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The History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting

Part - 5

In part 5 of the History of Indian Mughal Miniature Painting, I'll show the excellence of the Indian miniature that causes it to be the icon of India and how it has been dimming away periodically.

In addition to their ornamental design, the depictions of hunting in Mughal miniature art were particularly noteworthy. This subject matter was a favorite among royal artists, and it was understood that paintings commissioned by the emperor should showcase his enthusiasm and efficiency in this activity. It is possible that these artists even served as coadjutors on the emperor's hunting team.

Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan

 The paintings' landscapes exuded a soulful quality while simultaneously showcasing practical experience, captivating the audience's attention. The Mughal miniature's primary significance lies in its ability to allow one to discern each object and even every leaf on a tree with remarkable clarity. In Emperor Jahangir's diary, we encountered an amusing anecdote previously discussed in "The Preeminence of Shah Jahan in Mughal Painting." This story demonstrated that during Jahangir's reign, Indian miniature art reached unparalleled perfection. Under his rule, the country enjoyed peace and prosperity, and the royal court was replete with grandeur. Consequently, artists who previously painted battle scenes changed their focus to highlighting the splendor and glitz of the royal court instead. Vibrant colors in earlier miniatures gave way to more subdued tones that created a pleasant ambiance.

Additionally, the Mughal miniature style showcased intelligence through its composition techniques. It followed traditional Oriental methods by employing rich line drawings but also utilized stylish brushwork to model objects to convey their totality effectively. Furthermore, restraint was exercised when using color to avoid detracting from the importance of line drawing.

During Shah Jahan's reign, painting subjects became more diverse. At the same time, numerous talented artists emerged, such as Chitraman (Kalyan Das), Anupchatar (Roy Anup), Muhammad Nadir Samarqandi, Mir Hasim Manohar, and Muhammad Fakirullah Khan, among others. Many of these exceptional works are now housed at The British Museum; thus, Indians miss out on experiencing them firsthand.

Dara Shikoh
Dara Shikoh

Undoubtedly, during Shah Jahan's reign, Indian Mughal miniature painting reached its pinnacle; however, simultaneously, it began to decline. At the same time, the architecture was deemed remarkable. Regrettably, the deterioration of Indian miniature painting coincided with it. Nevertheless, it remains true that most of the grandest Indian Mughal miniature paintings were created under Shah Jahan's rule.

 Upon the end of this reign, the decline in Mughal painting was akin to a symbol of devastation for the Mughal empire. Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son and an avid art enthusiast, battled with his brother Aurangzeb to secure the emperor's throne. After being defeated, he retreated to the desolate desert of Sindh with some trusted attendants. During this harrowing time, one of his emissaries informed him about his beloved wife's passing. The spy recounted how she had perished from extreme heat during summer without access to water. Upon hearing such a heart-wrenching tale, Dara Shikoh collapsed in distress.

Ultimately, Aurangzeb ascended to the throne of the Mughal empire after eliminating all of his siblings. Being a devout Muslim, it is evident that his prejudice was influenced by cultural aspects within the kingdom. Indeed, he deemed painting as being contrary to Islamic beliefs and, therefore, advocated for its destruction. Despite some court members still valuing artistry, its prominence dwindled without imperial endorsement.


During his visit to India under the reign of Aurangzeb, Bernier documented an account of that era. He says, "It is no surprise that art does not flourish when poor administrative conditions leave all efforts unsupported. However, it could progress just like in France. Here, individuals are either too impoverished or prefer to be perceived as such, seeking low prices at the expense of quality and artistry. They capriciously pay for any artwork without understanding its true value and even resort to violence against struggling artists who demand fair compensation; how can an artist thrive in such a hostile environment? If artists foresee a future devoid of honor or appreciation, what incentive do they have to continue creating? Asian artisans hold wealthy businesspeople in high esteem as they are often willing to pay more for their paintings than others. Otherwise, they work merely to survive and avoid the brutality inflicted upon them for daring to charge fair prices! This does not mean that their beautiful paintings were created solely to receive accolades and rewards."  

 This integrity stems from the lack of erudition among courtiers and other officials, who are incapable of distinguishing between members of the administrative staff and artists. 

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