The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 4


Return of the Cowherds
Rajput, Godhuli, Mewar School

Apr 15, CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

We began this series with a brief summary of the invaders who preceded the Mughal drive into India. The northern invasion of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century brought the first wave of Islamic influence to India. India's art at the time was in its Medieval Period (10th to 14th centuries). The art of the Gupta period (4th to 6th c.) had by now matured, being followed by Buddhist, Deccan Rashrakuta and Chola art, and the temple arts of Hoysala, Khajuraho, Konark and Kalinga. These schools of art represented the wide field of Vaisnava and Saivite themed paintings, sculptures and temple architecture into which the Islamic influence streamed with the arrival of the Sultanate Turks.

By the time the Mughals overthrew the Sultanate in the early 16th century, India's art had progressed beyond the Medieval Period, and many new schools had emerged. One of these, the Rajput School of the late 16th century, represented something of a pivotal point in the transition of art during this period. During the time the art of the Hindu kingdoms took on the Mughal influence, but retained much of the Hindu devotional content, as many Rajput paintings of the day demonstrate. This was briefly discussed in our opening segment of the series. Prior to that, the art of the Sultanate was primarily devoid of Hindu devotional content.

When the Sultanate fell to the Mughals at the battle of Panipat in 1526 A.D., Indian art saw a great infusion of Persian style, and the Indo-Islamic period of art and architecture began in earnest. The Mughals were great patrons of art, and with the exception of the demonic Persian Aurangzeb, they continued to patronize the Vedic arts in many ways, although they also destroyed many temples, and the art they contained.

Akbar as a Boy

Specific periods of art can be identified during the reign of each of the Mughal emperors, and we will explore several of these, beginning with the first emperor, Babur, who was followed by Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, and Jahan.

During the reign of Akbar (1556 to 1605), the third Mughal emperor in India, the architectural arts were particularly imbued with the Islamic presence. Many sandstone structures like the Red Fort at Agra came up, and these were followed by projects on an even grander scale, such as the marble Taj Mahal built by Akbar's successor, Shah Jahan, whole ruled from 1628 to 1658. Shah Jahan's rule is often called the 'golden era' of Mughal architecture.

As illustrated by the evolution of paintings in Mughal India, the Vaisnava devotional mood was re-established after the Sultanate period, and progressed throughout the rule of the first five Mughal emperors, albeit far less broadly than it might have if the land were not being invaded. However, with the advent of the cruel Persian Aurangzeb, who succeeded Jahan and reigned from 1658 to 1707, religious themes were aggressively targeted for attack: many Hindu temples were destroyed, and Sri Krsna was less often seen on the artist's canvas.

Aurangzeb reading the Quran

After Aurangzeb's death, the Mughal empire began to lose its power. While historians blame the decline on the less than competent administrators who succeeded him, we can assume that his kingdom also suffered the predictable reaction for having desecrated the Lord's temples, driving the Deities and devotees into hiding.

As the Mughal empire finally waned, new schools of devotional art emerged in India, and the popularity of Vaisnavism again became prominent. The Rajput school was reinvigorated, and many news works were produced with Krsna lila themes.


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