Read this article to learn about the social, economic and cultural history of the Medieval age.
Town and Country in Medieval Age: Towns and Cities:
History of the people, their social, economic and cultural life is certainly of great interest to the students of history than the political events or the military campaigns of any period.
This is particularly true of the medieval period of Indian history. The real history of Mughal India consists in the socio-economic cultural condition of the people of the period.
During the Mughal period, particularly under Akbar’s rule India had as many as 120 cities and 3,200 towns. These cities and towns differed in origin and history of their growth as well as in character from those of the Western world. While the towns and cities in the West grew centering round industry and commerce those in India, except, the port towns, most of the cities and towns grew on rural bases, that is, rural areas gradually developed into towns or cities due to residence of rulers, governors or high officials or because due to garrisoning of soldiers or encampment of royal army for long at times of expeditions.
Some towns, as has been mentioned above grew in port areas because of the growth of warehouses and influx of indigenous and foreign merchants. Some towns also originated as business marts. What distinguished the Indian towns and cities was that the bases of these towns and cities were rural and not only the foodstuff but also all other consumer goods would come into the towns and cities from the rural areas.
There were a few Karkhanas in the capital cities in which articles specially needed by the kings and Emperors, nobles and high officials, such as dresses, used to be manufactured. With the change of time, however, and in particular with the advent of the European merchants Indian towns and cities also gradually began to assume industrial and commercial character.
We have interesting observations of Ralph Fitch about the plenty and prosperity in the major Indian cities of India during the Mughal period (1585). He observes “Agra and Fatehpore are two very great cities, either of them much greater than London and very populous. Between Agra and Fatehpore are twelve miles, and all the way is a market of victual and other things, as full as though a man were in a market.”
Similarly Edward Terry refers, to Punjab as a large province and most fruitful. “Lahore is the chief city thereof, built very large and abounds both in people and riches, one of the principal cities of trade in all India.” According to C.D. Monserrate, Lahore was not second to any city in Europe or Asia. Abdul Fazl describes Ahmadabad as a “noble city in a high state of prosperity” and in climate and production of choicest things unrivalled in the world.
The ancient capitals like Kanauj, Vijayanagar, etc. where in a state of decay and the modern cities like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras had not come up. The more flourishing towns and cities besides the ones already referred to above were Delhi, Allahabad, Benares, Multan, Ajmer, Patna, Ujjain, Rajmahal, Dacca, Burdwan, Hughli, Chittagong, etc.
Different parts of the country and important towns and cities were connected by roads which were Kacha, i.e. not metalled. Roads were shaded by trees on both sides and dotted with Sarais for the merchants and the travellers. The city of Agra which was capital of the Mughals for a long time was connected with the rest of the empire by a network of roads. The Grant Trunk Road ran from Dacca in the east to Kabul in the north-west passing through Patna, Allahabad, Benares, Agra, Mathura, Lahore, Attock.
Another important road ran from Agra to Asirgarh in the south and a third from Agra to Ahmadabad. Apart from the roads, rivers afforded excellent means of communication both for human and mercantile traffic. The Ganga, Jamuna, Ghagra, Indus, the rivers of the south and of Bengal were navigable and frequently used for the transport of commercial goods and troops.
Society in the Medieval Age:
India of those days as even of today lived in villages and the society was broadly divided into Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus needless to say formed the great majority of the population; they included the Jains, the Buddhists and the Sikhs among them. The upper classes of the Hindu society mostly belonged to the Brahman, Kayastha, Rajput and Vaishya castes and did neither inter-dine nor inter-marry between them.
There were many other mixed classes in the society. The Baidyas were a mixed class next to the Brahmanas. These apart there were various other castes and sub-castes which grew up as a result of social mixture i.e. intermarriage between castes. There was much conservatism among the Hindus of upper classes.
The Muslims were divided into two major sections, viz:
(a) Those who came with the conquerors or for trade and commerce or employment from countries like Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Abyssinia etc. and
(b) The converts from the indigenous Hindu population and their descendants.
As the country was open to foreign traders and travellers, there were also people of various nationalities from Europe, such as the Portuguese, English, Parsis, Chinese etc. The history of the medieval period of India like that of the Middle Ages of the European history is largely occupied by the story of warfare of the kings and emperors. The common people and their condition were by and large beyond the attention of the historians except insofar as they hurts themselves, into history by their activities in relation to the kings or emperors.
Abul Fazl and some European travellers of the Mughal period have referred to the contemporary people of India and their condition. Among the European travellers Ralph Fitch, William Hawking’s, Sir Thomas Roe, Francisco Paelsart, Bernier, Tevernier, Thevenot etc. deserve special mention.
The society during the Mughal period was feudal in nature. Nobility and the officials of the state were entitled to high esteem in the society. Their standard of living was very high. Luxury, debauchery, drinking etc. were their special characteristics. Apart from the kings and emperors the nobles also had their harem. From Abul Fazl it is known that the imperial harem had five thousand women. The nobility was characterised by mutual jealousy, conspiracy and recrimination.
Below the nobility, we find the existence of the middle class whose number was comparatively small. Their standard of living was moderate and far below that of the nobles and state officials. Middle class was above the contemporary vices of dinking, debauchery and lavity. But the merchants of the west-coast of India were fabulously rich and their standard of living was also very high.
The condition of the common people, compared to the nobility and the middle class was miserable. They had not the wherewithal to purchased warm clothes, shoes etc. which were luxury items to them. Francisco Paelsart remarked that in normal years although they would have no difficulty in maintaining themselves, in times of natural calamities like flood, drought and famine their condition would beggar description.
Paelsart who lived in India for long seven years during the Mughal rule remarked that the labourers, the grocers, the bearers or servant classes were three sections of the society who were nominally free men but in reality their condition was no better than that of the slaves.
The common people lived in huddles of mud and reeds. They were poor yet they were subjected to exactions by the state officials. From the time of Shah Jahan there was much repression on the common people, particularly the peasants. Gradually their condition became desperate. The provincial governors and officials realised as much money as they could from the peasants by repressing them.
About the social habits and practices Edward Terry remarks that “None of the people there at any time seen drunk (though they might find liquor enough to do it but the very offal and dregs of that people, and these rarely or very seldom.” In the diet and food habits the Indians were temperate; and they were polite to the strangers. The prominent social practices of the time among the Hindus were Suttee, Kulinism etc. and among the Hindus and the Muslims, child-marriage and dowry-system.
Akbar sought to check the evil practices of Suttee and child-marriage. From the writings of Bolt, Scrafton and Crauford we come to know that social evils increased in Bengal during the eighteenth century. In Maharashtra dowry-system was discouraged. Widow re-marriage was prevalent in certain parts of India.
Among the various types of deterioration in the social life in the eighteenth century, one redeeming feature was the continuity of Hindu-Muslim re-approachment and growth of understanding and amiability between the two great Indian communities. The reign of Akbar was remarkably important in this regard, even under Aurangzeb a Muhammadan poet Alwal wrote many Hindi poems and translated Padmavat into Bengali. While the Hindus showed reverence to Muslim Pirs (saints), the Muslims did likewise to the Hindu Yogis (Saints).
One of the demoralizing institutions of the society was slavery and there was a regular slave trade. Likewise eunuchs were bought and sold. Akbar’s attempt to prohibit it did not succeed. The upper classes dressed themselves in a long coat and light trousers and turbans. Many wore a .silk or cotton scarf round the waist and slung down the ends of the scarf down the leg. Poor Hindus wore dhotis one end of which was tied round the waist. Poor Muslims put on pyjama and long shirt.
Perfumes and oils were used by men and women, both Hindu and Muslim. Pan served as a sort of lip stick. Hindu women wore saris while the Muslims women wore pyjamas or ghagras. Soap made of pulses or soap berry was used. Muslim men and women used collyrium in their eyes and women coloured their palms and feet with Mehdi.
Among the indoor games chess, cards, games of guites, satranj and among outdoor games hunting, polo (Chaugan) etc. were popular with the high ranking people. Wrestling, juggler’s feats, magic shows etc. were enjoyed by all. Games like tiger hunting, elephant snaring were the privileges of the Emperor. Music both in the court and in private residences fairs and festivals, specially those sponsored by the state, for example Nauroj were occasions for enjoyment by all people.
Hindu festivals like Dasserah, Vasant, Dipavali (prohibited during Aurangzeb’s reign) and Muslim festivals of two Ids, Shab-i-barat etc. were festivals of great enjoyment by the respective communities. Occasional fairs were held at Hardwar, Prayag, Mathura, Kurukshetra and many other places of Hindu pilgrimages and also in places of Muslim Pilgrimages like Ajmer, Panipat,” Sirhind etc.
The position of women under the Mughals marked a definite deterioration. Purdah system of the Muslim women and the growing conservatism in the Hindu family life precluding Hindu women except of the low castes from coming out of their houses made the life of the women rather un-enjoyable.
Polygamy was permitted by the Quranic law and a Muslim could take four wives at a time. A Shiah Muslim has no restriction as to the number of wives. While the Hindu ruling class indulged in polygamy the Muslims almost as a rule would have more them one wife. The Emperors and nobles maintained harem i.e. a number of women not formally married.
Economy: Agriculture in the Medieval Period:
The most remarkable feature of the economic system of the Mughals was the gap that kept the producers and the consumers far asunder. The producers were agriculturists, workers in the cottage industries, artisans, producers of consumer’s goods like oil, cloth, sugar etc. workers in the Karkhanas.
The consumers were the rulers, nobles, officers both civil and military, professional and religious classes, slaves, servants and other sundry people. The result was, particularly in view of lack of every transport, that the producers received only marginal profits whereas the middlemen and traders got the lion’s share of the profit. This is largely true even today.
Another important feature of the Mughal economic system was the unnecessary burden that the state economy was made to bear due to the huge number of servants and slaves retained by the emperor, nobles and high officials, who practically served more as decoration rather than actual service-hands. This was a great waste of the state income.
The riotous living by the nobles and the officials, their costly jewels, dresses, lavish expenses during the marriage of their children, maintenance of horses, elephants and retainers needed enough money which compelled them to extort the same from the peasants.
Under Aurangzeb agriculture, industry, trade and commerce were very adversely affected by his incessant wars and slack administration. “Thus ensued the great economic impoverishment of India, not only a decrease of the national stock, but also a rapid lowering of mechanical skill and standard of civilisation, a disappearance of art and culture over wide tract of the country” (Sir J. N. Sarkar).
Agriculture depended on rainfall and naturally failure of seasonal rain fall of heavy down pour resulting in flood would result in failure in agricultural crops which meant famine. There were frequent outbreaks of famine in Mughal India during which the sufferings of the peasants and common people would know no bounds.
Lack of any systematic effort to provide relief to the famine stricken people or to allow remission of revenue collection from the peasants made the condition of the people, the peasants in particular, indescribably miserable. Famine was followed by pestilence which was an additional scourge of the people. During 1556-57 a terrible famine broke out in the north-western India followed by pestilence which took a heavy toll of life.
