Art in Medieval Period


The art of painting was popular during the early medieval period. Palaces and temples were decorated with murals. Miniature painting was only beginning to develop.

The Sultanate Period

From the Sultanate period onwards, the art of painting depended entirely on royal patronage. The art of painting miniatures developed further during this period. Artists were employed by kings and nobles to decorate and illustrate books. Portraits of kings were made by the court painters.

The Mughal Period

The Mughal emperors took great interest in painting. The art of miniature painting reached a new high under the Mughals. Akbar established many royal karkhanas or workshops in which painters honed their craft. According to a source, he employed over hundred artists. In the year 1567, Akbar ordered the preparation of a lavishly illustrated manuscript of the Persian translation of the Hamza-nama. When completed, it had 1,004 illustrated pages. The Tuti-nama was also illustrated in the 1580s.

The art of painting developed most under Jahangir. He himself was a good painter and could recognise each painter by his unique style. He showed interest in the European style of painting as well and introduced some features of European painting into the Indian style. He was also inclined toward portraits. Some famous painters of his reign were Bishan Das, Murad, Mansur and Bahzad. Mansur, in particular, was a specialist in painting animals and birds. Other themes of painting included court scenes depicting royal hunts.

Most of the painters patronised by Jahangir remained at the court of Shah Jahan also. They continued to make beautiful miniatures. Scenes depicting everyday life were a popular theme.

The reign of Aurangzeb marked the start of a period of decline. He disapproved of painting as he considered it unIslamic. He withdrew royal patronage and dismissed the court painters. These painters either began to work for the nobles or migrated to the regional kingdoms.

The Regional Kingdoms

Three distinct provincial styles of paintings developed. These were

  1. The Kangra style, based in the hills of Punjab
  2. The Rajasthani style, centred at Mewar, Bundi, Bikaner, Kotah and Kishangarh
  3. The Deccani style, which was popular in the Deccan

Out of the three, the Rajasthani style or the Rajput style achieved great acclaim. A unique characteristic of this style was the painting of religious and mythological scenes, especially the stories related to Lord Krishna. The Ragmala paintings are very famous. Different Rajput states developed various schools of miniature painting with specific characteristics.

Glass Painting

Glass painting originated from southern India during the 16 th century where it was employed in the courts of the kings of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. A popular subject was Krishna, depicted in a variety of poses. These opulent paintings were done on glass and board and were heavily decorated with semi-precious stones, beaten gold leaf and gilt metal. The stones were stuck on the image with a mixture of sawdust and glue. The skill of the craftsmen lay in the effective balancing of the stones.


Major developments in music were witnessed with the coming of the Turks. The Indian style of music was influenced by Persian musical forms. There was a fusion of Persian-Arabic and Indian musical styles and what developed was a new form of music. This may be called ‘Indo-Persian’.

The Sultanate Period

The Turks brought with them new musical instruments such as the rabab and the sarangi. Amir Khusrau was a famous poet and musician. He combined Persian and Indian melodies and produced several new ragas. Some sources credit him with inventing 19 melodic forms. He also popularised a new form of music called ‘quawwalis’. He wrote many works on music and is said to have invented the sitar.

Firoz Shah Tughlaq was a patron of music. The classical work, Rag-darpan was translated into Persian during his reign. The work Lahjat-i-Sikandari was written under the patronage of Sikandar Lodi.

Devotional Music

Devotional music was very popular during this time. The Sufi and Bhakti saints popularised group singing. The Sufis organised musical gatherings (Sama) in which both the common people and skilled musicians participated. The Bhakti saints also popularised devotional music. Chaitanya expressed his bhakti through devotional songs. Mardana, who was a specialist in devotional music, always accompanied Guru Nanak. The later Sufi and Bhakti saints continued to popularise devotional singing.

The Regional Kingdoms

The rulers of the regional kingdoms were also great patrons of music. Jaunpur and Gwalior were particularly famous for music. Two great works on music, Ghunyal-ul-Munyas and Sangeet Siromani were compiled under the patronage of the rulers of Jaunpur. Sultan Hussain Shah Sharqi of Jaunpur took great interest in music. He created a new musical form – the khayal. Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior was also a patron of music. The musical work, Man Kautuhal (curiosities of Raja Man) was prepared under his aegis. A distinctive style of music developed in the kingdom of Kashmir. The

The Mughal Period

Music flourished under the Mughal rulers also. During this time, the Hindustani or North Indian style of music became popular at the Mughal court. This style was a combination of Indian and Persian styles. New styles of singing such as ‘khayal’ and ‘thumri’ developed. Mian Tansen of Gwalior composed many new melodies (ragas). Abul Fazal names 36 musicians, some of whom were females, who played music in the court of Akbar.

Jahangir and Shah Jahan followed the example of Akbar and employed many court musicians. Aurangzeb was an accomplished player of the veena. He banned singing, but not the playing of musical instruments, in his court. In fact, the largest number of books on classical Indian music in Persian were written during the reign of Aurangzeb. However, it was during his reign that many musicians migrated to the regional kingdoms and continued their musical traditions there. Later, music reached a new peak during the reign of Muhammad Shah Rangila.

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