Discuss the Key features of the Mughal Paintings? How did it reflected the contemporary socio-cultural and political realities? (150 words/10 marks)

Mentors Comment:

Quite straightforward question and these types of questions are common in the Art and Culture section. The requirements of the questions are clearly depicted and the key words are not hidden. There will be two parts of the answer. First dealing with key features of the Mughal paintings and second discussing the reflection of these paintings.

Briefly describe the Mughal School of painting in the intro and then in the first sub heading discuss the key features of this school of thought. This is quite easy and all the materials on Art and Culture cover this topic.

Tricky is the second part where you have to discuss how these paintings showcased the society, politics and economics of the era. Take cue from the images and you will remember that most of them depicted royal courts, hunting, wars, royal couples spending time, foreign dignitaries, saints preaching to common people, celebration of holi and diwali, calf and lion sitting beneath emperors etc. So think of these and you will get the idea that these themes depicted that society was secular and harmonious, royal proceedings had their protocols and women were not in the proceedings, trade with foreign lands existed, calf and lion depicted justice in the society etc. Base your discussions on these lines.

Simply conclude the answer by summarising all the points of the answers and tell how this era was a golden era for the paintings in India.

Model Answer:


  • Origin of Mughal School of Paintings is a landmark in history of Indian paintings. The school originated in the reign of Akbar. The origin of Mughal style was a result of synthesis of indigenous Indian style of painting and the Safavid school of Persian painting.
  • Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. The earliest example of the Mughal style is the Tutinama (‘Tales of a Parrot’) Painting. The reign of Akbar is known for the initial works of Mughal School done by Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad Khan.

Key Features of Mughal Paintings:

  • The Mughal pictures were small in size, and hence are known as ‘miniature paintings’.
  • Though the Mughal art absorbed the Indian atmosphere, it neither represented the Indian emotions, nor the scenes from the daily life of the Indian.
  • Hence, Mughal painting remained confined to the Mughal court and did not reach the people.
  • The Mughal rulers brought Persian painters with them. At the same time they patronized Indian painters and the collaboration between these two schools of painters resulted in the synthesis.
  • Apart from Persian books of fables, themes from Mahabharata, Ramayana were also selected.
  • Indian scenes and landscapes came into vogue.
  • Paintings were based upon close observation of nature with high aesthetic merit.
  • Under Jahangir, the Mughal school paintings acquired greater charm, refinement and dignity.
  • The emperor Jahangir had a great fascination for nature and took delight in the portraiture of birds, animals and flowers.
  • Inspired by their overlord, the Mughal courtiers and the provincial officers started patronizing the artists trained in the Mughal technique of painting.
  • The artists who were employed in the Imperial Government were known as the first grade artists. The works accomplished by these first grade artists is known as the Imperial Mughal Painting.
  • Artists available to the provinces were of inferior merit, thus, the works accomplished in the provinces was known as ‘Popular Mughal’ or ‘Provincial Mughal’ painting, which possessed all the important characteristics of the Imperial Mughal painting with some inferior quality.

Reflection of contemporary socio-cultural and political realities in Mughal Paintings:

  • Painting activity in Mughal cultures was the most visible and tangible sign of dynastic power, wealth and prestige.
  • Painters were both Hindu-Muslims as well as lower caste hindus.
  • It was un-islamic yet liberal interpretation of islam allows it.
  • Painted portraits of Akbar showing despotism.
  • Mughal paintings show the construction scenes of the big monuments and also tell us about the used technologies.
  • For instance some paintings show us how stones were cut and polished to be used in Fatehpur Sikri.
  • Paintings served to communicate ideas about the kingdom and the power of kings.
  • These paintings are known to speak the reality of daily life of the imperial court.
  • One of the striking feature of Mughal paintings while showcasing imperial courts is near absence of females from the court. Hence became to be known that females were rarely permitted to appear in open courts and they were rarely assigned roles in courts.
  • The paintings portrayed the emperor, his court and the people who were part of it and showed constant tension between rulers and representatives of the Muslim orthodoxy.
  • The paintings contains many examples of the Mughals’ interest in the Hindu faith of their subjects, including beautifully illustrated translations of the Mahabharata and the Upanishads
  • Paintings drew upon many sources to show that the power of the Mughal kings came directly from God as shown through the glow or halo behind the emperors.
  • A number of symbols were created for visual representation of the idea of justice which came to stand for the highest virtue of Mughal monarchy.
  • The motif of the lion and the lamb (or goat) peacefully nestling next to each other signified a realm where both the strong and the weak could exist in harmony.
  • We get the idea on the process of redevelopment of music in Indian culture through Mughal paintings.
  • Paintings of the time depicted the social contract between royal families and commoners through the scenes of courts where the distance between ruled and rulers differed in each paintings of different rulers.
  • Hence one can see how close a ruler was with his subjects or how adored he was by the common people.
  • It showed the level of connect between rulers and masses as well as the people of the court.
  • The level of secularism in the Mughal paintings upto the era of Shahjahan showed the level of tolerance of rulers towards other religions and cultures.
  • Some paintings depicts foreign ambassadors which tells Mughals had strong foreign connections and maintained constant touch with the outer world.
  • Presence of the foreign ambassadors also tells that Mughal rulers had active trade connections with foreign countries.
  • Mughal portraits of birds, animals and flowers set in their natural habitat can be seen as one of the earliest scientific studies of the animal world.


  • Mughal Paintings that have been encouraged from generation to generation are very important as they successfully depict the life of rulers at that time. It shows the political and social condition of the people at that time also, they portray social and courtly customs in these paintings.
  • In short, these paintings are clear depiction of the Mughal times and tell great stories. This ear gave new life to Indian form of painting which was carried and patronage by provincial nawabs after the decline of Mughal empire.