Badauni who saw the famine-stricken people with his own eyes remarks that “men ate their own kind and the appearance of the famished sufferers was so hideous that one could scarcely look upon them…. The whole country was a desert and no husbandman remained to till the ground.” During 1573-74 Gujarat suffered from similar famine and pestilence and still another in Kashmir in 1595-96.
Bengal was visited by famine in 1575 and the Deccan and Gujarat during 1630-32. A number of famines broke out during the reign of Aurangzeb. From Akbar downwards, the Mughal emperors tried to relieve the distress of the people, but as there was no systematic effort, nor any famine policy nor any easy means of transport the relief measures were inadequate.
Industries and Trade in Medieval Age:
During the Mughal period the most important economic activity besides, agriculture was the varied industrial production by the people of India. The industrial products could not only meet the internal needs of the country but also supply the demands of the
European merchants as well as merchants from different parts of Asia. Manufacture of cotton cloth was the most important industry during the period under discussion. The principal centres of cotton manufacture were distributed all over the country, for instance, the coromandel coast, Patan in Gujarat, Khandesh, Burhampur, Jaunpur, Benares, Patna, some other places in United Provinces, Bihar, many centres in Orissa and Bengal.
“The whole country from Orissa to East Bengal looked like a big cotton factory, and Dacca district was especially famous for finest cotton fabrics called muslin—”the best, the finest cloth made of cotton.” According Paelsant, in Chabaspur and Sonargaon in East Bengal”, all lived by weaving industry and the produce has the highest reputation and quality.
“Bernier called Bengal store-house of cotton and silk not only of Hindustan but also of Europe. Edward Terry refers to the flourishing condition of dyeing industry of Bengal. Dyeing and printing were of such high quality that these would not be washed out.”
Silk industry, however, was limited in scope compared to the cotton industry. Abul Fazl tells us that silk industry was patronised by Akbar. Bengal was the most important centre of silk production and silk manufacture. Other centres of silk manufacture were Lahore, Fathepur Sikri, Agra, Gujarat, Benares, Bhagalpur, Kashmir etc. From Tavernier we know that Bengal produced silk and silk goods worth two and half million pounds. Three-fourth million pounds worth raw silk used to be exported to foreign countries by the Dutch.
Woolen goods such as blankets, shawl, carpets etc. were woven at Kashmir, Lahore, Alwar, Jaunpur and Agra. The shawl industry flourished due to the patronage of Akbar. The state encouraged manufacture of various articles particularly for the use of the Emperors, nobles and the state officials in Karkhanas to which many skilled workers were engaged.
Saltpetre was manufactured in Bihar and was exported by the European traders to their countries. It was used for the manufacture of gun-powder. Copper mines existed in Central India and Rajasthan. Iron was found in many parts of India. Red stone quarries were there in Rajasthan and Fathepur. Marble came from Rajasthan. Opium, an agricultural produce, was exported after meeting internal consumption. Gold mines were found in Kumayun and in the hills and rivers of the Punjab.
From Abul Fazl and other contemporary writers, we learn that prices of articles such as rice, oil, ghee, spices, vegetables, milk, meat, live-stock were very low. Terry remarks that there was “plenty of provisions” and people “eat bread without scarceness.” From what we know from the foreign travellers and the contemporary writers, we may observe that the people did not grovel in misery since the prices were low, although in times of natural calamities they had to suffer.
Distress of the Peasant: Peasants’ Revolt:
The Mughal revenue system according to Prof. Habib suffered from two infirmities. First, the revenue was set at the highest in order that the military contingents to be supplied by the mansabdars could be met out of the revenue collection of the jagir. Secondly, the revenue was fixed at so high a level that it left only the marginal surplus, that is enough margin for the survival of the peasants, which was the barest minimum needed for his subsistence.
This meant while the appropriation of the surplus produce constituted the great wealth and the wherewithal of the Mughal imperial government to maintain its pomp and splendour as also its military strength, it left the actual producers of the wealth in a state of utter poverty.
As Paelsart observed, the contrast between the rich and the common people was so great that “the rich in their great superfluity and the utter subjection and poverty of the common people” was the economic picture of the Mughal times. But this was not a static situation, with the passage of time there was a progressive increase in the revenue demand with the rise in prices. Bernier gives us a reasonable explanation of this situation. According to him, “The country is ruined by the necessity of defraying the enormous charges required to maintain the splendour of a numerous court and to pay a large army maintained for keeping the people in subjection. No adequate idea can be conveyed of the sufferings of the people. The cudgel and the whip compel them to incessant labour for the benefit of others.”
A jagirdar who was liable to be transferred from his jagir at any moment or after three or four years was not likely to follow a far- sighted policy of development of the condition of the peasants under him, rather he would allow oppression on the peasants for his personal benefit even if it would ruin the peasantry or destroy the revenue yielding capacity of the land for all time in future.
This narrow selfish outlook of the jagirdars has been nicely described by Bernier in the following lines: “Why the neglected state of this land creates uneasiness in our minds? And why should we expand our money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment and our exertions would benefit neither ourselves nor our children. Let us draw from the soil all the money we can though the peasant should starve or abscond and we should leave it. When commanded to quit, a dreary wilderness.”
Similar observations are to be found also in the writings of Xavier, Hawkins, and Manrique. Indian writer Bhimsen observes that unpredictable and constant transfer of Jagirdars made the agents of the jagirdars to help the rayotwari or istiqlal arrangements. The amils of the jagirdars were also not sure of the tenure of service and as such were unrelenting and tyrannical in revenue collection. What was even worse, the jagirdars even resorted to farming out revenue instead of appointing their own agents for tax collection.
Sadiq Khan, writing during Shah Jahan’s reign observed that lands were being laid waste through bribery, revenue farming the result of which was impoverishment of the peasantry who were literally plundered and robbed. Thus the system of jagir transfer in the 17th century led to reckless exploitation of peasant population of the country. The imperial administration could check this evil partially for some time only but not permanently, for the imperial regulations left much liberty to the jagirdars, for it was within the discretion of the jagirdars to assist the peasants by granting loans, remission of revenue in times of famine or other calamities or to insist on payment even before harvesting of the crops.
Aurangzeb’s farman in regard to the revenue demand in Gujarat and his regulations prohibiting realising certain taxes remained effective on paper, but not in practice. In the circumstances the burden on the peasantry became so heavy in certain areas that they were even left without the means of subsistence.
As Manrique observes where the raiyats, peasants could not pay the exhorbitant revenue were “beaten unmercifully and maltreated” Manucci, who on this, occasion assumes the view point of the rulers, declares that it is the peasants habit to go on refusing payment, asserting that they have no money. The chastiments and instruments (of torture) are very severe. They are also made to endure hunger and thirst…. “They feign death (that sometimes really happens)… But this trick secures them no compassion.”
The misery of the peasants was such and torture so inhuman that they were obliged to sell their women, children and cattle to meet the revenue demand. The villages which could not pay the full amount, of the revenue-farm were put on a charge of rebellion and the wives, the children of the peasants were sold or carried off and attached to heavy iron-chains sent with their wives and children to various markets and fairs to be sold.
Even when robbery took place within the jurisdiction of a jagirdar or faujdar, the villagers were to find out the culprits and recover the lost properties or compensate the loss. This was also a pretext for the jagirdar or faujdar to sack the village or villages, kill the men folk and sell the women to slavery. Akbar’s ordinance not to seize or sell women or children of combatants was directed to stop the avaricious men who would on false imputation of disloyalty or on mere suspicion would sack and plunder villages and carry away the women.
From the narrative of J. Xavier we know that Mughal conquest of Kashmir and Gujarat resulted in fall in cultivation and the number of runaway peasants grew due to oppression of the peasants. Under Jahangir’s reign the peasants were “so cruelly and pitilessly oppressed” that the agricultural fields often lay “unsown and grow into wildernesses.” The poor labourers also deserted the villages as a result these were poorly populated.
A historian of the reign of Shah Jahan remarks that “owing to natural calamities, the rebellions of seditious zamindars and the cruelty of ill-fated officers “vast areas were depopulated and despite best efforts of the Emperor and his well-meaning ministers the land looked more deserted than it had been under Jahangir. In Gujarat a Dutch traveller in 1629 noted that “the peasants are more oppressed than formerly (and) frequently abscond.”
The same thing was noted by an Indian writer with regard to Sind which according to him “was the land of the forsaken, of the cruel and the helpless.” This was due to the oppression of the jagirdars. In the Deccan the period before the second vice-royalty of Aurangzeb, desolation was stalking the land and the peasant population dispersed due to the oppression of the governors.
During the early years of Aurangzeb’s reign a great portion of good cultivable land remained uncultivated for want of labourers a large number of whom had perished due to the bad treatment and oppression of the governors, or had left the country.
Khafi Khan gives us a clear picture of the condition of the peasantry under Muhammad Shah. According him all experienced and thoughtful persons who used to manage the offices of the state, protect peasantry and encourage the prosperity of the country had departed, the revenue-farmers became veritable sewerage of the revenue- paying peasantry.
As these revenue farmers had no guarantee of being confirmed in their office next year would extort as much as possible from the peasants and sell away both the state’s share and peasants share. They even sell away the fruit-bearing trees and the hereditary lands of the peasants.
Many of the parganas had been so ruined and devasted due to the oppression by the revenue-farmers that these turned into deep forests infested by tigers and wild beasts. “Oppression and injustice of the officials, who have no thought of God, has reached such a degree that if one wishes to describe a hundredth part of it, it will still defy description.”
There were, however, certain areas, for instance deltaic Bengal, particularly its eastern portions, parts of Terai etc. where there were extensions of cultivation. But these constituted an insignificant part of the Empire.
Certain points which require to be specially stressed are that (1) flight of peasant population was a common phenomenon during the 17th century of the Mughal period. Famine was an added cause to the oppression by the jagirdars, revenue farmers etc. Accumulation of arrear of revenue demand was another cause of absconding.
There were cases where peasantry gave up cultivation as a profession altogether. As Bernier observes, “some left country to seek a more tolerable mode of existence either in the towns or in the camps, as bearers of burdens, carriers of water or servants of horsemen.” As under the Mughal rule the urban population was numerous there were needs of innumerable peons, menials, labourers and slaves in the towns and cities. According to Manucci in southern India where oppression was equally severe, the lot of people leaving rural areas was only to accept slavery or to resort to armed resistance.
Peasants’ Revolt in the Medieval Age:
Considered from the general inclination of the common people during the period under review, there was no trend toward rebellion. In Malwa the artisans and the peasants used to carry arms with them, but that was no indication of their war-like inclination.
Paelsart writing about the third decade of the seventeenth century observed “that despite much misery and poverty the people endure patiently, professing that they do not deserve anything better.” But patient endurance also has its limit and the way in which the peasants knew to show defiance was by stoppage of the payment of land revenue. When saturation point was reached under oppression, even a small act of oppression might lead them to rebellion. Villages or areas protected by ravines, forests or hills are naturally convenient for rebellions. Rebellious villages or peasants who ceased to pay land revenue were called Zortalab and mawas as distinguished from revenue-paying villages called raiyati. When the rebellion would be put down the fate of the rebels could only be imagined. “Every one is killed that is met with and their wives, sons and daughters and cattle carried off.”
