Jahangir (1569-1627), the fourth Mughal Emperor of India and patron of the arts, ruled for 22 years.
Jahangir was an amicable, liberal Muslim—an emperor who loved painting, architecture, and the fine arts. A successful and benevolent ruler, he cherished the well-being of his Indian subjects, revered both Hindu and Muslim saints, and improved social conditions without interfering with customs. But Jahangir was not without military ambitions. A capable soldier, he dreamt of conquering Transoxiana, the seat of the government of the early Timurids.
Jahangir was a child of many prayers—the eldest son of Akbar, one of the most notable rulers in Islamic history, and his Rajput wife Jodh Bai. The boy was brought up with all possible care and affection and when he grew up, arrangements were made for his education at the new capital, Fatehpur-Sikri. Expert tutors taught the prince Persian, Turki, Arabic, Hindi, arithmetic, history, and geography, but he was most influenced by Abdur Rahim Khan Khana, a versatile genius, soldier, and successful diplomat. Under his guidance, Prince Salim (Jahangir) also mastered the technique of composing verses.
Anxious For The Throne
In compliance with the time, the prince was also given training in civil and military administration. During the Kabul expedition of 1581, he was placed in charge of a regiment of troops and subsequently conducted independent military expeditions. In 1585, he was elevated to the rank of an army officer, commanding 12,000 men. Unfortunately, he was familiar with wine at an early age and became addicted to the good life. He was also impatient. An estrangement developed between father and son due to the prince's scheming ambition to succeed to his father's throne without the customary death of his father. When Akbar was persuaded by his favorite courtier Abul Fazl to develop a brotherhood of "seekers" who viewed the emperor as divinely inspired and hailed him with the phrase allahu akbar, in 1602 the prince had Abul Fazl murdered. Akbar was so depressed by the death of his friend that he did not appear in public for three days. But there was no other reliable successor. Desperate to keep the dynasty alive, in 1605, a dying Akbar (from poisoning traceable to the prince) reluctantly had his imperial turban placed on the head of his eldest son.
A week later, Salim succeeded to the throne at Agra at the age of 36, assuming the name Nur-ud-din Muhammad Jahangir. But he was soon disturbed by the impatience of his own eldest son, Khusrau. When Prince Khusrau's troops were defeated by the imperial forces near Jullunder, the captive prince suffered total humiliation; Janhagir had his son ride along a street lined with the impaled bodies of his recent supporters. Khusrau had neither the capacity to organize a successful revolt nor moral and material support of any influential party in the state, and the people had no desire to have him as their ruler. Jahangir then turned to Sikh Guru Arjun, who had given money to the rebellious Khusrau, and fined him for his offence. But Guru Arjun refused to pay. Though the Sikh was subjected to torture until he died, evidence shows that the Sikh religious leaders suffered only when they interfered in politics. Jahangir did not persecute the Sikhs out of hand.
In fact, Jahangir was determined to dispense justice fairly. One of his earliest orders was the setting up of a "chain of justice" made of gold. Anyone who failed to secure justice might pull the end outside the Agra fort in order to draw the attention of the emperor so that the latter might redress his grievances.
Internal disturbances in India prompted the Shah of Persia to make a bid for the fortress of Kandahar. Owing to its strategic and commercial importance, the fort was a bone of contention between Persia and India during the middle ages. After the death of the second Mughal ruler Humayun, it was given to Shah Husain Mirza by the Persian emperor. Though Akbar had recovered it in 1594, it had again passed into Persian hands. Three attempts were made to recapture the fortress, but the Mughal armies were unsuccessful. These repeated failures had diminished the prestige of the Empire.
Jahangir Gains Territories And Erects Statues And Mosques
In pursuance of his father's policy of imperialism, Jahangir aimed at the conquest of the entire country. In 1605, he sent his second son to reduce Rana Amar Singh, a Hindu ruler, to submission. It was not easy to conquer the great fort of Chittor. In 1608, the Emperor sent another force. Eventually a treaty of peace was signed in 1615. Because the Rana recognized the suzerainty of Jahangir, the Mughal emperor restored all his territory, including Chittor. Jahangir's treaty is a landmark in the history of the relations between Mewar and Delhi. No ruler of the Sishodia dynasty had ever before openly professed allegiance to a Mughal ruler and a long-drawn struggle came to an end. Subsequently, Jahangir placed two lifesize marble statues of the Rana and his son in the gardens of his palace at Agra. By granting generous terms and adopting a conciliatory policy, Jahangir secured Mewar's loyalty for the empire which lasted until his grandson's (Emperor Aurangzeb) policy alienated Rana Raj Singh.
