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The Importance of the Aurangzeb in Indian art.

Before commencing our discussion, I would like to shed light on a tragic historical event that highlights the political turmoil of ancient India. During the elderly age of Shah Jahan, when he was 65 years old, his treacherous sons forcefully usurped his throne and imprisoned him. This did not mark the end of conflicting actions among Shah Jahan's offspring; instead, it raised the question of who would succeed as the next Emperor of India. 1658, after much controversy and strife, Aurangzeb emerged victorious in battle against his younger brother Dara Shikoh at Panipat and subsequently ascended to become Emperor. Following this triumph, he turned his sights towards conquering southern India.

It is a common misconception that Aurangzeb lacked interest in painting; however, this belief only tells part of the story. He was motivated by the artistic traditions of his royal ancestors and embraced their techniques by welcoming their workflows into his practice. Thus, portrait painting flourished under his reign. However, as Aurangzeb's passionate approach to Islam intensified over time - particularly concerning portraiture - the art form began to fade, and artists sought opportunities elsewhere. This outcome was unsurprising, given that such cultural practices relied heavily on support and encouragement from those in positions of power. Unfortunately for artists during this period, Aurangzeb stood at the center of these practices but ultimately opposed them. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for artists to continue producing exceptional work without the necessary resources or inspiration.

Although Emperor Aurangzeb did attract some talented artists to his court during his tenure as ruler, they did not receive the same level of criticism or inner vision from him as had been provided by previous generations within the royal family. Consequently, this trend gradually faded over time due to lackluster patronage and diminished enthusiasm within elite circles for portrait painting. 

Portrait of Aurangzeb
Portrait of Aurangzeb

However, we cannot disregard the specialty that emerged with Aurangzeb's conquest of southern India and its subsequent inclusion in Mughal painting as the 'Deccan style.' This regional addition elevated the value of Mughal miniature painting. However, it also shifted from focusing on the internal vision of portrait paintings to highlighting external features such as ornate attire, elaborate ornaments, and exquisite brushwork. For instance, a portrait of young Aurangzeb seated at an angle in profile (refer to image on the left) following European style, featuring a bird - presumably a parakeet - is an excellent illustration supporting our assumption above regarding portrait art. While European style somewhat influenced Mughal painting during Aurangzeb's reign, most works were still crafted using Southern Kalam since royal artists from the Mughal court collaborated with businesspersons hailing from Southern India who influenced their regional styles. The intermingling of Southern and Mughal traditions gave rise to a new style in Mughal painting that thrived afterward. That's the importance of Aurangzeb in Indian art.

Emperor Aurangzeb spearheaded the emergence of a novel style in Mughal Miniature Painting. However, owing to his inadequate patronage, accomplished artists deserted his atelier and sought greener pastures, primarily in the regional metropolises. This exodus led to the flourishing of local arts and cultures but also precipitated a decline in the practice of illustrated scripture and album-making (Murakka). Although numerous portraits were produced during Aurangzeb's reign, they failed to garner significant acclaim.

Here, I want to mention some of the great royal artists of the reign of Aurangzeb: Fakir-e-hakir, Amal-e-Khamananda, Raghunandan, Roy Chitraman, Anup Chattar, Ustad Gulab Roy, Masud, Lachman Sing, etc.

The duty of an emperor entails the governance and regulation of their kingdom, including overseeing various regional territories. The attainment of victory is a crucial aspect of this role. One may struggle to comprehend the complexity involved in performing such duties within a diverse and multifaceted country like India, where varying cultures, languages, and traditions make it challenging to maintain absolute authority. It is truly remarkable how these foreign rulers established dominion over India seamlessly despite its exotic nature.

Nevertheless, it will be difficult to find four similar emperors in world history who came from another culture but gratuitously not only adopted a separate culture as their own but also produced a new form that later became an icon of Indian art!

Many things related to Mughal painting need to be discussed, and I am sure I'll do it later. However, it's an ending episode, and I want to know how you like the serial discussion. Is there anything precious you see that I overlooked? Do you have any information that I missed? Feel free to share in the comment section and make it more valuable. Knowledge is endless, so I need to know more from you. 


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