It goes without saying that the intensity of oppression varied from place to place as also due to the variance in the character of the jagirdars and their agents or revenue- farmers. As such while the rebellion in the village or group of villages when put down and men were butchered and their wives and children carried away, the neighbouring areas remained placid and unconcerned. But this was always not the thing.
The community of caste often played a cementing factor and in extending the scale of rebellion out of an urge to collectively defend common interests. According to Prof. Habib “In the Jat revolt we have, perhaps, the clearest instance of how an essentially peasant rebellion proceeded along caste lines. The same influence is visible also in the ‘lawless’ activities of such seditious castes as the Mewatis and the Wattus and the Dogras.”
Religious community is another factor that was responsible for extension of the scale of rebellion. Kabir, Nanak, Dadu did not preach militancy but humility and resignation. Their approach to a caste-less society made a deep appeal to the hearts of the masses. They provided inspiration for two powerful revolts, namely, the Satnami and Sikh revolts against the Mughals.
A third factor was that the Zamindars had their own objects in opposing the Mughal ruling class. They at certain stage of the peasants’ revolt assumed leadership or the leaders of the peasants became themselves Zamindars or in desperation the peasants provided recruits for the rebellious zamindars.
Zamindars: Their Evolution in the Medieval Age, Categories: Their Revolts:
The term zamindar connotes holders of certain rights based on revenue collection and there are degrees of zamindars from those who have rights over to small portions of a village upwards to the ruler of a kingdom. The zamindars have certain features in common. The rights of zamindars did not originate from imperial grants although there were some exceptions to this. Zamindars were commanders of retainers under them and often they were leaders of caste groups.
Literally the term zamindar means ‘holder’ of land. According to Moreland in North India, it meant “a chief, that is a landholder with title or claim antecedent to Moslem rule, commonly a Raja Rao, or some other Hindu king or ex-king, who had become tributary to the Moslem state.” But as there were zamindars in other areas directly administered by the Muslim Emperors which were not within tributary states, the definition of Moreland is not wholly correct. In Bengal, the term zamindar had a wider meaning.
There were landholders the Rajas, whose title to land was antecedent to Moslem rule’ and there were other great landholders not holders of so large estates as those of the Rajas, who traced their origin to fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Even under Murshid Quli Khan a number of zamindari families had originated.
Reference to sanad that is formal grant, patent by the Board of Revenue during early years of the East India Company’s rule does not find corroboration in Ain-i-Akbari. A sanad was, as John Shore stated a confirmation of rights and also an honourable distinction issued to “principal zamindars who enjoyed extensive jurisdiction and the right to be admitted to the presence of the sovereign or his viceroy.”
Smaller zamindars did not enjoy that kind of formal acknowledgement of their rights. Under the Mughal Emperors, there was, however the system of confirmation of the proprietary right on the soil to zamindars, or inheritance of zamindari. According to Shore the Mughal principle of finance established the practice that the “rents belong to the sovereign, and the land to the zamindar.”
It goes without saying the zamindars were a class of intermediaries between the peasants and the state, their primary function being collection of rent. There were three main categories of intermediaries. The first was those who paid tributes. These zamindars were rulers and often called Rajas, Raos etc. The tributes might be in cash or only symbolic payment by way of presentation say of an elephant or horse etc.
The second category comprised the zamindars who paid peshkash that is the revenue payable to the state. In revenue payable the peshkash was also included. Ordinary zamindars formed the third category and they occupied a position inferior to those of the first two categories namely the tribute paying and peshkash-paying zamindars.
The zamindars derived their right and title to the management of the zamindari from a sanad which was in the nature of a contract emphasizing the obligations of the zamindars. Default in payment would render a sanad revoked. A zamindari might be leased out that is given of ijara or even sold out. With the increasing weakness of the imperial administration there was a progressive increase in the autonomy of the Zamindars.
There was a gradation among the landholders. The first among the rank were the zamindars. Next to the zamindars were the chaudhuris below whom in rank were the talukdars. The Talukdars were of two groups the huzuri talukdars who had to pay a fixed revenue to the state. The other groups were of the mazkuri talukdars who paid their rent to the zamindar or chaudhuri. Zamindars during Akbar’s reign were revenue farmers on annual contract basis, with ten percent of the revenue demand as commission and small estate. There were also some hereditary proprietors of zamindari estates.
The ryots were under obligation to pay mal i.e. land revenue, sair i.e. other taxes, abwabs i.e. irregular and extra exactions by the state officials, zamindars or their agents! The zamindars, during the Mughal period, maintained an attitude of hostility towards the imperial administration and often sided with whoever appeared to be powerful and tumult-raising. This is known from Abul Fazl. He also praises Raja Beharimal who “out of wisdom and good fortune, aspired to leave the ranks of zamindars and become one of the select of the Court.” Prof. Habib very rightly questions if zamindar’s position and when become one of the court were mutually incompatible. Abul Fazl as well as the chroniclers of Aurangzeb mentions of the opportunism and disloyalty of the zamindars.
Prof. Habib states that “In documents written from the official point of view, it is assumed as a matter of course that the main danger to law and order came from the zamindars who refused to pay the revenue and had to be cowed down or destroyed by force either by the faujdar or the jagirdar. Erection of fort by any zamindar immediately aroused the suspicions of the authorities and could apparently be a sufficient justification of punitive action against him.”
The correspondence from Radandaz Khan faujdar of Biswara reveals the condition arising out of non-payment of revenue in an area in the very heart of the empire by the zamindars against whom expeditions had to be sent. The zamindars were also engaged in robbery. Appointment of zamindars direct from the court under Aurangzeb was a method adopted for the purpose of counter-balancing the power of the.old houses of zamindars.
One of the important political features of the period under review was the struggle between the zamindars and the imperial administration, often breaking out into open hostility. Manucci, writing in 1700, says “usually the viceroys and the governors are in a constant state of quarrel with the Hindu princes and zamindars—with some because they wish to seize their lands, with others, to force them to pay more revenue than customary……… usually there is some rebellion of the rajahs and zamindars going on in the Mughal kingdom.”
As the zamindars were weaker in comparison with the imperial government, they always tried to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards the peasants whose support was very much needed both for defence and fight as well as for finance by way of timely payment of revenue. The zamindars having been conversant with the local customs could make their relation and arrangements with the peasants more flexible than what the imperial administration could do in Khalisa lands or the assignees could do in the lands under them.
The imperial administration in Khalisa lands and the assigness were more interested in realising more and more revenue. Bernier observed that the peasants found “less oppression and allowed greater degree of comfort in the territories of the Raja. Even the court chronicler of Aurangzeb observed that the zamindars” for winning the hearts of and conciliating the peasants, in order that may not cease to obey or pay revenue to them” conducted themselves gently.
Frequently if happened that peasants fleeing the lands under the imperial administration were attracted to the lands of the zamindars. In this way the peasants and the zamindars were often associated in the struggle against the Mughal authorities. The peasants added to the resources of the zamindars by engaging in cultivation and also to their fighting strength by providing recruits.
Although such ill-equipped and ill-trained troops were no match for the imperial force, yet the difficult terrain, interspersed by rivers gave some advantage to such troops and they could continue their struggle. During Aurangzeb’s reign a new feature was added to the nature of the struggle of the zamindars. It was not only defensive, but now assumed also an offensive character.
Peasants Revolts in the 17th and 18th Centuries:
It is customary for the seventeenth and eighteenth century writers to emphasise economic and administrative causes behind the upheavals, against the Mughals. It has also been argued by some authors that opposition to the Mughals was due to Hindu reaction or national awakening. Prof. Habib, however, emphasis religious reaction and national consciousness as the motive force behind the opposition to the Mughals.
From Abul Fazl it is known that the peculiar climate of the province of Agra made the peasant masses of the area notorious in the whole of the country “for religion, bravery and courage.” The two sides of the Jumna figured constantly in military operations against the rebellious peasantry of the area.
The Emperor had once to lead personally, an expedition against a Raja of a pargana in Kanauja who used to engage robbers and peasants to defend himself when attacked. During the reign of Jahangir it was reported that “ganwars and cultivators” on the east of Jumna, near Mathura “do- not cease to commit highway robbery, and protected by dense jungle and fastness, live in rebellion, have no fear of anyone and do not pay the revenue to the jagirdars.”
In an expedition which was sent against them resulted in the death of a number of rebels and captivity of their wives and children. This happened in the twelfth regnal year of Jahangir. In 1634 a larger expedition had to be dispatched against the rebels on both sides of the river Jumna who committed robberies on the Delhi-Agra route. Ten thousands of the “human looking beasts were slaughtered” and their women, children and cattle beyond computation were seized.
In the year of the death of Sadullah Khan, wazir of Shah Jahan, the peasants of the villages near Agra rose in arms. They were surprised by Abdul Nabi, faujdar of the deceased Sadullah Khan, who put to sword or imprisoned all those who could not flee in time. This was the history of the cradle of the Jat rebellion in the reign of Aurangzeb. It is noteworthy that the rebels were not named as Jats, but called ganwars or villagers and in a few cases they were perhaps led by the Rajputs.
Manucci who wrote about Aurangzeb’s time and knew about the Jat revolts called them as peasants. The Jats are “a peasant caste”, who inhabited the villages between Delhi and Agra, and were entered as zamindars in many mahals in the Doab. The Jat rebellion, speaking properly, dates from the time of Gokla Jat, the zamindar of Talpat near Mathura! He collected a large number of Jat soldiers and other villagers and raised a rebellion.
He was killed in 1669, but the leadership passed to his son, Raja Ram Jat and then his nephew, Churaman Jat who is said to have been the son of a zamindar of eleven villages. Over wide areas the peasants refused to pay revenue and took to arms. From a grant ‘of a zamindari it is found that the new zamindar was required to expel the “evil-mannered rebels”, who inhabited the 25 villages near Mathura. In 1681 the Faujdar Multafat Khan of the district around Agra lost his life while leading an attack on a village that refused to pay the revenue. In the same decade for three years a jagirdar failed to get anything by way of revenue payment from his jagirs near Agra due to rebellion.
Leadership of the Jat rebellion was provided by the zamindars and capture-of the estates of other zamindars was the aim of the leaders of the rebellion. In the mid-eighteenth century much of the lands under the possession of the Jats was not in their own hands. The king or Raja who wanted to render assistance to the old zamindars, would bring him inevitably in conflict with the Jats. One net result of the Jat rebellion was extension of Jat zamindari in the middle of the Doab.
About the character of the Jat rebellion it may be said that it was a huge plundering movement. “This was, perhaps, inevitable under the narrow caste-horizons of the peasants and the plundering instincts of their zamindar-leaders.” Gokla plundered the pargana of Sadabad, the pargana around Agra was plundered by Raja Ram and all the parganas under Agra and Delhi had been sacked and plundered by Churaman. “So far as we know”, says Prof. Irfan Habib, the Jat rebels (in spite of Haridas) had no connection with any particular religious movement.
