MUGHAL EMPIRE – Influence on South Asia


South Asian art and culture

Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, the Taj Mahal is a world-renowned testament to Mughal architecture.

A major Mughal contribution to the Indian subcontinent was their unique architecture. Many monuments were built by the Muslim emperors, especially Shah Jahan, during the Mughal era including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Taj Mahal, which is known to be one of the finer examples of Mughal architecture. Other World Heritage Sites include Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, the Red Fort, the Agra Fort, and the Lahore Fort.

The palaces, tombs, and forts built by the dynasty stand today in Agra, Aurangabad, Delhi, Dhaka, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Lahore, Kabul,Sheikhupura, and many other cities of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. With few memories of Central Asia, Babur’s descendants absorbed traits and customs of South Asia, and became more or less naturalised.

Mughal influence can be seen in cultural contributions such as:

  • Centralized, imperialistic government which brought together many smaller kingdoms.
  • Persian art and culture amalgamated with Indian art and culture.
  • New trade routes to Arab and Turkic lands.
  • The development of Mughlai cuisine.
  • Mughal Architecture found its way into local Indian architecture, most conspicuously in the palaces built by Rajputs and Sikh rulers.
  • Landscape and Mughal gardening.


Although the land the Mughals once ruled has separated into what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, their influence can still be seen widely today. Tombs of the emperors are spread throughout India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The Mughal artistic tradition was eclectic, borrowing from the European Renaissance as well as from Persian and Indian sources.


Urdu language

The phrase Zuban-i Urdū-yi Muʿallá(“Language of the exalted Urdu”) written in Nastaʿlīq script.

Although Persian was the dominant and “official” language of the empire, the language of the elite later evolved into a form known as Urdu. Highly Persianized and also influenced by Arabic and Turkic, the language was written in a type of Perso-Arabic script known as  Nastaliq, and with literary conventions and specialised vocabulary being retained from Persian, Arabic and Turkic; the new dialect was eventually given its own name of Urdu. Compared with Hindi, the Urdu language draws more vocabulary from Persian and Arabic (via Persian) and (to a much lesser degree) from Turkic languages were Hindi draws vocabulary from Sanskrit more heavily. Modern Hindi, which uses Sanskrit-based vocabulary along with Urdu loanwords from Persian and Arabic, is mutually intelligible with Urdu. Today, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and one of the official languages in India.

Bengali calendar and economy

A silver coin made during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II.

The economic powerhouse of the Mughal Empire was the Bengal Subah, which generated 50% of the empire’s GDP. It was described as the Paradise of Nations by Mughal emperors. The Mughals introduced agrarian reforms, including the modern Bengali calendar.The calendar played a vital role in developing and organising harvests, tax collection and Bengali culture in general, including the New Year and Autumn festivals. The province was a leading producer of grains, salt, pearls, fruits, liquors and wines, precious metals and ornaments. Its handloom industry flourished under royal warrants, making the region a hub of the worldwide muslin trade, which peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries. The provincial capital Dhaka became the commercial capital of the empire. The Mughals expanded cultivated land in the Bengal delta under the leadership of Sufis, which consolidated the foundation of Bengali Muslim society.

After 150 years of rule by Mughal viceroys, Bengal gained semi-independence as a dominion under the Nawab of Bengal in 1717. The Nawabs permitted European companies to set up trading posts across the region, including firms from Britain, France, the Netherlands,Denmark, Portugal and Austria-Hungary. An Armenian community dominated banking and shipping in major cities and towns. The Europeans regarded Bengal as the richest place for trade. By the late 18th century, the British displaced the Mughal ruling class in Bengal.

Mughal society

Ruins of the Great Caravanserai in Dhaka

The Indian economy remained as prosperous under the Mughals as it was, because of the creation of a road system and a uniform currency, together with the unification of the country. Manufactured goods and peasant-grown cash crops were sold throughout the world. Key industries included shipbuilding (the Indian shipbuilding industry was as advanced as the European, and Indians sold ships to European firms), textiles, and steel. The Mughals maintained a small fleet, which merely carried pilgrims to Mecca, imported a few Arab horses in Surat. Debal in Sindh was mostly autonomous. The Mughals also maintained various river fleets of Dhows, which transported soldiers over rivers and fought rebels. Among its admirals were Yahya Saleh, Munnawar Khan, and Muhammad Saleh Kamboh. The Mughals also protected the Siddis of Janjira. Its sailors were renowned and often voyaged to China and the East African Swahili Coast, together with some Mughal subjects carrying out private-sector trade.

Cities and towns boomed under the Mughals; however, for the most part, they were military and political centres, not manufacturing or commerce centres. Only those guilds which produced goods for the bureaucracy made goods in the town’s ; most industry was based in rural areas. The Mughals also built Maktabs in every province under their authority, where youth were taught the Quran and Islamic law such as the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri in their indigenous languages.

The Bengal region was especially prosperous from the time of its takeover by the Mughals in 1590 to the seizure of control by the British East India Company in 1757. In a system where most wealth was hoarded by the elites, wages were low for manual labour. Slavery was limited largely to household servants. However, some religious cults proudly asserted a high status for manual labour.

Science and technology


While there appears to have been little concern for theoretical astronomy, Mughal astronomers continued to make advances in observational astronomy and produced nearly a hundred Zij treatises. Humayun built a personal observatory near Delhi. The instruments and observational techniques used at the Mughal observatories were mainly derived from the Islamic tradition. In particular, one of the most remarkable astronomical instruments invented in Mughal India is the seamless celestial globe.


Sake Dean Mahomed had learned much of Mughal alchemy and understood the techniques used to produce various alkali and soaps to produce shampoo. He was also a notable writer who described the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and the cities of Allahabad and Delhi in rich detail and also made note of the glories of the Mughal Empire.

Sake Dean Mahomed was appointed as shampooing surgeon to both Kings George IV and William IV.


Fathullah Shirazi (c. 1582), a Persian polymath and mechanical engineer who worked for Akbar, developed a volley gun.

Akbar was the first to initiate and use metal cylinder rockets known as bans particularly against War elephants, during the Battle of Sanbal.

In the year 1657, the Mughal Army used rockets during the Siege of Bidar. Prince Aurangzeb’s forces discharged rockets and grenades while scaling the walls. Sidi Marjan was mortally wounded when a rocket struck his large gunpowder depot, and after twenty-seven days of hard fighting Bidar was captured by the victorious Mughals.

Later, the Mysorean rockets were upgraded versions of Mughal rockets used during the Siege of Jinji by the progeny of the Nawab of Arcot. Hyder Ali’s father Fatah Muhammadthe constable at Budikote, commanded a corps consisting of 50 rocketmen (Cushoon) for the Nawab of Arcot. Hyder Ali realised the importance of rockets and introduced advanced versions of metal cylinder rockets. These rockets turned fortunes in favour of the Sultanate of Mysore during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, particularly during the Battle of Pollilur.

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