The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 69

BY: SUN STAFF - 27.5 2019

Procession of Raja Ram Singh II of Kota Later Mughal Period, c.1850

A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

As we end our series on the Mughal Influence in India, we segue from the death of the last great emperor, Aurangzeb and his successor, Bahadur Shah, to the Later Mughal Period which ran from 1707 to 1753 A.D. The last Mughal tomb in Delhi was built in 1753 and by 1755, the British had joined the Peshwa to capture Gheriah and attack the Malabar Coast, instituting a new foreign presence.

The encroachment of the Europeans laid to rest the last of the Mughal powerhouse, although their presence dwindled over a period of long decline, through the mid-1800's. While they had no real armies left, there were still local palace courts which survived on whatever reciprocal arrangements the Mughal representatives could maintain with the local Indian citizens.

In 1857 A.D., the Mughal throne was destroyed entirely as the British took Delhi. This final Rebellion of 1857 ended what had been a 331 year period of Mughal rule: from the arrival of Babur in 1526 to the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 (132 years), followed by the Later Mughal period from 1707 to 1857 – a 150-year period of decline.

With the death of Aurangzeb, all areas of art, architecture and the humanities went into decline in the Mughal court. Because Aurangzeb spent so much of his time away from his central court at Delhi, the emphasis on court paintings was naturally low-key there. And as the Later Mughal Period took hold, fewer and fewer resources were deployed by the remaining Mughal rulers to their court artists. Paintings in that period tended to be simply a re-hash of the earlier opulent Mughal court pastimes, done in the style of the original artists. Technical adeptness was the only area of innovation.

Unfortunately, the artists of this day were not motivated to revisit the classic Indian themes they had long appropriated, although they would have been much freer to do so by this time without the watchful eye of fundamentalist Islamic watchdogs. Instead, artistic content became more and more mundane, as even the transcendental Vedic subjects disappeared from many canvases. Whatever positive Vaishnava influence the artists might have held onto from the years of Mughal occupation in India, no doubt by Krsna's arrangement, they were not qualified to maintain that focus. Thus, they lost the last and the best of Vaisnava India's influence in their own Muslim culture.


Sri Raga Recital for Radha and Krishna 
Ragamala, watercolor, 19th c.


Meanwhile, the original schools of Vedic art that had flourished before the arrival of the Islamic intruders and throughout the years of their occupation, began to emerge once again. The painting schools of Rajasthan, the Bundi and Kota, are fine examples. There, the artists were again free to paint scenes of Vaishnava devotional content, and there was little pressure from the new invaders – the British – that would prevent them from revitalizing these art forms.

Krsna lila scenes appeared again in many paintings from Bundi and the Rajput school, including many Ragmala illustrations. In the late 1700's, new rulers like Rajkumar Rajendra Singh and Sardar Singh were again commissioning illustrated works of the Bhagavat Purana, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, and there was a renewed appreciation for Vaisnava content which, although threatened and often destroyed, had never been driven completely from view.

Over time, even those artists who carried on in the Later Mughal school of miniatures put less focus on darbar portraits or scenes similar to Krsna lila paintings, but with princes and their consorts stealing the roles of Radha, Krsna and the Gopis. Instead, the Supreme Personality and His divine associates overshadowed these temporary usurpers, and returned to Their former positions of glory, welcomed by the great affection of their devotees.