While the Jat rebellion was unconnected with religion the Satnami (as also the Sikh) rebellions were entirely based on religion and not on casteism. The Satnamis were a sect of the Bairagis, which was founded in 1657 at Narnaul by a native of the place. They were believers in monotheism and abhorred formal rituals and superstition. They did not believe in caste distinctions and would not live on the charity of others. Sympathy with the poor and hostility towards authorities and wealth were their commandments.
“Do not harass the poor, Shun the company of an unjust king and wealthy and dishonest man, do not accept a gift from these or from kings.” Naturally such a religion appealed to the conscience of the poor and the lower classes of the people. A contemporary historian describes the Satnamis as a group of Hindu mendicants also called Mundiyas. In the parganas of Narnaul and Mewat they numbered four or five thousand householders.
“Although those Mundiyas dress like mendicants, yet their livelihood and profession are usually agriculture and trade in the manner of grain-merchants with some capital. Living according to the ways of their own community, they aspire to reach the status of a good name (nek-nam), which is the meaning of the word satnam. But if anyone should want to impose tyranny and oppression upon them as a display of courage or authority they will not tolerate it; and most of them bear arms and weapons.”
From another contemporary writer we come to know that they were extremely dirty, foul, filthy and impure. They did “not differentiate between Muslims and Hindus, who eat pig’s flesh and other disgusting things.”
The Satnamis were habitually of rebellious conduct and even before they had rebelled they did not appear to have been loyal to authorities. They brought the cultivators and their families and possessions in the pargana of Bhatnair under their control and they were “not free from the thoughts of sedition and robbery.” The revolt of the Satnamis in 1672 began as a village affray.
One Satnami while working in a field had hot exchange of words with a trooper who was guarding the corn-heap which led to a fracas and the trooper struck the satnami with a stick breaking his skull. Other Satnamis gathered and beat the trooper almost to death whereupon the Shiqdar sent a contingent of troops to chastise the Satnamis and the hostilities began.
That the rebellion was that of the lower classes of people which gave it a plebeian character can be clearly understood from the composition of the rebellious force of the Satnamis. They were the destitute gangs of carpenters, peasants, and sweepers, tanners who suddenly burst forth in the region of Mewat and fell upon the imperial troops like locusts.
But after their initial success and capture of Narnaul and Bairat they were finally destroyed by the large army sent from the court. Masir-i-Alamgiri compares their valiant defence against the imperial army by remaking that “despite the lack of all materials of war, they repeated the scenes of the great war of Mahabharat.”
Prof. Habib would even feel like calling the rising of the Sikhs a peasant’s revolt on the grounds that Sikhism is a peasant religion and the verses of Guru Nanak were all in the language of the Jats which means, in the dialect of the Punjab village. But these facts as well as the plebeian character of the rebellion, for “most of the chiefs of the highest dignity among the Sikhs”, he points out, “were low-born persons, such as carpenters, shoe-markers and Jats”, prove that the rise of the Sikhs was a peasants’ revolt. On similar arguments Prof. Habib regards that other revolts in northern India as well as the Maratha rise in the south were mainly due to agrarian reasons.
While these revolts had contributed to the fall of the Mughal empire to characterise all of them as mainly due to oppression of the peasants from economic or religious points of view will be over simplification of the causes of the fall of the empire. Oppression of the lower classes constitutes an important factor in the ruin of empires as it definitely did in case of the Persian empire and the poet Sadi in his immortal poem wrote a sort of an epitaph to the falling Persian empire by saying that the glory and empire of the Emperors are gone the same way as the oppressor emperors themselves and their tyranny over the peasants had also thus ended. All the same, there is a risk in taking Sadi literally in case of the fall of the Mughal empire.
The failure of the peasants’ revolts which took place during the Mughal period was due largely to (i) historical environment of the time, (ii) particular correlation of class- forces existing at that time. Lack of new class relation or class force, lack of any new economic relation and lack of capable political leadership led to the failure of the peasants. China’s past history offers a parallel instance.
Maritime Trade in the Medieval Age—Indian Merchants vs. European Traders:
The route through which India maintained maritime contact with the Red Sea area was rendered unsafe due to the Turkish control over the area from the Persian Gulf to the Near East. The Red Sea route itself was also interfered with by the Egyptian Government. Early in the seventeenth century Aden was more a garrison under its “rapacious and treacherous” Turkish governor.
Aden and Moch—two leading sea ports— were important commercial centres due to influx of pilgrims and traders from Egypt who purchased eastern products, in return for gold and silver. These ports were main outlets of the maritime activities of the traders of Gujarat, Cambay and Diu. The same ports were frequented by pilgrims and merchants from Lahari Bandar port in Sind, Mughal port of Surat, Bijapur port of Dabhol and the Vijayanagar ports of Cannanore and Cochin.
Indian ships of States commanding the sea coast from the Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar to the East Indies and the Far East brought vast wealth and resources to the Turks. When the Turkish officers came down heavily on the English merchants, the masters of the Indian ships often played the role of mediators of intermediaries; the Turks evidently derived considerable profit from the trade carried on by the Indian ships.
In Mocha there was an Indian colony. The Indians built for themselves “a petty town of slight cabins, along the strand.” Some of the masters of the ships of Nakhuda of the great ships had their own houses at Mocha. Such houses were occasionally venues of discussions between the Indian Nakhudas and Turkish officers. Malik Ambar, a thirty year old name sake of the famous Malik Ambar of Ahmadnagar, used to style himself as “Nakhuda of the great ship, captain of Dabul, the port of Bijapur.” This great ship had the capacity to carry 4,000 Khandies (one Khandi = 20 maunds) of goods. Mahomet, i.e. Mohammad of Cannanore is referred to in the East India Company papers as another influential Nakhuda from Vijayanagar.
Although there were constant frictions between the English merchants and the ‘Turkish authorities, the relation between the English and the India ships were on the whole tolerably good. From the Indian merchants the English traders obtained information of the progress which their predecessors like William Hawkins, Jourdain and Sharpeigh had been making with regard to the development of trade in Surat and Cambay. The Indian Nakhudas played an important role in the release of the Englishmen imprisoned by the Turks at Mocha.
Sir Henry Middleton, the General of the 6th Voyage of the English East India Company towards India, who received great help from the Indian Nakhudas when he and his men were imprisoned at Mocha by the Turkish authorities, reached Surat on September 26, 1611. Denied trade privilege by the Mughal emperor due to the opposition of the Portuguese, Middleton sailed from Surat on February 11, 1612. He decided to return to the Red Sea and avenge himself on the Turks, Mughals and the Portuguese.
Nicholas Downton gives in detail the plan the English contemplated of following. “Our best way is to lie in the way of the Red Sea ‘where the English would find’ ships of Surat and Cambay with diverse others, the subjects of the great Mogul but also men of Diu, subject to the Portuguese.” The idea was that the capture of these ships would not only injure the Mughals and the Portuguese, but would be “no small disturbance to the Turks at Mocha, for though there were no goods of theirs thereon, the loss of customs would greatly pinch and vex them and spoil the Turks’ scale’ at Aden and Mocha.
The ships of Dhabol, Malabar and other places would be permitted to proceed unmolested. This would have the effect of warning the Mughals that the English were .not a nation “to be coarsely treated.” Thus, the measures of reprisal would compel the Mughals to duly honour and respect the English. Middleton’s party actually captured two ships- one from Cochin bound for Chaul laden with dried coconut, raw silk etc. and another from Chaul, bound for Ormuz.
Some bales of raw silk were taken away from the Cochin ship and a few bags of rice from the Chaul ship, and the ships were let off. Next Middleton’s fleet lay in wait in the traits of Bad-el-Mandeb to intercept all ships entering the Red Sea. This was to be done in order to avenge the wrong done to the English at Mocha by the Turks, and indirectly warn the Mughal emperor that the subjects of the king of England would not put up with so great abuses un-avenged and captured goods from the Indian ships for compensating their loss in India. They were also determined to seize the Portuguese ships of Diu.
Downton remained at Aden to intercept all Indian ships and divert them into the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, where Middleton lay in wait. Downton intercepted a ship from Lahari Bandar and took away some of its merchandise. Another ship of 200 tons from Diu and a large ship named Muhammadi from Dabhol were intercepted. The latter being from friendly State was not despoiled.
Although Malik Ambar, the Nakhuda of the ship, was thought to be too much proud and insolent and Downton thought of attacking the ship, the large ship’s speed was too great for Downton’s ship Peppercorn to reach her. Downton in desperation fired as shot at her. From the ship of Diu, which the sailors gave out to be a ship from Cutsnagana, Downton took away a few bales of cotton, cloth, butter and oil.
In the meantime, Middleton intercepted as many as eleven Indian ships, Rahimi (1500 tons), Harsonee (600 tons), Mohammadee (450 tons) of Surat, Sullamettee (450/60 tons), Caderee (200 tons), Agancany (208 tons) of Diu, and Caudree (400 tons) of Dabhol, a big ship from Cannanore, 3 ships from Malabar—altogether eleven ships.
The English employed a thorough method of plunder of the Indian ships which was the daily business of the men under him. All Indian merchant ships were searched one after another. All commodities suitable for the market in England, such as indigo, packs of cloth, etc. and the spoils were divided between Middleton and another Sari who joined him. The Indian merchants were forced to exchange their goods for the English merchandise.
No transit charges of the Indian goods were added to the value of the Indian commodities whereas all rates and taxes etc. were added to the value of the English goods while exchanges were made. The unusual delay in settling the exchange accounts or sale of Indian goods was so sickening to the Indian merchants that many of them left the goods at the prices dictated by the English, even at a great loss in order to return home.
The Gujarat and Diu ships which were targets of attack being of Mughal and Portuguese ownership were kept under surveillance and ransom was demanded for their release. Even Downton found the process of realisation of ransom “a most troublesome and heart-relenting business” because of the cries of the poor people, difficulty in their getting money and the pressure put on them to pay the ransom with haste and the exhorbitant rate of interest charged by the Turks for lending money to the Indian merchants and sailors. Every ship had to pay a huge amount as ransom.
The news of the fate of the Indian merchants and the ships in the Red Sea reached Surat toward the latter part of 1612. A Mughal ship returning from Mocha in September, 1612 gave out the information of the treatment of the Indian ships by Henry Middleton.
There was great nervousness among the English merchants such as Thomas Aldworth, William Biddulph, and Nicholas Withington as to what might befall them. But “influential men came to those Englishmen, assured them that the news need not disturb them and that in spite of the injury done by Middleton to the Indian ships, they would continue to show “honest respect” to the Englishmen. “This is a curious but sad commentary on the naval weakness of the Mughals” and set naval vigilance to sleep and naval expansion unattended.
Industry: European Traders:
The seventeenth century and the major part of the eighteenth, exhibited almost similar industrial organisation and features although a marked process of decline was noticeable. There were extensive and diverse manufactures the premier manufacturing industries being cotton and silk textiles. Orme observes that “on the coast of Coromandel and the province of Bengal, where at some distance from the high road or a principal town, it is difficult to find a village in which every man, woman or child is not employed in making a piece of cloth.”
