Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, an exhibition examining one of the most powerful and opulent empires the world has ever known

  • 9 November 2012 – 2 April 2013

The British Library's major new exhibition, looks for the first time at the entire 300 year reign of one of the most powerful and opulent empires the world has ever known. Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire not only traces the evolution of Mughal art and empire between the 16th and 19th centuries, exhibiting over 200 exquisite paintings and objects, but will shed light on daily life at court with newly discovered and beautifully illustrated manuscripts drawn from the Library’s outstanding Central and South Asian collections.

Curated by Dr Malini Roy, Curator of Visual Arts at the British Library, Mughal India reveals a new perspective on the rich cultural heritage of the Mughal court. From the eclectic line of emperors themselves, to their impact on art, science, politics and religion, visitors will be drawn into a long-diminished world of extravagance through incredible objects: from a jewelled flywhisk, imperial portraiture and imposing warrior armour, to domestic manuals, early cookbooks and personal memoirs.

On display are highlights including:

  • A Panorama of Delhi by Mazhar ‘Ali Khan (1846)

This five metre long painting showing a panorama of Delhi was drawn from the viewpoint of the southern exterior tower of the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort. This 360-degree overview provides a pictorial record of the local area and the Mughal city and palace complex just 10 years before many of the interior buildings were damaged or completely destroyed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857. Visitors will be able to see the palace as well as the Chandni Chowk, now a busy tourist drag.

  • Instructional poem for pigeon-fanciers by Valih Musavi (1788)

Displayed for the first time is the ‘Book of Pigeons’ or Kabutarnama, containing two treatises on pigeons and their care and breeding. The first, in verse, has several illustrations. On the right hand page the foreground and background form separate scenes. One pigeon is drinking from a metal dish; behind are five more, two of which are ‘kissing’ on an urn. Another picture shows birds of various colours, and chicks in nesting-boxes. On the left page are two sets of white pigeons. The Mughal emperors, especially the later ones, were great fliers of pigeons and had pigeon-houses erected in the courtyards of the Red Fort.

  • Mid-17th century Mughal cavalryman and horse armour

On loan from the Royal Armouries is incredible Mughal armour for a cavalryman and horse. The cavalry wore mail and plate armour (zereh bagtar) with helmets (kolah zereh), and they also carried a cane shield (dhal), while their horses were often protected by mail and plate armour (bargustawan). They were armed with a sword and composite bow, and some additionally used a lance, mace (gurz) or saddle axe (tabarzin). The mail and plate coat is dated 1086 AH (1675/6). The helmet, body armour, horse armour and stirrups are all original armour.

  • The Notebook of Fragrance (1698)

On display for the first time, this is the unique manuscript of a handbook on aspects of household management and activities, reflecting the more cultivated side of the Mughal lifestyle. In seventeen chapters the unknown author discusses subjects as diverse as recipes for perfumes and soaps; meals and drinks; arranging a house and garden; how to fit out a library; weights and measure; fireworks; and games of chance.It was intended for princes, great amirs, and senior administrators – including Hindus as well as Mughals – in Shah Jahan's new imperial capital at Delhi.

  • Muhammad Shah making love (c. 1735)

Muhammad Shah was known as ‘Rangila’ (pleasure-loving), and artists often depicted him celebrating festivals or displaying his exceptional skills as a sportsman. This provocative image of Muhammad Shah explicitly engaged in a sexual encounter sharply deviates from traditional portraits of emperors at leisure. By one of the most influential artists of period, it reveals the emperor’s illusions or confessional thoughts. Surely only the emperor himself could have directed such a portrayal.

  • The Ex-King of Delhi, Bahadur Shah II, awaiting trial (May 1858)

This is the only documented photograph of Bahadur Shah (1775-1862), the last Mughal emperor. The photo was taken in May 1858, while the British held him in Delhi waiting his trial for his part in the Uprisings and shows the emperor reclining on a charpoy and smoking a hookah. It was, apparently, common practice for Europeans to visit the ex-ruler in captivity. In January 1859, Bahadur Shah was brought before a British military court and, after a trial lasting two months, was found guilty on 29 March 1859 of abetting the mutineers; he was later sentenced to exile in Rangoon, where he died in 1862.

  • Journal of the ambassador Sir Thomas Roe (c. 1616)

Sir Thomas Roe’s was the first mission to achieve any diplomatic success for the British in Mughal India. As King James I’s ambassador acting for the East India Company he was presented to the emperor Jahangir in Ajmer on 10 January 1616.
His journal entry for this date is displayed here. Roe travelled with Jahangir’s court to Mandu before taking his leave in 1618 having gained significant trading privileges. Roe found Jahangir ‘very merrie and joyfull’ and his diary gives a vivid account of life at court. This volume was copied for Roe by his secretary Edward Heynes in India.

Malini Roy, curator of the exhibition, comments: “We are so pleased to be displaying these stunning and rare manuscripts, paintings, and jewelled objects, shown together for the first time. The exhibition will give visitors a fascinating overview of a relatively little-known dynasty, displaying newly discovered royal portraits and manuscripts, as well as iconic artworks, such as the Panorama of Delhi. It is with great pleasure that we are able to share our collection’s beauty and these fantastic loaned objects with a wider audience.”

