(Indian Art & Culture) Mughals and the Growth of a Composite Culture, Indian Renaissance, Coming of The Europeans


The Mughals and the Growth of a Composite Culture

One redeeming feature in this age was the continuity of the process of Hindu-Muslim synthesis and amicable contact between the members of the two communities. Consequently the spirit of synthesis and mutual harmony led to the growth of a new synthesized and mutual harmony led to the growth of a new synthesised culture which was neither purely Hindu nor entirely Muslim, but a happy fusion of the best elements of the two. Akbar’s reign is important and instructive for the spirit of Hindu-Muslim synthesis and harmony.

Religious synthesis was displayed in Akbar’s religious policy of appeasement and the Din-E-IIIahi. In the realm of art the Persian and Indian styles of architecture mingled happily and its excellence was exhibited in the magnificent buildings of Akbar and Shahjahan. Similarly, the Mughal painting display’s the beautiful fusion of the Indian and foreign techniques. Akbar’s desire wield the people into a cohesive social unity led to the Hindu-Muslim synthesis in dress, diet, etiquette and modes of living.

Literature could not escape the happy fusion of the two cultures. Vocabulary of the various Indian regional languages – Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, etc. was arrived with Persian and Arabic words. There was a fee exchange of views between remarks, the dress, manners, social amenities and festivals which the Mughals introduced in India ceased to be foreign and were accepted by the people.

The Mughals were patrons of literature and gave considerable impetus to its development in different branches. Persian was considerable patronized by the Mughal Emperors and monumental works in Persian were composed under the liberal patronage of the Mughals. The sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries are also known as “the Augustan Age of the Hindustani literature”.

The period under review is also noted for a brilliant outburst of the Vaishnava literature in Bengal. The sixteenth century was characterised by great religious upheaval, when Vaishnavism appealed successfully to the hearts of millions of people in northern India and Bengal, the followers of Chaitanya preached the Bhakti cult. The liberal religion preached by the saint poets of Maharashtra is known as Maharashtra Dharma.

The spirit of harmony and synthesis that commenced in the closing years of the Delhi Sultanate, continued in the Mughal period even in the realm of fine arts. The Mughal Emperors being lovers of fine arts had evolved new styles and techniques which indicate a happy mangling of Persian and Indian elements. This synthesis has left a deep impression on painting, architecture, embroidery, jewellery and metal work of the age. In fact, with the advent of the Mughals, Indian architecture enters a new phase in which the rugged austerity and simplicity of the works of the earlier Sultans of Delhi is softened and beautified by Persian influence. Architecture under the Mughals attained its most sumptuous form. The Mughals added the elements of grandeur and originality to the grace and decorative spirit of Hindu architecture.

The Mughals actively patronized music. This contributed to the growth of the Hindustani music. The celebrated singers and musicians composed and introduced new varieties of ragas, like tarana, thumri gazal, qawwali etc. and some Sanskrit works written on music were translated into Persian. The Mughal court witnessed a change in the status of musicians. The Hindus regarded music pre-eminently a religious art. Those who were devoted to it or followed it as a profession were not socially degraded.

Pallavas were greater partons of Sanskrit. Most of the inscriptions of the Pallavas were in Sanskrit and even in Tamil inscriptions the Prasasti portions were composed in Sanskrit. Temples were important centres for Sanskrit studies. Bharavi, the well known poet of Sanskrit and the author of the Kiratarjuniyam, is said to have adorned the court of a Pallava King Simhavishnu. Similarly, Dandin, the famous author Pallava King Narasimhavarman II. The University of Kanchi, the seat of Sanskrit learning and the them greatest centres of education in the south, played an important part in the cultural expansion in the south.

Since the Pallavas were a great martitime power, their activities on the sea were mainly directed towards maintaining friendly relations and close contacts with the countries of the south-east Asia. In the realm of religion the Pallavas had made their own contribution. The great religious reform which was to sweep India in the eighth century, originated at the Pallava Court. The Saiva and Vaishnava Bhakti saints of the south flourished in the Pallava period. The great Saiva saints were the contemporaries of Pallava King Narshimhavarman. Similarly the Vaishnava saints Alavars were liberally patronized by the Pallavas. A new branch of Bhakti literature – the Tevaram and the Viruvachakam of the Saivas and the Prabandham of the Alavars of the Vaishnavas belong to the Pallava age.

