Cultures & Traditions

Hindu Art During the Mughal Period

While the taste of the Mughal court generally dominated the arts of the Mughal period, Hindu art by no means disappeared. Art and architecture continued to be created in the context of Hinduism, particularly in areas not ruled by Muslims, and in communities that remained Hindu. In south India, the heritage of the Chola dynasty persisted and evolved in a profusion of religious sculpture and architecture. Vijayanagara, the capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom, was the center of major buildings and art from the 14th-16th centuries. Hinduism and Jainism were strong cultural forces in the the Rajput principalities in the northwest.

Influence went both ways between indigenous Indian traditions and Mughal courtly arts, so that a syncretic style developed, often called Indo-Muslim. A work like the DMA's silver shrine [1995.77.A-GG] reflects the forms of both Islamic domed architecture and the lintel, column, and bracket elements of Hindu buildings. Its dancer figures originate in Indian sculpture, while the riders on elephants were a symbol of regal status everywhere. It was clearly intended as a shrine with a holy figure seated inside it, but whether the figure venerated was Hindu or Jain is unclear.

The survival of Hindu art and culture is well expressed in the Virabhadra sculpture [2007.16], which may have had its roots in the arts of Vijayanagara. The figure represents the god Shiva in the form of the warrior Virabhadra. The martial character of the work, with its many realistic weapons and formidable physical stance, probably reflects a devotion to a bellicose Shiva among the warriors of Kerala and Karnataka.

Hindu popular devotion to the gods, especially to Shiva and his family, may be seen in the festival figure of Durga, Shiva's wife in her fierce form [1959.159]. She is, like earlier images of Durga in the collection, both beautiful and terrifying. Such images are still carried in religious processions today to honor the god or goddess whose festival is celebrated.

In contrast, the pair of architectural brackets [1995.80.1-2], made for the home of a wealthy Hindu family, indicates the influence of Mughal courtly art forms and the development of a syncretic Indic and Muslim style. The brackets are a visual display of the owner's status and affluence. Warriors on horseback, figures under umbrellas indicating their rank, mythical creatures that are part lion and part elephant, and various deities, together with the sacred lotus, form a dense mix of imagery and symbolism blended into a dynamic whole. Serving to frame the entry to a house, the brackets project dramatic power.

Excerpt from

  • Anne Bromberg, "Hindu Art During the Mughal Age" in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 104.

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