The Golden Age of Mughal architecture; the grandson of the legendary Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great’s son, and the Golden Age of the Mughal empire all relates to one person: A’la Azad Abul Muzaffar Shahab ud-Din Mohammad Khurram i.e Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor who was the successor of Jahangir, the rebellious son of Akbar. At a young age, he was chosen as successor to the Mughal throne after the death of his father, Emperor Jahangir, in 1627. However, being like Akbar and having the capability of expanding the Mughal Empire is not what Jahan is best-known for; the Taj Mahal, built as the tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, Takht – e – Taus or the Peacock Throne and other famous architectural pioneering is what established him as a famous Mughal. Apart from having architectural taste, he is also known for commissioning about 999 gardens in Kashmir, his favorite summer residence. A few of these gardens survive, attracting millions of tourists every year. But, let’s begin with this week’s post.
Born on 5 January 1592, Shah ab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram which was Shah Jahan’s birth name, was the third son born to Emperor Jahangir, his mother was a Rajput princess from Marwar called Princess Manmati – her official name in Mughal chronicles being Bilquis Makani. However, when Shah Jahan was only six days old, Akbar orderedt hat the prince be taken away from his Rajput mother and handed him over to his first wife and chief consort, Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum, who was childless. Ruqaiya assumed the primary responsibility for Khurram’s upbringing and he grew up under her care. Her step-son, Jahangir, noted that Ruqaiya loved Khurram “a thousand times more than if he had been her own son.”
As a child, Prince Khurram received broad education befitting his role in the Mughal empire which included martial arts and was exposed greatly to cultural arts; and he also enjoyed music and poetry. His first wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died sometime after giving birth to his fourteenth child and the Taj Mahal was constructed as her burial-place( originally, her burial-place was a pleasure garden around the banks of the Tapti River).
Shah Jahan would go on to commanding an army numbering around 200,000 to begin the offensive attack on the Rajput kingdom. After a year of the harsh war of attrition, Maharana Amar Singh II surrendered to the Mughal forces and became a vassal state of the Mughal Empire. In 1617, Prince Khurram was directed to deal with the Lodi in the Deccan, to secure the Empire’s southern borders and to restore imperial control over the region. His successes in these conflicts led to Jahangir granting him the title of Shah Jahan (Persian: Glory of the World) and raised his military rank and allowed him a special throne in his Durbar, an unprecedented honor for a prince, thus further solidifying his status as crown prince.
In 1611 Shah Jahan’s father married Nur Jahan, the widowed daughter of an Afghan Noble. She rapidly became an important member of Emperor Jahangir’s court and, together with her brother Asaf Khan, wielded considerable influence. Arjumand was Asaf Khan’s daughter and her marriage to Prince Khurram consolidated Nur Jahan and Asaf Khan’s positions at court. Court intrigues, however, including Nur Jahan’s decision to have her daughter from her first marriage wed Shah Jahan’s youngest brotherShahzada Shahryar and her support for his claim to the throne led Khurram, supported by Mahabat Khan, into open revolt against his father in 1622. The rebellion was quelled by Jahangir’s forces in 1626 and Khurram was forced to submit unconditionally. Upon the death of Jahangir in 1627, Prince Khurram succeeded to the Mughal throne as Shah Jahan, King of the World.
However, let’s move to the main face of his reign where Mughal art and architecture were at their best.
Shah Jahan left behind a grand legacy of structures constructed during his reign. He was one of the greatest patrons of Islamic architecture. His most famous building was the Taj Mahal, now a wonder of the world, which he built out of love for his wife the empress Mumtaz Mahal.
The building took twenty years to complete and was constructed from white marble underlaid with brick. Upon his death, his son Aurangazeb had him interred in it next to Mumtaz Mahal. Among his other constructions are the Red Fort also called the Delhi Fort or Lal Qila in Urdu, large sections of Agra Fort, the Jama Masjid, the Wazir Khan Mosque, the Moti Masjid, the Shalimar Gardens, sections of the Lahore Fort, the Jahangir mausoleum—his father’s tomb, the construction of which was overseen by his stepmother Nur Jahan and the Shah Jahan Mosque. He also had the Peacock Throne, Takht – e – Taus, made to celebrate his rule. Shah Jahan also placed profound verses of the Quran on his masterpieces of architecture. In 1629 Shah Jahan made a new currency.
In January 1666, Shah Jahan fell ill with strangury and dysentery. Confined to bed, he became progressively weaker until, on 22 January, he commended the ladies of the imperial court, particularly his consort of later years Akbarabadi Mahal, to the care of Jahanara. After reciting the Islamic declaration of faith (Laa ilaaha illa l-laah) and verses from the Quran, one of the greatest of the Mughal Emperors died, aged 74.
Next week, we’ll be looking at possibly our final post of this series which focuses on the reign of Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb’s reign had its similarities with Akbar’s but religious tolerance was something Aurangzeb lacked in and was the reason why his reign ended terribly.