The history of architecture and sculpture in South India begins with the Pallava temples which introduced a new technique called the Dravidian style. In addition to the temples, in Kanchi and other places, some of the rock-cut temples known as the seven pagodas or Rathas of Mamallapuram are built in this style which may justly be called the Pallava style of art. Undoubtedly, their edifices are among the noblest monuments in South India.

The town of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, thiry two miles south of Madras, founded by the great Pallava king Narasimhavarman (625-645) on the sea bench, has many cave-temples or mandapas decorated with fine reliefs. The monolithic temples called rathas, known as ‘seven pagodas’ are another type of remarkable rock-cut architecture at Mamallapuram. These mandapas and rathas are adorned with marvelous figure sculpture. The most wonderful example of the Pallava structured art is the famous Kailash temple at Kanchi. The temple of Vaikuntha Perumal is yet another marvelous example of the art.

The style of Pallava architecture not only set the standard in the south but also greatly influence the architecture of Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. The Pallava art was transmitted beyond the seas to the countries of south-east Asia like Indonesia “where its effulgence, reflected in the vast monuments of these civilisation; shone with even greater splendor than in the country of its origin”.

The Cholas

The Cholas whose dynastic history began at about 900 A.D. lasting for about 250 years, supplanted the Pallavas. The Cholas, who were great builders like Pallavas, executed work on a stupendous scale. Chola rulers elaboratety and carefully planned and laid out vast cities. The chola art attained maturity in the two magnificent temples of Tanjore and Gangaikonda – Cholapuram both built in the first quarter of the eleventh century. The Dravidian style of temple architecture reached final culmination under the Cholas.

Another artistic achievement of the Cholas lies in the special Indian plastic art known as the Chola bronzes. The Nataraja (dancing Shiva) figures of the period and then images and portraits of the saints and Hindu gods and goddesses have now been recognized as masterpieces of the world.

The Post-Gupta Age (600-1200 A.D.)

After the collapse of the Gupta – Empire northern India again became a congeries of small states. Many petty kingdoms arose on the ruins of the Gupta empire and disintegration followed in the course of next fifty years; but under Harsha of kannauj (606-647) these disintegrated units were again brought under the central authority. He was a great lover and patron of learning and a religious and charitable man. Himself a poet and dramatist and the author of three plays, he extended state patronage to men of letters like Bana, the author of Harshacharita and Kadambari, and Jayasena, a man of encyclopaedic learning. His court was famous for philosophers, poets, dramatists and painters. He later on adopted Buddhism whose cause he served in many ways.

In his time the learned Chinese scholar and monk, Hiuen Tsang, visited India in 630 A.D. and remained here till 643 A.D and has given us a fairly elaborated account of the religious, social and economic condition of India in those days.

The Buddhist monasteries were not only the strong-holds of religion but also of education. The University of Nalanda which reached its high water-mark during this period was an educational centre of international fame. In addition to Nalanda, Taxila and Ujjain were other centers of learning; the former was renowned for its medical school and the later for its secular learning including mathematics and astronomy. The death of Harsha was a signal for general disruption and disintegration of his empire and India again lost her political unity.

This period witnessed a new tendency in literature, namely, the rise of the vernaculars. The period under review witnessed not only great progress in Sanskrit literature, but also the foundation of the modern vernacular languages of India, such as, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali in the Rajput period. Through architecture degenerated during this period, yet the spiritual content, the very basic principal of Indian architecture, find its free play in the building activity of the age.

The most famous temples of the period in the Northern India are those of Somnath in Saurashtra, Bhubaneshwar, puri and Konark in Orissa, Khajuraho in Bundelkhand and Abu in Rajasthan. The jagannath Temple at Konark approximately around 1250 A.D. Through Hinduism was theoretically based on the old Vedic beliefs and practices, it had evolved, its own characteristic features, such as doctrine of avatars , predominance of the theistic sects of Vaishnavism and Saivism, the Bhakti cult, Trantricism and the construction of magnificent temples.