The manufacture of cloth and silk fabrics was on domestic basis and every weavery’s house was a little textile manufactory. What was specially noteworthy was that the tillers of the soil could spend their time and the agricultural vacations such as after sowing and harvesting seasons in the manufacture of cloth or some kind of work in the loom.
From Bernier we come to know that there was rigid specialisation. For instance a goldsmith would not work on silver and the hereditary nature of the craftsmanship gave an extraordinary specialisation. A weaver would weave only a particular staff which would naturally give him a special proficiency at work through repetition. The family traditionally followed the same trade.
Foster, Bernier and Abul Fazl referred to Karkhanas which manufactured the articles needed by the imperial household, the aristocracy, the official dom. These manufactories employed a large number of workers who worked for the manufacture of the items of luxury. But these began to disappear gradually.
Metallic industries such as iron, glass, brass, weapons, gold and silver vessels and ornaments etc., other industries like salt petre, salt, jute, sugar, opium, etc. were highly developed. But with the decline of agriculture due to lack of initiative and enterprise oppression by the overlords, other industries also began to decline.
With the advent of the European merchants the cotton and silk textile industries received an initial fillip. Textile industry was scattered all over India. Surat was noted for the manufacture of finest Indian brocades, calicoes and muslins. Ahmadabad also manufactured brocades of gold and silver, carpets, satins, taffetas, silk linen and cotton cloth. Burhanpur in Khandesh, Chanderi in Malwa were also important centres of textile manufactures.
Masulipatam, Chicacole, Ellore, Burrampore, Vizagapatam etc. were noted for manufacture of cotton piece goods, muslins, silk calico prints etc. Jaunpur, Benares Allahabad etc. were important centres of calico manufacture, manufacture of chintz, gazi, cotton piece goods. Bihar and Orissa also were centres of manufacture of cloth. Bengal “produced cloth of all kinds, most beautiful muslins, silk raw or worked.” Dhaka held the premier position in Bengal for the manufacture of delicate cloth and muslin Dhaka also famous for embroidery and flowering works.
The Mughal commercial policy was an unwise as bankrupt of economic foresight. The most important illustration is the farman of Farruk Shiyar of 1717 by which the English traders were granted an unqualified right of trading in Bengal and Gujarat, denied to other foreign and even to indigenous merchants, to carry on duty-free trade on an annual payment of a meagre sum of Rs. 3,000/- only.
This while meant a huge loss of revenue to the government, virtually conceded a sort of an extra-territorial right to the English which affected the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor and paved the way for the commercial and eventually the political supremacy of the English in India. The English merchants were permitted to carry on export and import trade only but not to participate in the internal trade of the country. They were issued dustaks, i.e. discharge certificates to cover their export and import trade without having to pay duties at check-points. This English merchant later began to abuse these dustaks.
Nawab Murshid Quli Khan was sufficiently shrewad and wise to see the implications of the concession granted to the English and disobeyed the farman. In the meantime, the Portuguese decline, particularly after the sack of Hughli in 1632 continued without any hope of recovery. The Dutch, the most formidable rivals of the English in India in the first half of the seventeenth century had lost their position Lack of foresight of the Dutch directors, their ignorance of the actual state of things in India and the prospect the Indian trade held out made them keep themselves preoccupied in Indonesia, Cochin, Travancore, Malabour, Ceylon etc. and neglect Bengal. The result was their ultimate ouster.
More powerful and aggressive than the Dutch were the French traders. The only European trading company that contended with the English was the French East India Company. The first half of the eighteenth century saw the ouster of the French and the exclusive commercial supremacy and political accession of the English in India. The advent of the European trading communities and the eventual supremacy of the English in the matter carried with it also, the subjugation of the Indian trade and industries and conversion of India into a raw material producing and supplying country. All this had its impact on the Indian trading community.
India had trade relations with Basra, Muscat, Ormuz, and other ports of the Persian Gulf, China, Arabia, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Madagascar, Cornorro Islands, Mozambique and other ports of East Africa. Bengal had flourishing trade in Bengal sugar, cotton cloths, silk stuffs. “The immense commerce of Bengal was the central point to which the riches of India were attracted. Specie flowed in by thousand channels…. the Gulfs (of Mocha and Persia) poured in their treasures into this river (the Ganges)” (Verelst). Bengal had trade relations with Laccadives, Maldive, China, Pegu, Manilla, Malaya, Philippines, Persia, Red Sea, African coast, Tibet etc. Persian, Abyssinian, Chinese, Turkish, Arabian, Jewish, Moorish, Armenian traders flocked to Bengal.
In the seventeenth century individual Indian merchants like Baharji Borah of Surat and Malaya Coast controlled the wholesale trade of particular regions. Such merchants were both investors and carriers of the then flourishing internal and external trade. In the east coast merchants like Kanakaraya Mudali, Ananda Ranga Pillai, Seshachala Chetty and others were of great repute as investors and carriers of internal and foreign trade.
Bengal merchants had trade relations with Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat, Malabar, Coromandel, Assam, Cachar etc. In Bihar the European traders purchased salt petre through contact merchants i.e. dalals like Omichand, Digchand, Khwaja Wajid etc. Some of the Indian merchants and bankers even took part in active politics, for instance Jagat Seths and Umichand in Bengal, Arjunji Nathji in Western India.
Seventeenth century and first few decades of the eighteenth was bright both for Indian trade and traders. But the process of drainage of Indian economy started with the growing commercial power of the English and with gradual transformation of the East India Company into a political power in the post-Plassey period the Indian trade and Indian traders began to suffer till the latter were ousted from the field due to unfair competition of the English.
The invasion of the English into the private trade of the country, their abuse of Dustaks etc. had the effect of the ouster of the Indian merchants from the field. Scramble for riches and scandalous misuse of dustaks after Plassey unleashed the forces of economic decline and emergence of commercial and political supremacy of the English.
The main principle of the British commercial policy in India was to protect the textile industry of Britain against the competition of the Indian textile manufactures. An Act was passed in 1700 prohibiting use of silk goods and calico-prints of Bengal, Persia, China and the East Indies in England. Raw silk was allowed to be imported into England in 1701.
Added to all this was the cruel treatment of the weavers and tenders which hastened the decline of the Indian trading community and the destruction of the manufactures. The political disintegration of the Mughal Empire sapped the economic vitality of India. External invasion and internal disruption affected easy transit of goods from one part of the country to the other.
Inter provincial trade gradually came to a standstill. What still lingered was due to the fact that the Mughal Empire took some length of time to die. When it had become incapacitated the economic reins were assumed by the English merchant community.
Literature in the Medieval Age:
The Timurid rulers were great patrons of literature and under them literature in its different branches received considerable impetus. Babur was himself a gifted poet in Turki and Persian as also the writer of his own memoirs. Humayun, if not a scholar himself, was a patron of learning and had a great interest in literature. He bided his time in his library. By far the greatest patron of scholars, learning and literature was Akbar under whom many scholars of repute flourished and by their works brought about a cultural renaissance in medieval Indian history.
Akbar’s tolerant and benevolent policy, his liberal patronage of learning and the learned, the peace and prosperity of his reign naturally led to an exuberance in the works of literature and art. No wonder that scholars of outstanding ability flourished under his reign and enriched the fund of medieval Indian literature by their immortal works.
During the Mughal rule Bengali literature was deeply influenced by the Neo-Vaishnava movement the result of which could be seen in the emergence of one of the richest treasures of the Bengali literature which may be broadly termed as Vaishnava literature.
Vaishnava literature divides itself into biography and padavali. Among the biographical literature we have the earliest biography of Chaitanya by Murari Gupta one of the oldest followers of Chaitanya. The work was in Sanskrit. The oldest biography of Chitanya in Bengali is Brindavandasa’s Chaitanya-bhagavata or Chaitanya-mangala. Brindavanadas was Chaitanya’s classmate. The work stresses on the human qualities of Chaitanya and gives an interesting picture of the social life of Bengal at the time of Chaitanya. Krishnadas Kaviraj’s Chaitanya-Charitamrita was the next important biography of Chaitanya. Krishnadas looked upon Chaitanya as the incarnation of both Krishna and Radha. Jayanandas Chaitanya-mangal was another important biography of Chaitanya.
Another Chaitanya-mangal was written by Lochandas. Churamanidas wrote Gauranga-Vijaya another biography of Chaitanya. But Chaitanya-Charitamrita of Krishnadas Kaviraj is regarded by many scholars as the most important of Vaishnava literature. Lochandas was one of the best lyricists and introduced the folk song called Dhamali or Dhamail. There were many other minor biographical works on Chaitanya.
Lyrical poems, known as Padavali occupies the next important place in Vaishnava literature. These poems dealt with love outside web-lock i.e. Parakiya prem. of Radha and Krishna. Besides Lochandas, Basudev Ghosh, Narahari Sarkar, Yasoraj Khan, Kavisekhara, Narottamdas, Balaramdas and Jnanadas were lyrical poets of the sixteenth century. Govindadas Kaviraj wrote his lyrics in Brajabuli which was a mixture of Bengali and Maithili. Among ‘the later poets the name of Gopaldas deserves mention. There were also professional Kathakas i.e. story-letters who wrote narative poems dwelling on love of Radha and Krishna. The Vaishnava lyrics flourished mainly due to the patronage of both Hindu and Muslim rulers. The Hindu rulers of Tripura and Cooch Behar were liberal patrons of the lyrical Vaishnava poets.
Important works of Vaishnava doctrine and philosophy, Vaishnava history, biography of Vaishnava leaders were written by Gosains of Brindavan. Nityanandadas, Narahari Chakravarti, Ramgopal Das, Pitambar Das were some of them. There emerged a literature of the Vaishnava sect which later came to be known as Sahajiya. This sect was somewhat akin to the Tantrics. They carried to excess the practice their theory that love of woman, not one’s own wife was the easiest way to salvation. The philosophy behind this theory was ably and skillfully expressed in a number of treatises which belong to Sahajiya literature.
Next in importance to the Vaishnava literature were the Mangala-Kavyas which were poetical compositions describing the glories of many popular gods such as Manasa (snake goddes), Chandi (a form of goddess Durga), Siva, Kalika, etc. The Manasa-mangal Kavyas of Bijayagupta, Bipradas Piplai, Narayanadeva deserve mention. In Chandimangala Kavya a merchant Kalketu became king through the favour of goddess Chandi, and similarly a merchant Dhanapati after many reverses of fortune due to disfavour of the king of
Ceylon was ultimately restored to the King’s favour through the blessings of Chandi and was married to the king’s daughter. Manasa-mangala Kavya depicts the conversion of the merchant Chand Sadagar who was at first unwilling to pay respect to Manasa, the snake goddess to a worshipper of the goddess after his seven sons were killed by snake bites.
The most beautiful part of the story is the resurrection to life the dead body of the seventh son by his widow Behula who took the snake-bitten dead body on a raft to the abode of gods and restored him to life with their blessings. The best work of this class is the Kalika-mangala commonly known as Vidya-sundara Kavya a Annadamangal composed by poet Bharat Chandra. The theme is the secret love of princes Vidya and Sundara.