Jahangir's Deccan policy was a continuation of that of Akbar's which, following ancient Hindu traditions, treated the north and south as indivisible parts of one country. It was the emperor's desire to annex Ahmadnagar and, if possible, the two remaining independent states of Bijapur and Golkunda. Jahangir placed his son, Prince Khurram, in command of his army in 1613 and ordered him to lead a number of campaigns against Rajput forces in Mewar and Kanga, and the Deccani sultanates of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda. The long siege of Kanga was brought to a successful end in 1629. This was the most notable military achievement of Jahangir's reign, prompting him to visit the place of conquest and build mosques there.
The complete success of the Mughal army over the forces of Ahmadnagar was not possible, however, owing in part to the strength of the Deccan kingdom and in part to the inferiority of Mughal weapons. Not only did Ahmadnagar defy the Mughal advance, but successful opposition came from an able Abyssinian named Malik Ambar, a former slave, who prepared for a war by training the mountaineers of Maharasthra in guerrilla tactics (later perfected by the great Hindu ruler Shivaji to the despair of Emperor Aurangzeb). When the Mughals had partial success in 1616, Prince Khurram was rewarded by Jahangir with the title of Shah Jahan ("King of the World"). But the Deccan was far from conquered.
Wife And Son Vie For Power
The most important development in the first half of Jahangir's reign had been the rise of his favorite wife Nur Jahan ("Light of the World") and the emergence of this third son Khurram (whose mother was a Rajput princess). Nur Jahan was a lady of great energy and many talents. Because of her, Persian poets and artists, architects, and musicians flocked to the Mughal court at Agra. She became an effective political power in India. But Shah Jahan was the leading contender for his father's mantle, and Nur Jahan resented his growing influence.
Nur Mahal's first step was simply to persuade the suggestible Jahangir that Shah Jahan should leave court, get away from the center of affairs, and return to military service against rival kings in the Deccan. Shah Jahan accepted the commission in ill grace, and took with him Khusrau, who had remained popular despite his rebellion and had a strong claim to the throne. Hearing that Jahangir's health was worsening and that his death was imminent, Shah Jahan's first act was to kill this brother, who would otherwise have become the center of a rival faction.
In 1623, Shah Jahan marched in open rebellion toward Agra. At Nur Mahal's behest an imperial army set out to track down Shah Jahan's forces, but the shrewd prince evaded his pursuers rather than meet them at a military disadvantage. The rebellious Shah Jahan was chased around southeast India for three years before finally agreeing to return to his father's fold.
Meanwhile, Jahangir held an impressive court. For one thing, he was fond of religious discourse. Sir Thomas Roe of England would testify that the Emperor accorded equal welcome to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Once again, Hindu festivals like Rakhi, Dasahra, etc., were allowed to be celebrated. Because of his father, Jahangir had come in contact with the Jesuits at an early age and treated them with great courtesy. He was too good a Muslim and too proud a Mughal, however, to convert to Christianity as they had hoped. The veneration he showed to the paintings of Jesus and Mary was due to his passion for works of art. Though in the spirit of the times there were incidents of fanaticism, for the most part Jahangir followed the policy of Akbar in showing general tolerance for Christianity and contributing large sums for the erection of churches.
Soon the Jesuit mission at the Mughal court assumed the character and functions of an embassy with the intention of outplaying the English and furthering the interests of the Portuguese. But Portuguese power, owing to its contempt for orientals, was already on the decline. The English seized the opportunity and made a significant impression on Jahangir. English trade was then secured.
In 1608, Captain William Hawkins arrived with a letter from James I of England. Though the emperor was impressed, the Portuguese effectively prevented Hawkins from gaining any tangible success from his mission. In 1615, came the aforementioned Sir Thomas Roe, England's first official ambassador to India, who tried to secure from the Mughal ruler a trade agreement for the young East India Company. The Portuguese had a head start in the lucrative business of exporting calicoes and indigo from India, and the Dutch also were ahead of the English. Though Roe failed to enter into any agreement with Jahangir, he secured some privileges for the English trading company that made it a factor in Indian politics. Roe's accounts provide valuable insight into the royal court.