In 1498-99, a Christian naval power, the Portuguese, with its base in Europe entered the Indian waters after the arrival of Vassco de Gama at Calicut. Through the so called Portuguese empire faded away after the advent of other European sea-powers in India, they made some contribution to the cultural life of India. They have enriched Indian vocabulary and medical science to some extent. The introduction of printing press, European architecture, Christianity and the establishment of seminaries for the training of Indian priests at Verapoly and at Goa are notable contributions of the Portuguese. The East India Company of Britain was established in 1600 for trade with East. France also entered the fray with the establishment of the French East India Company in 1664. The former acquired a settlement on the Madras Coast. This followed by England’s regular fight for supremacy in India.

A notable achievement of the British rule was in the field of arts. In 1860 Alexander Cunningham was appointed the first Director of Archaeology and later of Ferguson wrote his famous work describing the magnificent architecture monuments of India. These two factors paved the path for magnificent architecture monuments of India. These two factors paved the path for revival of Indian interest in arts. The appointment of Dr. Hultzch as first eminent eminent epigraphist to the Government of India was the beginning of the great work of reclamation of Indian History. The deciphering of the scrips of ancient India and the official search for old inscriptions and documents all over the country and their publication provided India the first corpus of source material from which her history was constructed. It soon created among Indians a historical sense a pride in their achievements and nationality. Panikkar observes that “even the revival of Sanskrit studies on modern lines in India is due largely to the activities of the British Government and the scholars patronized by them. The Queen’s College at Varanasi was the first serious attempt to teach Sanskrit in a systematic way to young India”. In the field of art and architecture Indians have been completely ignorant of the rich heritage of their country. Ellora, Ajanta, Bagh and Mahabalipuram meant nothing to Indians in the beginning of the nineteenth century. They had become stronger to their own inheritance “Hindu Stuart” was perhaps the first European to appreciate the beauty and charm of Indian sculpture . In due time, the taste spread first among the European critics before Indian awoke to her own artistic treasures.


(i) Socio-Religious Movements: In the beginning Renaissance led to the repudiation of Indian values and slavish imitation of all that the west stood for. It seems that the influence of the west in all spheres of life has been so overwhelming that Indians lost their own and became “sedulous apes”. Such a state of things roused in due course a strong reaction. Consequently a spirit of revival commenced and everything savouring of the past was supported whole-heartily, welcome warmly and honoured enthusiastically. It was a defensive mechanism against extreme reaction. It was symbolized in the religious messages of Dayanand Saraswati, Ramkrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda. It may be designated as the ‘revivalist group’. Between the two movements arose a new one. It sought compromise between the two. It was led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and propagated by Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Annie Besant and Ramakrishna Mission. This ‘middle group’ aimed to assimilate the best and enduring features of European culture with those od Indian without eliminating or discarding the essential ingredients of the Indian culture and civilization.

But the first decades of the twentieth century witnessed the birth of another unique spiritual movement in India. It was led by Shri Aurobindo. It interpreted Indian Renaissance as the rebirth of the soul of India into a new body of enthusiasm and energy, a new form of its innate and ancient spirit. On account of these religious movement “there arose in the period a number of reformers, teachers, saints and scholar who have purified Hinduism by denouncing some of its later accretions, separate its essentials from non-essentials, confirmed its ancient truths by their own experience and have been carried its message to Europe and America.

(ii) Recovery of Indian History: The Renaissance not only awakened and fortified the sense of the religious greatness, but brought the glories of Indian history to light. The slow and patient labour of many European Scholars helped a good deal in the reconstruction of the lost story of india’s greatness. The work of archaeologists, epigraphists, numismatists and art critics like James Ferguson, Dr. Bulher, Dr. Fleet, Percy Brown, Sir John Marshall and Dr. Ananda Coomarswamy revealed the glory of India’s numerous ancient monuments scattered all over the country. They made Indians take pride in their past history. Gradually the Indians were awakened to the sense of their cultural greatness.

(iii) The recovery of India’s ancient literature: The Renaissance enabled Indians to recover their ancient literature Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain. It was the Europeans who printed the Vedic and the Buddhist literature of India and revealed them to Indians.

