Mughal Empire attained its zenith during Akbar’s reign, thanks to social harmony and strategic relationship with important Hindu Kingdoms. As one of the greatest ruling dynasty of the medieval world, they influenced the Indian culture, sculpture and arts in several ways, with their hybrid architecture, often called the Mughal Architecture, standing out as their biggest gift to posterity
As the longest running dynastic rule in India in the last millennium, the legacies and influence of Mughal Empire is still spread across all sectors of society and culture in India. The Mughal heritage extends itself from architectural monuments of medieval India, to special forms of ethnic arts and the unique mixture of Hindu and Islamic philosophy. However, it would be fair to say that not all of its influence was glorifying. At times, particularly during the reign of Aurangzeb, the rulers indulged in inhuman religious persecution of Hindus, and the weakness of the later Mughal rulers was primarily responsible for the British colonization of India. Yet, unlike British rule, which greatly impoverished India and significantly drained its wealth, Mughal India was greatly prosperous and saw flourishing of trade, arts, architecture and music.
The Mughals arrived in India with the advent of Zahiruddin Mohammed Babur with his army in 1526 from Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan), who defeated the army of Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat, on the outskirts of Delhi, to lay the foundation of an empire that would continue to rule parts of India till the middle of nineteenth century. Babur's views are recorded in a historical text called 'Baburnama', where from it is apparent that for all the glory of founding the Mughal empire, Babur was not fully comfortable with India nor liked its people.
His progeny, however, assimilated in the culture of the country and fully became a part of Indian civilization.
Between Babur and Aurangzeb, each of the Mughal rulers witnessed substantial developments in different fields that remains a part of the Indian heritage up to this day. The first and by far the greatest of these rulers was Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, also known as 'Akbar the great' who was actually responsible for taking the Mughal dynasty to its great heights. The most important contribution of Akbar that has gradually become a part of the Indian psyche, were his efforts to bridge the gaps between local people, most of whom were 'Hindus' and the culture and faith of Islam. He married 'Jodha Bai', a Rajput princess from Amer, and this marriage created a bond of relationship between the Mughals and the Rajputs, who were the most important Hindu kings of the time, and renowned for their valor and bravery. He persistently followed a policy of religious tolerance, abolished "Jijiya' - the religious tax on Kaafirs (read Hindus), and towards the end of his life, even went to the extent of promulgating a new religion called 'Deen-e-ilahi', wherein he attempted to combine the features of Hinduism with Islamic religion.
Akbar's reign (1556 - 1605 A.D.) also coincided with the 'Bhakti renaissance' in India, wherein many saints and philosophers denounced communalism and religious fanaticism, propagated equality of all human beings before the almighty god, emphasized that different religions are just different paths leading to the same Lord, and renounced rituals and narrow partisanship in religion. Saints like Kabir, Guru Nanak (first guru of Sikhism), Raheem and many more advocated the same philosophy. Akbar promoted translation of Hindu religious texts like 'Bhagwat Gita’ in Persian and also encouraged its learning by his kith and kin. These efforts gave rise to a new kind of sect in Islam known as 'Sufi Fakeers' who were ascetics like the Hindu Sadhus but followed Islam, were mystique in behavior, often eccentric but devoid of all interest in worldly affairs and hence highly respected and adorned by both Muslims and Hindus. These practices of Indian Sufism, including a unique music genre that they created as their way of worshiping the Allah, remains a very popular genre in South Asia till date in spite of its opposition by Arabian radical Islamists.
Akbar's son, Jehangir, promoted arts, especially painting in a manner no one before or after him. Himself a good painter, he was responsible for patronizing certain schools of folk painting like 'Kishangarh' school that continues as one of the most popular forms of painting in India. Jehanir's son, 'Shah Jehan' will always be remembered for his gifts of architectural marvels, that includes the great 'Taj Mahal' - the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, which is one of the most sought after tourist attractions in the world even today. He also built the Red Forts in Delhi and Agra, the Jama Masjid in Delhi, the Jehangir Mausoleum and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore (now in Pakistan). The legacy of Mughal architecture that peaked during his reign can be felt in almost all the major buildings that were built after his age.
Ironically, one of the strongest legacies of Mughal empire that destroyed peace and unity in India and paved the way for its subjugation to the British belongs to Shah Jehan's son, 'Moinuddin Mohammad Aurangzeb Alamgir' (1658-1707 A.D.), who was a devout and pious follower of Islam, and attempted to propagate Islam as a religious fanatic. Beginning his rule in 1658 A.D. with the imprisonment of his father, Shah Jehan in his own fort, he took it as his mission to convert Hindus to Islam and began his spree with Brahmins - the religious preachers, in the belief that once they converted, the rest will follow suit. He is said to have ordered his battalions to kill all who fail to covert, and the 'sacred thread' (a thread of cotton that the Brahmins used to wear around their waste) was collected as an evidence of their killing. Legends have it that 40 kg of sacred threads denoting thousands of deaths were reported every day, and even though these may be unrealistic exaggerations, his religious genocide remains unparalleled in Indian history.
Aurangzeb was almost the exact opposite of Akbar, and so were the outcomes of his pursuits and policies. During the reign of Akbar, the Mughal empire gained unprecedented strength that would last for centuries, with prosperity and development that was reflected in the growth of trade, wealth, arts and architecture. On the contrary, Aurangzeb's policies proved to be the death nail for the Mughal empire. He fought and extended his empire to South India, but even during his reign, several local powers revolted against the Mohul rule, including the 'Marathas' - who would replace Mughals in less than half a century after Aurangzeb’s death, as the dominant power of India. More importantly, by his policies, Aurangzeb created a monster of Islamic fundamentalism that contributed to the division of India, still survives in parts of South Asia to some extent, and even threatens global peace every now and then.
After Aurangzeb, his successors could not hold on to the weakened empire, though they continued as figurative heads. Most of them were spineless, self seeking, addicted men of poor integrity and character. They became dependent on the British support for survival even in their nominal rule, and gradually lost all power to the British East India Company, which was initially granted trading rights by 'Furukhsiyar' in 1717, and to whom the governance and taxing rights of major parts of the empire were transferred by Shah Alam in 1765. Finally they accepted British protection in 1803, effectively converting India in to a British colony. The legacy of colonial exploitation will take a few generations to overcome, and a part of it at least, can be credited to the later Mughal dynasty, beginning with Aurangzeb.
The Mughal influence in India is virtually the history of India during the second half of the last millennium. It had its moments of glory in religious tolerance, arts, music, paintings and architecture. But at other times, it also created obnoxious forms of religious fundamentalism that is still alive in some parts. The ancient Indian culture with its prolonged tradition of several thousand years had come under severe attack since the dominance of Muslim rule in the eleventh century, and a process of amalgamation of Indian culture with the foreign influences was already under way before the Mughal advent. The Mughal era accelerated this process with Akbar’s policies, resulting in prosperity and amalgamation of different traditions and influences to create a new culture that was different from that of ancient times, but was still very much Indian. It reached enormous highs and even though the Mughal power gave way in the eighteenth century, the culture developed those times largely continued till the nineteenth century, and has gradually become a part of modern India.
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