Goddess Kali appeared at the ultimate stage of the story when Sundara was condemned to death and saved his life. There are a number of mangala Kavyas glorifying gods and goddesses like Sitala, Lakshmi, Shashthi, etc. Raya-mangala is a poem which glorifies Dakshin-raya the Tiger-god. It is commonly believed in the tiger infested parts of Bengal, in Sundarbans, in particular, that worshipping of Dakshinrava would save the people from the tigers.
Reference to the translation literature during the medieval period, under the Sultanate has been made earlier. In the 16th and the 17th centuries the great Sankaradeva of Assam and two other poets translated parts of the Bhagavata.
Influence of the Bengali Literature on Arakanese Literature:
Asylum given to the king of Arakan in Bengal after he was driven out of his kingdom by the Burmese king, and his long stay of 26 years in Bengal as also Bengal’s occupation of Chittagong led to the establishment of close contact with Bengal and Arakan, and in consequence Bengali literature flourished in that region and Bengali became virtually the cultural language of Arakan.
Daulat Qazi was the earliest Bengali poet in the Arakanese court. He translated into Bengali some romantic stories current in various languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Rajasthani etc. His poem Sati Mayana was completed by the great Sufi poet Alaol in the Arakanese court. Padmavati, the best work of Alaol was written on the request of Magan Thakur a friend of the foster son of the sister of Arakanese king.
Padmavati was a romantic composition on the conquest of Chitor by Ala-ud-din who is said to have been infatuated by the beauty of Padmini. Nizami’s Persian work Saiful- mulk-badiujjamal was rendered into Bengali verse by poet Alaol. Padmavati the best work of Alaol was written at the instance of Madan Thakur who wanted to have a rendering of Padmavati of Jayasi into Bengali.
Alaol’s book was not a translation but an abridged version to which Padmini episode has been incorporated. Other less famous Muslim poets also flourished in Bengal. They were Sabirid Khan author of Vidya Sundar Kavya, Saiyad Sultan of Chittagong, Muhammad Khan etc. Rajamala, a chronicle of the Tripura kings was the only historical work in Bengali during this period. Champakavijaya was the other historical work.
Architecture and Painting in the Medieval Age:
Patronage of art and architecture by individual Mughal emperor has already been discussed while discussing their respective period of rule. A running summary of the entire period’s activities in art and architecture will therefore suffice under this head.
With the advent of the Mughals, Indo-Muslim architecture reached its fullness and unity specially under the patronage of Emperor Akbar. The Mughal emperors were by tradition lovers of nature and art, and as such they showed a marked interest in art and culture of the time in which their personality itself was reflected, so to say.
Babur and Humayun had uncertain times which did not conduce to the development of art and architecture. Babur had, however, a keen sense of perception of nature and art as we know from his memoirs, and even during the very short period of his rule consumed mostly by warfare, he did not fail to undertake certain ambitious building projects at Agra, Sikri, Gwalior, Dholpur, Kiul and Biana.
In his memoirs there is reference to his employing 680 workmen daily working on his buildings at Agra while “1491 stonecutters worked daily on my buildings at Arga, Sikri, Biana, Dholpur, Gwalior and Kiul.” Considered from the number of workmen employed, the ambitiousness of the scheme of buildings may be imagined. It is difficult to determine the style and architectural features of his buildings as hardly any monument definitely attributable to Babur have survived today.
About one mosque built within the Lodi Fort at Agra, Babur himself remarked that “it is not well done” and “it is in Hindustani fashion.” Obviously, Indian architecture at that time had not acquired anything to commend to his inherent artistic taste. He was, however, very much impressed by the workmanship and beauty of the palaces of Man Singh and Vikramjit within the Gwalior Fort.
Humayun was as aesthetically inclined as his father and in the early years of his reign undertook the building of a new city at Delhi which he named Dinpanh i.e. an asylum of the wise and intelligent persons. But it is doubtful in the city which was to consist of a magnificent place of seven storeys with gardens, orchards etc. was ever completed, even if it were, the first Mughal city might have been destroyed during the Mughal-Afghan contest.
The material records which have survived of both Babur and Humayun’s contributions to art and architecture are negligible and only contribution they made was to leave behind them an aesthetic sense to be followed up by their successors in more favourable times.
Interruption of the Mughal rule by Sher Shah was also an interruption in the history of Mughal art and architecture but the intervention of the reign of Sher Shah was a welcome chapter in the history of art and architecture and as Percy Brown remarks. Sher Shah was “a man of marked constructional propensities and architectural ideals.” Few architectural illustrations of his reign are of exceptional character and clearly exemplify his ideals of and attitude towards building art.
In the history of Indo-Muslim architecture Sher Shah’s buildings are important link between earlier Indo-Muslim style under the Delhi Sultanate and the later Indo-Muslim style under the Mughals. At Sasaram and in its neighbourhood there are five monuments, majority of which in all probability were built during Sher Shah’s reign. Of these the Mausoleum of Sher Shah stands out prominently as the best, supreme in conception and extra-ordinary in architectural interest.
Under Sher Shah a forceful architectural movement expressive of his versatile nature was initiated at the capital Purana Quila on the site of Indraprastha exhibited exceptionally elegant treatment at once of massive vigour and refined grace. Quila-i-Kuhna Masjid, Sher Shah’s chapel royal, is the only surviving monument of his time and serves as a specimen of the qualities of the various buildings Sher Shah had erected.
It was from the time of Akbar that the Mughal architectural style as a distinctive tradition may be said to have begun. He undertook an elaborate programme of building projects in different parts of his empire and initiated and gave direction to a vigorous architectural activity.
The mausoleum of Humayun at Delhi is a landmark in the history of the art of building of the Mughals and it heralded the new movement in the architectural style. This mausoleum erected by Humayun’s widow Humayun Haji Begam (Akbar’s stepmother) during early years of Akbar’s reign is one of the most striking monuments of Indo-Islamic architecture. Both the exterior and interior arrangements of the structure are equally pleasing.
The white marble dome of the mausoleum shows new features in shape and new structural conception. Percy Brown in assessing the various elements contributing to the conception and execution of this noble mausoleum remarks that “perhaps the nearest definition of the architectural style of this monument is that it represents an Indian interpretation of a Persian conception, as while there is much in its structure that is indigenous, there is at the same time much that can only be of Persian inspiration.”
The tomb of Muhammad Ghaus at Gwalior is a nearly contemporary architectural work of the mausoleum of Humayun. This tomb has certain features characteristic of Gujarat and Malwa Muslim architecture. It may be said, that during the early years of the Mughal rule several forces were at work which attempted a revivification of the moribund art of building of the previous epoch. Only a new, intelligent direction of the new forces was what was needed for a refined architectural movement.
Akbar, as we know from Abul Fazl, planned his splendid edifices and “dresses the work of his mind and heart in the garment of stone and clay.” Akbar was a man of profound culture and of fine literary and aesthetic tastes as could be seen in his patronage of literature and initiation of ambitious architectural projects.
Akbar’s architectural projects differed from earlier architectural styles and instead of drawing on the Persian style he evolved an indigenous style only where the Indian conceptions and techniques were found wanting to give fullest expression to- his own ideas. By using the Indian artistic and architectural skill and indigenous materials he gave architecture during his period an Indian character.
Of the buildings during Akbar’s reign the fortresses occupied an important position. These were built to render protection to the timid “to frighten the rebellious and to please the obedient.” “Delightful villas and imposing towers” as Abul Fazl observed were built to “afford excellent protection against cold and rain, provide for the comfort of the princesses of the harem, and are conductive to that dignity which is so necessary for worldly power.” Saris, schools, places of worship were also built for utilitarian and cultural benefits of the subjects. Thus Akbar’s building activities had political military, utilitarian and cultural objects in view.
The most noteworthy building projects of Akbar’s early years of reign are the palace— fortresses of Agra and Lahore. Akbar’s buildings at Agra occupied the southern angle of the fort and were linked with the parapet of the eastern wall over-looking the river Jumna. Most of these buildings have not survived. Among the few that have escaped ravages of time and destruction Akbari Mahal and Jahangiri Mahal are two important palaces.
The former was completed in 1571 and the latter was presumably built for the heir apparent Jahangir towards the end of Akbar’s reign. The fort at Lahore, the construction of which was started almost at the same time and at Allahabad two decades later were also carried out on a grand scale.
It may be pointed out that the place-fortress at Agra was built of fire-red hewn stones linked by iron rings and joints are so even and close that it is difficult to insert a hair in-between the two stones. The Akbari Mahal and Jahangiri Mahal in general, resemble Man Singh’s palace-fortress at Gwalior built early in the 16th century. The palace-fortress at Allahabad is also a very elegant structure.
The most magnificent and ambitious architectural project of Akbar is the new capital built on the ridge at Sikri 26 miles west of Agra. This city was later named Fathpur- Sikri (city of victory) after Akbar’s conquest of Gujarat in 1572. The conception of the new imperial headquarters is linked with circumstances connected with the birth of Salim, the later emperor Jahangir.
Saint Shaikh Salim Chisti lived in Sikri who predicted the birth of a son to Akbar who would survive to succeed him as emperor. The queen was kept at Sikri where a magnificent place now stands, known as Rangmahal near the residence of the saint. There the queen gave birth in 1569 to a son, who was named Salim. This new capital city with its grand mosque, delightful palaces and pavilions, spacious official buildings and other edifices bears Akbar’s magnificent achievement as a patron of the art of building.
In Fathpur Sikri we have one of the finest groups of Mughal buildings, majority of which still survive. “Conceived and built as a single unit, the work was pushed on with such phenomenal speed that, as if by magic, palaces, public buildings, mosques, and tombs, gardens and baths, pavilions and water-courses were called into being beneath the sandstone ridge of Sikri.”
Jahangir in his memoirs writes “in the course of fourteen or fifteen years that hill full of wild beasts became a city containing all kinds of gardens and buildings lofty edifices and pleasant palaces attractive to the heart.” Father Monserrate and Ralph Fitch praised the splendour and prosperity of the city. The latter described it as greater than the city of London with its teeming population and wealth of merchandise.
The monuments of Fathpur Sikri fall under two distinct categories, religious and secular. The most splendorous creation of this new capital is the grand Jami Masjid. Fergusson has called it the glory of Fathpur Sikri, Hardly surpassed by any in India. It served as the model for great congregational mosques usually associated with the chief cities of the Mughal empire. Jami Masjid was conceived as a balanced and harmonious composition.
The city of Fathpur Sikri occupies a rectangular area enclosed by bastion walls running round its three sides, one side being protected by the lake. The wall was of little military value compared to the solid and massive walls of Agra or the Lahore fort. “Nine gate-ways” are there “in the fortress wall” the Agra gate being the principal entrance to the city.
Each gateway was built in such a fashion as to accommodate a large number of troops. From the Agra gate the road leads to Diwan-i-Am and further to Jami Masjid. The southern entrance to the Jami Masjid where the original entrance was replaced by the construction of a massive portal known as Buland Darwaza with its immense bulk towering above the buildings of the city represents one of the most striking compositions ever known.
