khurd, Manohar, Meer Syed Ali, Miskin, Nayansukh  Ruknuddin Shibden Sudarshan and Ranjha (Indian).

Next, we have to enter the period of the next emperor, Jahangir, who ruled the Mughal Kingdom from 1605 to 1627. The original name was Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim Jahangir(2). From a historical perspective, Jahangir had a significant influence on Indian painting.

Emperor Akbar entrusted one of his courtiers, Abdur Rahim, with the crucial task of educating and inspiring young Selim[2] (Jahangir) in matters about art and culture. Under Rahim's tutelage, Selim's taste, knowledge, and appreciation for artistic pursuits were honed to perfection. Renowned for his extraordinary work on 'Ramayana,' Rahim created a complete version of this masterpiece with stunning illustrations that still captivate audiences today. As far as my information goes, it is presently housed at the Fryer Gallery in Washington, where it continues to be conserved with utmost care.

Portrait of Jahangir
Portrait of Jahangir by Abu al-Hasan, c. 1617

As previously mentioned, Akbar was illiterate and could not read or write. Consequently, he developed a fascination with visual storytelling through paintings and illustrations. His deep involvement in this artistic medium intensified his passion for the craft, making him renowned as an art enthusiast on par with his reputation as a great ruler. However, it is worth noting that Akbar's art appreciation did not come from a formal education or adherence to established critique rules. In contrast, Jahangir cultivated his love for art through rigorous training and practice that refined his discerning eye. Additionally, Jahangir had close relationships with esteemed artists within the royal court, furthering his knowledge and expertise in becoming a severe art critic.

After a falling out with his father Akbar, the young prince Salim departed from the palace and occupied Allahabad between 1599 and 1604. He established his own studio then and invited several esteemed artists to collaborate with him. The Jahangir studio produced numerous manuscripts during this period, which were safeguarded at Chester Beatty (Dublin) and Walters Art Gallery of Baltimore (USA).

Even during the reign of Akbar, he was already acknowledged as an esteemed art critic. Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, Emperor Jahangir's biography, meticulously depicts his ardor for art, sagacity, and eagerness to create new paintings. Above all, he succeeded in assembling all the gifted artists in his court and engaging them in various paintings that revealed the inner reality of objects while maintaining their characteristic value and beauty. During his time, the most prominent artists included Ustad Ananta, Nadir-UL-Zaman, Mansur, Muhammad Ali, Ustad Miskin, Masud, Hunhar, Ustad Modi, Gobardhan, and Hasim.

In our next installment, I will continue discussing Shahjahan's activities, the son of Jahangir.



1. Tutinama (Persian: طوطی‌نامه‎), literal meaning "Tales of a Parrot", is a 14th-century Persian series of 52 stories. The Mughal Emperor Akbar commissioned an illustrated version containing 250 miniature paintings in the later part of the 16th century. The work redacted in the 14th century AD in Iran derives from an earlier anthology, 'Seventy Tales of the Parrot' in Sanskrit, compiled under the title Śukasaptati (a part of katha literature) dated to the 12th century AD. In Iran, as in India, parrots (in light of their purported conversational abilities) are famous as storytellers in works of fiction.

The adventure stories narrated by a parrot, night after night, for 52 successive nights, are moralistic stories to persuade his owner not to commit adultery with any lover without her husband. The illustrations embellishing the stories created during Akbar's reign were made five years after Akbar ascended the throne,[6][full citation needed by two Iranian artists named Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad working in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.

 2. Prince Salim, later Jahangir, was born on 31 August 1569, in Fatehpur Sikri, to Akbar and one of his wives, Mariam-uz-Zamani, daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amber. Akbar's previous children had died in infancy, and he had sought the help of holy men to produce a son. Salim was named for one such man, Shaikh Salim, though Akbar always called him Shekhu Baba. Prince Salim succeeded to the throne on Thursday, 3 November 1605, eight days after his father's death. Salim ascended to the throne with the title of Nur-ud-din Muhammad Jahangir Badshah Ghazi and thus began his 22-year reign at 36. Jahangir soon after had to fend off his son, Prince Khusrau Mirza, when the latter attempted to claim the throne based on Akbar's will to become his successive heirs. Khusrau Mirza was defeated in 1606 and confined in the fort of Agra. As punishment, Khusrau Mirza was handed over to his younger brother and was partially blinded and killed. Jahangir considered his third son, Prince Khurram (future Shah Jahan), his favorite. In 1622, Khurram murdered his blind older brother, Khusrau Mirza, to smooth his path to the throne.


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