Mughal India is accompanied by an exciting programme of events, launching with Late at the Library: Mughal Nites, in association with South Asian Literature Festival, tomorrow evening, an extraordinary night of music, performance and spectacle. Joining DJ Ritu, hosting a Kuch Kuch party, will be British Library artist-in-residence Christopher Green, mehndi artists from Ash Kumar and dancers from Nutkut, weaving amongst installations, demonstrations, a bar and an Indian street food market. Other events will include speakers such as Pankaj Mishra, Mimi Khavati and William Dalrymple.

The British Library is also be running a Learning programme alongside the exhibition, including free in-gallery workshops for Primary and Secondary school groups and conferences for teachers and events in partnership

A beautiful book accompanies the exhibition, co-authored by J. P. Losty (Head of Visual Arts at the British Library for 34 years before retiring in 2005) and curator Malini Roy, featuring glorious reproductions of the finest works of Mughal art in the British Library’s collections.



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Notes to Editors

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire will run from Friday 9 November 2012 to Tuesday 2 April 2013.

Price: £9 / £7 and £5 concessions / Free for under 18's

Booking information

To book tickets for Mughal India visit, call 01937 546546 (Mon - Fri, 09.00 - 17.00) or buy tickets in person at the British Library.

Exhibition opening hours

Monday 10.00 – 18.00, Tuesday 10.00 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00, Saturday 10.00 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00

All galleries are accessible by wheelchair. Information can be requested from Visitor Services staff on: T +44 (0)20 7412 7332.


An exciting programme of talks, discussions, film and performances will accompany the exhibition. These include:

Makings of an Empire: The Mark of the Mughals on South Asia

Friday 9 November 18.30 – 19.30

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Among the most striking examples of Mughal heritage are the many beautiful buildings that were constructed in the Mughal style, where the merging of Persian and Indian influences created some of the world's best-known monuments. This combination of influences can also be seen in the arts, cuisine, fashion and language, as well as in thought, politics, warfare, religious attitudes and lifestyle. Join an esteemed panel of speakers to discuss the large and prominent mark left by the Mughals on the subcontinent: historian and broadcaster Michael Wood, author Vikram Chandra, journalist and author John Keay, and journalist Razia Iqbal.

Presented in association with DSC South Asian Literature Festival

Late at the Library: Mughal Nites

Friday 9 November 19.30 – 22.30

£7.50 / £5 concessions /Entrance Hall

As the exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire opens, enjoy an extraordinary night of music, performance and spectacle inspired by parties at the Mughal Palace. Joining DJ Ritu and guests, hosting a Kuch Kuch party, will be British Library artist-in-residence Christopher Green, mehndi artists from Ash Kumar, dancers from Nutkut, installations, demonstrations and lots more. A bar and Indian street food will also be available.

Presented in association with DSC South Asian Literature Festival

The Last Mughal in Words and Music

Friday 16 November

18.30 - 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Celebrated author William Dalrymple reads from his award-winning book The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857, accompanied by North Indian vocalist Vidya Shah. This evocative evening celebrates the bygone era of India's last Mughals, bringing to life a world of emperors, poets, courtesans, politics, bayonets, intrigue and love through word, poetry and music.

From the Ruins of Empire

Monday 26 November 18.30 – 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

The Victorian period, often viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by many as a catastrophe. Pankaj Mishra, author of the successful Temptations of the West, explores the historical fallout of the end of the Qing, Ottoman and Mughal Empires.

An evening of Sorcery and Seduction

Friday 7 December

18.30 – 20.00

£7.50 / £5 concessions / Conference Centre

Enjoy an enchanting evening as storyteller Seema Anand performs tales from the Mughal epic the Hamzanama, which tell of the exploits of intrepid warrior Amir Hamza. She is joined by award winning poet, Mimi Khavati, whose work is influenced by the ghazel tradition and by renowned vocalist, Najma Akhtar, to create an enthralling night of stories, poetry and music.

Learning programme

The Learning Team will be offering free exhibition workshops for Primary, Secondary
and Further Education students supporting the History and Art curricula. Two Continuing Professional Development conferences will be offered to teachers in partnership with The Guardian and the Schools History Project.

For further information:


T +44(0) 20 7412 7797


The British Library will publish an accompanying book, including glorious full-page reproductions of the finest works of Mughal art in the British Library’s collections.

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire will be published in November 2012.

£30.00 (HB) 9780712358705/ £19.95 (PB) 9780712358712, 256 pp

The British Library has worked in partnership with Fired Earth in the selection of colours to bring Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire vividly to life. A full list of the colours used in the exhibition will be available on request.

For more information visit or call 0845 366 0400

For more information:

Sophie McIvor
The British Library
t: +44 (0)20 7412 7790

Evenings and weekends:
+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

Press Office contacts

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