This gateway served a double purpose of a triumph arch and an imposing gateway to a grand mosque Jami Masjid. Buland Darwaza represents a perfect coordination of structural and ornamental aspects of architectural art.
Two additions made within the mosque enclosure were the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti the patron Saint of Sikri. It is a small but very attractive building of marble, erected in 1571 by Nawab Qutb-ud-din Khan with its delicate ornamental work has a soft effeminate grace. It stands in definite contrast to the robusi style of Akbari architecture. Close to the saint’s tomb stands the mausoleum of Islam Khan, grandson of the saint, built of red sand-stone. But this building retains Akbari style.
The secular buildings within the Fathpur Sikri are by far the most numerous. There were palaces, offices, private residences, Daftar Khana on the office, Diwan-i-khas, the audience hall, Jodha Bai’s palace, Raja Birbal’s palace were secular buildings. The secular buildings had some markedly Hindu and Jaina features and obviously copied from the Hindu and Jaina styles of architecture. Panch Mahal in Fathpur Sikri has been described -by art critics as a “fantastic creation.” It consists of a tall pyramidal structure of five storeys’ each designed as an open pavilion supported by pillars of excellent design.
Jahangir’s reign served as a period of transition insofar as the art of building was concerned, from the phase of Akbar’s time to that of Shah Jahan. The tendency towards decorative and ornamental architecture at the cost of grandeur and boldness of conception is discernible from the time of Jahangir.
Akbar’s genius for constructive ideas and conceiving architectural projects was now giving place to use of costly materials to clothe creative ideas of the past. There was little creativeness and intellectuality in structural designs, more of lavish use of costly materials to create a sumptuous decorative effect.
The most important transition was the substitution of red-sand stone by white marble. In Akbar’s buildings marble was used in order to lend relief and colour contrast to red- sand stone. This gave a most charming feature in the ornamentation of the surfaces of the buildings. But this sense of value and beauty of contrast of colour and ornamentation were undermined in the subsequent period when the buildings were made of white marble only. This transition took place towards the end of the reign of Jahangir. It goes without saying that marble has somewhat effeminate quality and beauty and lacks the boldness, solidity and strength imparted by red-sand stone.
Jahangir was fond of colour and this was imparted to his buildings. The system of pietra dura i.e. the inlaid mosaic work of hard and precious stones of various hues and shades which gave colourful and picturesque effect to the buildings was introduced. Jahangir completed Akbar’s tomb at Sikandara near Agra, the foundation of which was laid by Akbar himself. Although completed by Jahangir its conception, its layout etc. were of Akbar. Jahangir’s own tomb at Shahdara near Lahore was more or less built on the same lines at Akbar’s tomb.
It may be pointed out that Jahangir did not leave any personal impression on the architecture of his time. His palace at Lahore in which he lived during most of his life has nothing distinctive from architectural point of view. Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir is one of the most charming of Jahangir’s undertakings.
Two tombs built towards the end of the reign of Jahangir are rather successful achievements from the points of view of design as well as execution. One is the tomb of Itimad-ud-daula, father of Jahangir’s famous consort Nur Jahan and the other is the tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan at Delhi.
Itimad-ud-daula’s tomb is significant in the Mughal architectural history for it is the link between the two important phases of architecture namely of Akbar and Shah Jahan, Itimad-ud-daula’s tomb is the first notable building made of white marble with rich ornamentation in pietra dura which reached culmination under Shah Jahan.
The tomb of Abur-Rahim supplies the link between Humayun’s tomb at Delhi and Raj Mahal built by Shah Jahan. It is, however, worthwhile to mention that during the reign of Jahangir Akbari style of architecture lost its substance and vigour.
Shah Jahan occupies a high place in the history of Mughal building art and his extraordinarily liberal patronage of this art. The Mughal architecture during Shah Jahan’s reign showed two distinct departures from the Akbari style. Shah Jahan’s predilection for marble is graphically illustrated by the replacements of the earlier sand-stone buildings of Akbar at Agra which a court panegyrist author of. Badshah-nama described as “barbaric abomination” by marble palaces pavilions which were praised as masterpieces of the “august reign” of Shah Jahan “when lovely things reached the zenith of perfection.”
Architecture during Shah Jahan’s reign had three special features, (i) the extensive use of white marble instead of red sand-stone. Marble of a pure white texture and delicate grains was procured from the quarries of Makrana in Jodhpur. The costly fabric required costly decoration and pietra dura i.e. gilding and mosaic of precious stones which constituted a special feature of Shah Jahan’s buildings.
Tendency to lavish display of pomp ornamentation give ample expression to the exaggerated sense of luxury and magnificence of Shah Jahan’s court. Although not endowed with that originality and nobility of imagination which his grandfather Akbar possessed, Shah Jahan was doubtlessly a great builder.
He not only replaced the sandstone buildings at Agra and Lahore forts, by marble palaces and pavilions but he projected a new capital city at Delhi, that of Shahjahanabad where he built a fortress of unusual dimension and erected splendid palaces, administrative buildings and other structures.
Both at Agra and Delhi he built two grand congregational mosques. At Agra he built his far-formed “dream in marble”, the mausoleum, Taj Mahal to enshrine the mortal remains of his beloved consort Arjumand Banu Begam better known as Mumtaj Mahal. Under Shah Jahan, Mughal architecture produced a plentiful crop, but beneath this plenty was hidden the forces of degeneration.
Efforts were made to build pretty structures, ornamented and refined in appearance rather than to make new experiments in structural conception or in design. Eulogy of panegyrists does not apply to all the buildings of the time of Shah Jahan although a few are not of mean artistic beauty.
At Lahore fort Shah Jahan’s buildings consist of the Diwan-i-Am, a hall with forty pillars, the Musamman Burz, the Khwabagh, the Shish Mahal and few other buildings. Emphasis was laid on the pietra dura. The buildings of Shah Jahan at Delhi and Lahore originally appeared to be of the same style and character.
Remodelling of former buildings was undertaken on an extensive scale at Agra fort and nowhere is the contrast between Akbar’s style of architecture and that of Shah Jahan is so pronounced, “The former noble and robust and the latter, elegant and, to a certain extent, feeble.”
The Diwan-i-Am in Agra fort as well as Delhi fort are of red sand stone and because of the use of the red- sand stone some scholars ascribe these to Akbar-Jahangir period, “it is definitely known to have been” the work of Shah Jahan most possibly at the earliest period of his architectural undertakings when marble was yet to become the sole material for the purpose.
Behind the Diwan-i-Am stood the Diwan-i-Khas and in between was the Machchhi Bhavan. Diwan-i-Khas (1636-37) is entirely built of marble. Close to the south is situated the building called Khas Mahal with a spacious court of Anguri Bagh (grape-garden) in the front. According to Abdul Hamid Lahauri, author of Padshah-nama, the ceiling of the building was originally inlaid with patterns in gold and colour, traces of which are still discernible. In the north-east corner of the court stands Shish Mahal (palace of mirror) with two chambers with arrangements for bath.
A little apart from the group of buildings described above is situated the Moti Masjid (Pearl mosque) which according to Fergusson is “one of the purest and most elegant buildings of its class to be found anywhere.” Moti Masjid of Agra has a remarkably restrained grandeur which stands in sharp contrast to the floral beauty of other buildings of Shah Jahan.
In 1638 Shah Jahan started construction of Shahjahanabad at Delhi. The city is on the right bank of the Jumna. With a grand palace and a congregational mosque called Jami Masjid the city is a splendid architectural work of a splendid of the Mughal emperors. The palace fortress, the Red Fort as it is called because of the red-sand stone fabric of its rampart walls was designed on a massive scale with all amenities of a luxurious life of an imperial house and court. It has two main gateways, one in the middle of the western wall and the other in the south.
Two buildings, the Diwan-i-Am and Rang Mahal give us an idea of the grandeur and brilliance of conception of these two palaces. Diwan-i-khas, the private audience hall, was an indispensable part of the Mughal court etiquette and court life. The Rang Mahal was the palace of pleasure used by the emperor after a busy and tiring day’s work.
The Diwan-i-Khas is built entirely of white marble and every available space in the facade is wrought in brilliant colour, lusturous gold and costly pietra dura which have now disappeared due to pilferage. Fergusson thinks that “if not the most beautiful, certainly the most highly ornamented of all Shah Jahan’s buildings” Rang Mahal is also one of the most sumptuous conceptions of Shah Jahan’s architectural undertakings.
Jami Masjid at Delhi is the largest and the most well-known mosque in whole of India. It forms the essential element of Shahjahanabad.
The other important building is the Diwan-i-Am i.e. the public audience hall which was also designed in a stately manner. It is built of sand-stone but was originally shell- plastered which gave it a white look to fit in with the white marble structures that stand around. It is a colonnaded hall open on three sides covered only at the rear and the facade consists of nine foliated arches rising from double columns.
It has a canopied platform of white marble richly inlaid with precious stones. The magnificence of this throne platform known as Nashihman-i-Zill-i-Ilahi (seat of the shadow of God) is an excellent example of the splendour and pageantry of the grand Mughals at the time of their supreme brilliance. The pietra dura work is attributed to one Austin de Bordeaux.
Arrangements for constant supply of water from the Jumna, seventy miles up the river, brought to the fortress by the canal of Ali Mardan and brought into the palace through an artificially scalloped marble cascade placed near Shah Burz was a rare feat of hydro-engineering.
Before concluding Shah Jahan’s works of building it is worthwhile to write a few words about the grand mausoleum the Taj which with its luminous beauty and picturesque setting has been attracting millions of enamoured visitors from different parts of the world far and near. With its milk-white beauty the Taj has its beauty of texture and lineaments that leaves an abiding impression on the mind of the visitor.
This grand mausoleum to enshrine the mortal remains of his beloved consort Mumtaj Mahal took many years from 1631 to 1653 to complete and entailed an expenditure of four and half million pound sterlings and continued labour of twenty thousand men and artisans.
The chief craftsman who gave shape to this noble mausoleum was Ustad Isa who lived in Agra at that time and historians have found father Manrique’s statement that the model of the mausoleum was prepared by Geronimo Verronea, a Venetian resident of Agra to be incorrect. Dr. Smith’s statement that the Taj, is the product of “European and Asiatic genius is not burned out by scrutiny of the style and structural design and techniques of the Taj.
In fact, it is the culmination of the architectural style and trend noticeable in the tombs of Humayun and Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan. The writer of the inscriptions of the wall surface Amanat Khan Shirazi came from Qandahar while architect of the dome Ismail Khan Rumi came from Constantinople. According to modern historians the craftsmen from Kanauj and Multan and not the French jeweller Austin de Bordeaux did the work of the petra dura. The garden was planned by Ranmal, a Kashmiri garden-planner.
Taj, it must be said in conclusion, does not show any European intervention and is entirely Indian in look and in style and technique. Its flawless execution, its ornamentation and its picturesque setting, its luminous beauty and purity of lineaments make it a rare product of ingenuity of man.