European scholars who cultivated the study of Sanskrit literature opened the eyes of Indians to the great rich heritage that their ancestors had bequeathed to them. It was the enthusiasm of European scholars like Sir Charles Wilkins, Sir William Jones, Colebrooke, Wilson, Muir, Monier Williams, Max Muller and others for the culture of India that provided the first great impetus to the modern study of classics to the western world. Under the inspiration of Max Muller, a great German scholar in England, sacred books of India were translated and published and Indian Philosophy was studies with keen interest in the West. All this restored India’s classics to Indians, enabled the new middle classes in India to known of nobler and higher things in their own thought, helped to rouse the world’s interest in India and provided a great impetus to the sense of nationalism among Indians.

(iv) Growth of Indian Vernacular Literature: A significant feature of the Renaissance was the rapid growth of Indian’s vernacular literatures. At first there was the flowering of certain versatile genius and it was followed by the phenomenal growth of the vernacular literatures. Bengal took the lead in this sphere. They formed a kind of seed-bed for the future creative genius, accomplished persons of fine critical ability and appreciative temper. All these writers were a prelude to the rise of Rabindranath Tangore who has contributed to all aspects of culture and literature, prose, poetry, drama, novel, essay, short, music, painting, dancing etc. They introduced new styles, new technique and secularized the themes in the realm of prose.

As regards the different Indian vernacular literatures it is a matter of great pride that the works of centuries have been crowed into a few decades in the evolution of modern literatures of India. Before the Renaissance all the vernacular literature dealt with religious subjects. Mythological or heroic narratives figures very much. Expression was through poems and songs. The Renaissance provided a strong stimulus to the imaginative and nationalist writings to various languages. All branches of literature were developed considerably. As a result of the Renaissance Indian languages have become both simpler and harder at the same time for the expression of modern thought.

Various aspect of vernacular literature were changed and improved considerable. The Indian drama has been completely transformed since the middle of the nineteenth century. It is from the west that they have taken the art of criticism in the realm of literature. If the Indian Press has considerably popularized the vernacular literatures, the study of the Western literature has secularized them.

It awakened sense of nationality and has undoubtedly added a noble and glorious element to the Indian literatures. The novels of famous Bangali writer Bankim Chandra and the plays of well-known dramatist Dwijendralal drew in their inspiration from India history. The songs of Bharati, Tagore, works of famous Hindi poets Bharatendu Harishchandra and Maithilisharan Gupta and the early songs of celebrated Urdu, poet Iqbal were intensely nationalist. The healthy growth of these different languages to an integration of linguistic nationalities in India.

(v) Growth of Scientific Research of Discovering India’s Past: One very striking feature of the Indian Renaissance is manifested in the scientific spirit of research and discovery. Since the foundation of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, a large number of Europeans as well as Indian scholars have been devoting themselves earnestly to the work of research, excavation, exploration and researches bring to light India’s glorious past.

The works of art-critics and archaeologists inspired many to cultivate the spirit of research. The Ancients Monuments Preservation Act of Lord Curzon provided an impetus to the cause of study and research. Under the guidance of the Archaeological Department of the Government of India and a few other research institutions valuable scientific excavations, which have considerably modified the views of scholars about the ancient history of India, were undertaken on the pre-historic sites like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Nalanda, Kaushambi, Hastinapur etc. There are some renowned Indians among the luminaries in the realm of archaeological researches.

(vi) Fine Arts: The spirit of Renaissance has also produced a finer appreciation and better cultivation of the fine arts such as painting, music, dancing, architecture. Etc. A new era of considerable importance has dawned upon India thought the reawakening of her art consciousness. The aesthetic eye of men has been opened to the immense splendor of ancient Indian art. The renaissance revitalized ali spheres of life and reawakening the nation from the slumber of ages. It brought about a marvelous reawakening and wonderful progress in the realms of political ideas, society, religion, literature, philosophy, science and industry.

The reawakening in the social sphere transformed entirely the social life of the country. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, Keshav Chandra Sen, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Shri Aurobindo, Maharshi Raman and other reinstalled the ancient truths of the country.