This article discusses the contribution of Mughals in the field of literature in the Indian subcontinent.
The Mughal period (1526 – 1857) makes a brilliant era in the cultural and literary history of India. Mughal kings Patronized and encouraged multilateral cultural activities and literary work in different languages. The literary figures of this time used Urdu and Hindi as vehicles of thought throughout the Indian subcontinent. However, most of the work was produced in Persian because of its status as the official language of the empire. The scholars refer to the Mughal era as the period in the medieval times when India witnessed climax in literary work.
Factors for the contribution of Mughals in the field of literature
There were several factors contributing to the development of literature during the Mughal period.
Firstly, the Sufi and Bakhti saints used the local languages to preach Islam in India thereby producing a great deal of religious and Sufi text, Secondly, Mughal kings, from Akbar to the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah, patronized the literary work.
Nature of the literary work
Both original works and translations were produced in large numbers in Persian during the Mughal period. Sanskrit, Hindi, and Punjabi along with many other regional languages also saw important developments. As stated above, Persian literature witnessed the greatest growth due to its status as the official language of the empire.
Throughout the Mughal period, Persian literary men and activities enjoyed official patronage and accommodation. The founder of the Mughal empire, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur himself wrote poems in both Persian and Turkish. His autobiography, the Memoirs of Babur (Babur Nama) is considered to be one the earliest surviving literary works of the Mughal era.
1. Original works
A huge original work in prose and poetry was created especially in Persian which reached its pinnacle during the tenure of the third Mughal king, Jalaluddin Akbar. The prominent Persian poets that Akbar patronized included Faizi, Urfi, and Naziri.
He also patronized many biographies and historical works such as Ain-i-Akbari, written by one of Akbar’s Nau Ratnas, Abul Fazl. Abul Fazl was a great scholar and leading historian who set a style of prose-writing at that time. Other literary works included Muntakhab-ul-Tawarikh by Badaun, Tabaqat-I- Akbari by Nizamuddin Ahmed, etc.
Another prominent writer of Akbar’s period was Telugu Brahmin Pandit Jagannath from Khandrika who composed Ras- Gangadhar and Ganga Lahiri. He is famous as a literary theorist or rhetorician for Poetic theory, Rasagaṅgadhara.
During Shah Jahan’s reign, works of history like Padshahnama, Turkish-i-Shah Jahani, and Shah Jahan Namah were composed. The prominent writers of this period included Shah Jahan Kavindra, Acharya Saraswati, and Jagannath Pandit enjoyed royal patronage.
Like his predecessors, Aurangzeb also promoted literary works but it focussed the writings that were more religious than anything else. Literary works that Aurnazeb included Waqyat-i-Alamgiri, Khulasat- ul-Tawarikh, Muntakhah-ul-Lubab, Nushkha-i- Dilkhusa, etc were works that were composed during the reign of Aurangzeb.
2. Translations – other than original work
Besides a lot of original work, books in local languages were translated into Persian and vice versa during Akbar’s time. For instance, the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and important texts of Hinduism, the Ramayanam and Mahabharata were translated into Persian. Faizi, Badauni, Ibrahim Sirhindi, and Abu Fazl were prominent literary men during the period of Akbar.
Promotion of Urdu literature
Mughals especially the later kings have the most vital role in the development and evolution of the Urdu language. They patronized literary men and created an enabling environment for the development of Urdu.
Mughal king Muhammad Shah was famous for his fondness and interest in the promotion of Urdu. He is said to have invited and awarded the famous Urdu poet Shamsuddin Wali for his contribution to Urdu poetry. Similarly, the last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar was himself a poet and arranged literary events at his court.
Prominent poets of the Mughal period with a profound impact on the development of the evolution of Urdu were Mir Taqi Mir, Sauda, Nazir, Mirza Ghalib.
Development of regional languages
The contribution of Mughals in the field of literature was not limited to the few main languages. The Mughal period also saw a great deal of literary work in regional languages too. A number of people produced some of the mature and finest poetry lyrics in their respective regional languages. For example, Krishna, Radha, and Bhagwat are famous for poetry works in Bengali, Oriya and Gujarati, and Rajasthani languages. Moreover, a number of devotional hymns were also translated from Sanskrit into regional languages. For instance, the two major Sanskrit epics and religious texts of Hindusim i.e. Mahabharata and Ramayana were translated into regional languages.
Punjabi and Marathi languages
The first book in Punjabi Adi Granth, a sacred scripture of Sikhism authored by Guru Arjun, was written during the period of Mughal king Akbar. The book contains almost 6000 hymns of the Sikh religious clerics including saints of others religions. Similarly, Gobind Rai, the tenth Sikh Guru, and poet wrote Dasam Grath that contains hymns that are a sacred part of Sikh prayers and Khalsa rituals during the time of Aurangzeb.
Other languages that witnessed development in the literature included the Dravidian languages Malayalam and Marathi. Eknath and Tukaram are two prominent figures of Marathi literature.