Yet critics have seen in it an effeminacy and an inherent weakness of strength and “lack of variety in its architectural forms.” Aldous Huxley finds in it a “poverty of imagination” when the monuments is viewed more closely. “The Taj is not so much a triumph of architecture as of splendid decorative setting and to this the monument owes much of its charm and beauty.”
Aurangzeb’s accession marks the end of the rich tradition in the building art of the Mughals and the beginning of a period of decline. His reign saw a rapid dissolution of the Mughal architectural style.
Under Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire reached a dizzy height and symptoms of disintegration became visible in his life time and the inevitable crash was not long to come. Naturally enough, when the empire was reaching to its tollering height, forces of decline were already at play although unnoticed. Such circumstances are not conducive to cultural activities. Cultural activities in all forms, architecture not excluded, naturally began to languish. Added to this political reason was the personal puritanic character of Aurangzeb himself.
Aurangzeb’s intolerance of other religions precluded his extending that aesthetic patronage to Hindu and other non-Muslims which is essential for development of art and culture. While both Jahangir and Shah Jahan recognised the technical skill and efficiency of indigenous artists and craftsmen and utilised their services, Aurangzeb stopped this and the indigenous style and technique were nipped at the roots.
When the indigenous source dried up the architectural art was rapidly disintegrated. The economic pressure due to military undertakings of Aurangzeb’s reign was also unhelpful to the building art of the reign. Productions of Aurangzeb’s time are therefore few and definitely of an inferior quality.
Two mosques, namely the Moti-Masjid inside the Delhi fort built for Aurangzeb’s personal prayers and Jami masjid at Lahore built by Fidai Khan Kuka a provincial officer, deserve mention. The Moti Masjid is a small but graceful structure of marble of most polished variety. The Jami Masjid also known as Badshahi Masjid is an imposing and vigorous composition. It is built of red-sand stone with three white marble domes.
These mosques although bear some semblance of former achievements due to their orthodox character, reveal undoubtedly the symptoms of approaching decline. The tomb of Aurangzeb’s queen Rabi-a-ud-Daurani at Aurangabad is a pathetic illustration of the deteriorated Mughal architectural style under Aurangzeb. According to Fergusson it “narrowly escapes vulgarity and bad taste.”
With the death of Aurangzeb (1707) the grand empire vanished and with it collapsed the Mughal architectural style. The Mughal architectural style was long dead when the last of the dynasty of the Great Mughals was bereft of his titular sovereignty.
Mughal Painting in the Medieval Period:
Mughal painting represents one of the most important phases Of Indian art of painting. The imperial Mughals introduced a new concept in Indian art. In conception and execution Mughal miniatures show something never seen in India before, and their impact could be noticed throughout the Deccan. Rajasthan, the Punjab Hills and northern India even when the grand Mughals had vanished.
The Mughal art of painting was the product of combination of Hindu and Persian ideas. The Persian painting had been influenced by the Mongols who after conquering Persia introduced there the Chinese art of painting which was the product of Indian Buddhist, Bacterian, Iranian and Mongolian influences. In Persia eventually the Mongolian and Chinese styles of art vanished leaving the field to Indian and Persian styles in which colour predominated.
The Mughal painting adopted the materialistic aspects of the court life such a hunting scenes, elephant fight, royal procession, durbar scene etc. The contemporary Hindu artists, however, depicted scenes from Indian classics, lofty thoughts about life and motherland and its creeds.
Foundation of Mughal painting was laid by Humayun who inherited his father’s love of Nature and beauty. While at Persia he secured the services of two of Persia’s greatest master artists, Mir .Sayyid Ali and Abdus Samad who could not receive Shah of Persia Shah Tahmasp’s patronage due to his lack of interest in part because of his religious bigotry. These two artists were persuaded by Humayun to join his court at Kabul before his recovery of Delhi.
Young Akbar received lessons in painting from them. Both these master artists followed Humayun to Delhi. Humayun had also recruited a large number of talented artists from different parts of the country and his court became soon the centre for fine and sophisticated productions. The most important work of art produced by the Mughal studio is known as Hamzanama which consisted of nearly 1200 paintings drawn in bold and vivid colours.
Unfortunately a small fragment of this massive work of art has survived which is now included in the collections in Europe and America. There is a controversy among the historians about the emperor who actually had initiated the work. According to Badauni and Shahnawaz Khan it was Akbar who initiated it, but according to others it was Humayun. Modem historians are of opinion that it must have been initiated by Akbar and completed by 1575-76 A.D.
Till 1562 we notice the influence of the Persian art predominant on the Mughal art of painting. But from that we notice a marked change which showed itself in the fusion of Persian and Indian (Hindu) styles and techniques of painting. The first product of this combination was the painting depicting the arrival of the famous musician Tansen in Akbar’s court (1-562).
With Akbar’s increasing interest in diverse religions and his insatiable desire to go into the depth of these religions led to the production of sumptuous manuscripts, original and translations but also many illustrations painted by the painters of the imperial atelier. Abul Fazl mentions the names of fifteen painters both Hindu and Muslims, such as Daswant, Basawan, Kesav, Lai Mukund, Mishkin, Farrukh, Madhu, Jagan, Mahes, Khem Karan, Tara, Sanwala, Haribans and Ram.
These painters were recruited from various centres of Indian art such as Gujarat, Gwalior, Kashmir, Lahore, Rajasthan and eastern Uttar Pradesh. According to Abul Fazl Daswant was the ‘first master’ of the age and “did not trail behind those of Bihzad and the painters of China.”
The only manuscript in which the painting of this celebrated painters can be seen in Razmnama now preserved in the Museum of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur. Farrukh also assisted in illustrating this manuscript. Lai, Tulsi, Mishkin were also responsible for some five paintings during the reign of Akbar. Baswan’s painting of Majnun on an emaciated horse now preserved in Calcutta Museum is a masterpiece.
According to Abul Fazl more than a hundred painters became famous during Akbar’s time out of which a number had attained perfection. Akbar took personal interest in the work of the artists providing them with every facility including costly materials needed for painting. He would reward the works which would be of excellent workmanship. The painters working in Fathpur Sikri were conferred military rank of mansabdars or ahadis.
The paintings of the artists of the imperial atelier have been preserved in various museums all over India, Asia and Europe: for instance, Fogg Museum of Cambridge, Bodelian Library of Oxford, Watters Gallery of Baltimore, Albert Museum of London, British Museum, London, Imperial Library at Tehran and various Indian Libraries and Museums. Some of the finest paintings of the last decades of the 16th century to be found in Akbarnama are preserved in fragments in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Under Jahangir the art of painting received a new turn and a fresh life and trend had been infused in the style of Mughal painting. Even before his accession to the throne Prince Salim set up a new studio under an emigre Harati painter Aqa Riza, which worked in full swing at Agra even when Salim was in rebellion against his father. The paintings of the period, i.e. before Salim’s accession of Jahangir contained in manuscripts of Raj Kumar, collection of Ghazls and Rubais by Hasan Dihlvi in those of Anwar-i-Suhaili by Aqa Riza are now preserved in foreign libraries and museums.
The trend begun in his Princely days reached its culmination during the reign of Jahangir as emperor and freed the painting from its bond with the text of manuscripts. Jahangir wanted his master painters to specialise in different branches of the art so that they might paint pictures of persons or groups or themes selected by the Emperor himself.
Initially he instructed his artists to illustrate certain interesting parts of the manuscripts kept in the imperial archives. Later he got interested in portraits and had a large number portrait of the numbers of the royal family, dignitaries of the imperial court, men of religion, and persons important in the fields of literature and music etc. It may be pointed out, that portrait painting was practised in Akbar’s time also.
In some paintings preserved in Jahangir’s albums the names of the persons were noted by Jahangir himself and certain cases names of the painters, the dates of the works are also to be found. Artists Manohar, Nanha and Farrukh Beg were at first entrusted with the work of painting, but later Manohar, Abul Hasan and Bishndas were engaged to paint the portraits. Their style and technique were copied later during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.
From the time of Akbar the Mughal painting began to feel the impact of European painting. Jahangir while a Prince began to appreciate the European paintings and engravings of Christian subjects and some of the Mughal artists began to copy designs and details of works from them. Baswan and Abul Hasan’s works clearly show influence of European art.
Jahangir was keen on preserving the record of the important events of his reign in paintings. Records of his coronation, important festivals, assemblies, rare birds, animals, holi festival, birthday weighing etc. in painting were prepared by the artists during his reign.
In the next stage of development the Mughal painters introduced occasional European scenes and figures in their work. They used with enough efficiency the technique of light and shade, modelling and perspective.
Although Shah Jahan was interested in good miniatures and illustrated manuscripts, the glamour and refinement of Mughal painting were lost after Jahangir’s time. At the early stage of his reign the artists were allowed to work as was usual under the reign of Jahangir, but soon he reduced the number of the painters and only one Persian artist was in his employ. Deprived of royal patronage the artists would sell their work to earn their livelihood. The result was that the artists lost their status of dignity and were relegated the position of artisans.
Shah Jahan, however, loved himself to be portrayed as a universal monarch under divine care—the angels carrying the crown for him. Standing or sitting on his peacock throne in the best of attire or on horseback etc. were the portraits that he loved to be painted of himself.
Decay of the art of painting under Shah Jahan was also noticeable in the use of loud and extravagant colours in place of harmonious blend of colours and the freshness and vigour of the paintings of the period of Jahangir. Dara Shukoh was, however, patron of master painters who under his patronage produced exquisite portraits of young princes and beautiful maidens.
Although a decadence had set in, the portrait painting in general was practised more abundantly under Shah Jahan. Muhammad Nadir Samar-qandis’ works were abundant and had fine draftsmanship and a feminine touch.
The process of decline was hastened by Aurangzeb by his bigotry and hatred against art of painting. Towards the end of his rule he might have developed some interest in painting for a number of good quality miniatures, showing the Emperor engaged in hunting, in court, in war, were produced. The art of painting which did not receive royal patronage naturally shifted from the imperial capital to regional centres.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and particularly from the time of Aurangzeb the art of painting developed in centres like Mewar, Amber, Bikaner, Bundi etc. in Rajasthan, in Golconda, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar in the Deccan. As many Rajput rulers served under the Mughals and spent much of their time in the Mughal court, they naturally were influenced by whatever development that had taken place there.
The impact of this Mughal influence was also noticeable on the Rajasthani art of painting and the paintings of the 16th and the 17th centuries of Rajasthan betrays a close knowledge of Mughal art of painting within the broader Rajasthani frame-work.
In the Deccan the style and technique of painting had been very refined and sophisticated. Brilliant colour scheme, rich decorative details differ considerably from the Mughal art. Musical painting, that is, depiction of ragas and raginis in painting prepared in Bijapur is unique in history of Indian art.
Hindola Raga painted in Bijapur in the 16th century, now preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi-is the finest example of musical painting. A set of ten exquisite pieces of such work show indebtedness to Mughal painting. The enchanting figure of an unknown lady, sometimes identified as the Queen of Sheba prepared at Bijapur is another piece of rare artistic product. The peacock throne of Shah Jahan referred to before was a masterpiece of art of gold and silver smithy and finest jewellery.