India’s Cross-Cultural Encounter


Map 1. World Exploration, 1271-1611. (Sayre, 2013)

In this discussion we will turn our attention to the indigenous people of India and their encounter with the Islamic west. The people of India were more tolerant of outside forces and in most cases they welcomed explores.  By the 17th and 18th centuries the rulers in India were Muslim not Hindu, which is the traditional religion of the indigenous people of India. As early as the 11th century a variety of Islamic groups had moved across the Hindu Kush mountain range through the northern passage and by the early part of the 13th century Muslims established a foothold in Delhi. It was not until the 16th that a group of Turko-Mongol Sunni Muslims known as Moguls would establish a permanent empire in northern India in parts of Delhi and Agar. For the most part, these footholds and establishments were tolerated and even welcomed by the native people. However, between 1540 and 1555 Hindus rose up and exiled the Moguls.

It was during this time of exile, from India, that the great Persian leader, Shah Tamasp Safavi, in Tabriz, would accept the Islamic Moguls into his court. Safavi was a patron of the arts and his love of the arts would make an impression on the to be ruler, Akbar, once the Moguls reconquered India 15 years later.

Mughal King Akbar

Fig. 1 Image of Mughal King Akbar. (Indianetzone, 2008)

In 1556, the new ruler was quick to establish “a school of painting in India open to both Hindu and Islamic artists, taught by Persian master brought from Tabriz.” (Sayre, 2013) Akbar would also encourage artists to learn Western styles of art brought to the east by Portuguese traders. It is record that there were “more than 1,000 artists” who had “created a library of over 24,000 illuminated manuscripts.” (Sayre, 2013)

The rule of Akbar was one in which he recognized the diversity of the people he reigned over. For this reason “he invited Christians, Jews, Hindu, Buddhists, and other to his court to debate Muslim scholars”. However, by the time Akbar’s son, Jahangir, became ruler the courts taste for art had switched from Persian influence to British-English.

In 1599 King James I of England awarded the British East India Company exclusive trading rights to the East Indies. Jahangir’s growing interest to English life is most visible in image Jahangir Seated on an Allegorical Throne. Even though Jahangir assumes the typical profile pose of the Mogul court, the inclusion of “two Western-style putti fly across the top of the composition.” (Sayre, 2013)

Jahangir Seated on an Allegorical Throne

Fig. 2 Jahangir Seated on an Allegorical Throne, by Bichitr. From the Leningrad Album of Bichitr. ca. 1625 (Sayre, 2013)

If you look closely you will notice the putti on the left is in the act of shooting an arrow, alluding to the importance of loving the world, while the one on the right is covering its face in the act of contemplation, possible of worldly power. At the bottom of the throne two more angle-like figures appear who are inscribing something. The inscription reads “Oh Shah, may the span of your life be a thousand years.” (Sayre, 2013) Of course the most prominent Western influence is seen in the decorative flower boarder. The outer Western-style flower board is in stark contrast to the inner Turkish flower boarder design.

Jahangir son, Jahan, would not embrace the art of painting nearly as much as his father and grandfather. However, he would become a patron of architecture with his most significance contribution to Indian art being the construction of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is not just any architectural structure it is a mausoleum Jahan had constructed for his favorite wife, Mumtaz-i-Mahal, whose name means “Light of the Palace”. Muntaz-i-Mahal died while giving birth to their fourteenth child.

Taj Mahal

Fig. 3 Front view of the Taj Mahal. (Department of Tourism)

The overall look of the structure combines Islamic with Indian architecture. “The white marble tomb is set on a board marble platform with minarets at each corner…at the top of these minarets are chattri, or small pavilions that are traditional embellishments of Indian palaces.” (Sayre, 2013) The minarets also act as a location where the muezzins would announce the call to worship for Muslims. The main structure has identical facades with a “central iwan, or traditional Islamic architectural feature consisting of a vaulted opening with an arched portal, flanked by two stories of smaller iwans.” (Sayre, 2013) The open vaulted facades also contribute to the Taj Mahal’s feeling on weightlessness.

Sadly thought, by 1658, Jahan would fall ill and his more conservative son Aurangzeb would assume power and confine his father to the Red Fort on the Jumna River. Aurangzeb would reinstate “traditional forms of Islamic law and worship, ending the pluralism that had defined the Mogul court under his father, and grandfather” and even his great-grandfather. (Sayre, 2013) However, from the Red Fort Jahan was able to “look out over the Jumna River, see the Taj Mahal and re-create in poetry the paradise” where his beloved wife rested. (Sayre, 2013)


Unlike the people of China the people of India were more tolerant of outside forces and in most cases welcomed explores. As early as the 11th century a variety of Islamic groups had moved across the Hindu Kush mountain range and by the early part of the 13th century Muslims established a foothold in Delhi. However, it was not until the 16th that the Moguls would establish a permanent empire in the northern India and by the 17th and 18th centuries Muslim ruled over native Hindus.

For the 16th century onward a number of Mogul rules, from Akbar to his grandson Jahan, would impart their love of both Non-western and Western art on Indian culture and the landscape. In the earlier years of the Mogul rule the love of art was in the form of establishing artistic school, however, in later years it was in portraiture creation in the English-style. Eventually their love of the art was seen in the combining of Indian and Islamic architecture.


Department of Tourism. (n.d.). Taj mahal photo gallery. Retrieved from

Indianetzone. (2008). Influence of muslim rule on indian religion. Retrieved from

Sayre, H. M. (2013). Discovering the Humanities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Pearson.


About kmjantz

My primary goal is to explore humanities existence to date as we know it. I also create works of art that search to understand and explain why humans die because of diseases has plagued humankind since the beginning of time. Until recently, artistic expression of said search was constrained by religious ideology and scientific understanding. Today modern artists have access to a multitude of scientific technological advancements and enjoy greater creative freedom. For these reasons, my projects combination of artist styles/movements, scientific discovery, folklore, and my own imagination. My overall goal is to introduce viewers to a world so small that most do not think about it until they must due to illness. This goal is accomplished by taking selected microorganisms (thought of as ugly, disgusting, and devastating annoyances) and illustrating them as beautiful symbols of humanity’s co-evolution with nature. Making art can be a way of simplifying complex thoughts and scientific findings imbedded in humanity’s narrative.
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