A notable military success of Jahangir's reign was the capture of the strong fortress of Kangra in the northeast Punjab on November 16, 1620. But this event, which Jahangir found cause for exultation, was quickly followed by disasters and rebellions which continued until he died. Alienated by the intrigues of his wife Nur Jahan, his son Shah Jahan rose in rebellion against him. Facing Persian pressure from the northwest and the defection of Shah Jahan within the heart of the empire, Jahangir's situation was grave. Though Shah Jahan's rebellion ended in futility, it caused substantial damage to the empire.
Reign An Era Of Family Strife And Notable Architecture
Jahangir's reign was noted for architectural works. When his chief minister Itimad-ud-daulah died in 1622, his daughter, the powerful Nur Jahan, commissioned the construction in white marble of his exquisite tomb at Agra which was finished in 1628. Unlike the much larger Taj Mahal, with which it ranked in quality, the appeal of the tomb depended on its decoration. It looked like a brilliant casket, bejewelled with various styles of inlay. Its two major innovations—the extensive use of white marble as a material and inlay as a decorative motif—were to become the distinguishing features of the greatest period of Mughal architecture.
The high quality of both paintings and coins during Jahangir's reign was a direct result of the emperor's personal interest. Having grown up at Fatehpur-Sikri in the busy days of Akbar's studio, he was a keen student of technique and claimed to be able to tell which master had painted the eye and eyebrow in a face and which the rest of the portrait. In addition, he seems to have invented and commissioned from his artists a new style of political allegory in art which, however self-congratulatory and vain, provided some of the most magnificent paintings of the period. One such picture claims to celebrate a new spirit of peace with his Persian neighbor, Shah Abbas.
Toward the end of Jahangir's reign, Nur Jahan took a more active role in the government and appointed her politically adroit brother, Asaf Khan, as the premier of the realm. In 1626, brother and sister decided to attack the powerful Mahabat Khan. An Afghan by birth, Mahabat Khan realized the precarious situation and so marched north with 5,000 Rajput troops toward the imperial camp on the bank of the Jhelum. As Jahangir and Nur Jahan traveled to Kabul, Mahabat Khan took the emperor prisoner. Though Jahangir managed to escape with the help of a clever scheme by Nur Jahan, Mahabat Khan then joined forces with Shah Jahan. The prince was now stronger than ever.
A shaken emperor turned north to the only place where he now found solace. For several years, he had made an almost annual journey to Kashmir. There, he had found a natural paradise, but he and his court had done much to make it an artificial one. The Mughal gardens, which are one of the main glories of Srinagar, are the direct result of his enthusiasm. The Shalimar Bagh, built by Jahangir, is distinguished by a series of pavilions on carved pillars, surrounded by pools with seats which can only be reached by stepping stones.
When Jahangir died in October on 1627 in a village at the foot of the Kashmir hills, Asaf Khan betrayed his sister by backing his son-in-law, Shah Jahan. Informed by Asaf's courier of his father's death, Shah Jahan rushed north to claim his throne, reaching the capital in 1628. Nur Jahan was pensioned off and went to live in solitude in Lahore until she died in 1645.
While some European historians consider Jahangir as a fickle-minded tyrant, Indian authors regard him as a just and noble ruler. Most writers now agree that he was a highly educated and cultured man. His autobiography is a testimony of his interest in subjects like botany and zoology. Among the notable buildings renovated by him, Akbar's tomb at Sikandra is the most remarkable. He altered its design and partly rebuilt it. Under his patronage, a great mosque was built in Lahore; it rivals the grand mosque in Delhi, built by his son, Shah Jahan.
But he did not possess the high idealism and genius of Akbar. The administrative machinery of his father was allowed to remain untouched. The vakil (chief minister) remained the highest dignitary next to the emperor. A liberal ruler, he made no departure from his father's policy of admitting Hindus to higher public services. On the whole, Jahangir was a successful ruler and his people were well off. Agriculture, industries, and commerce flourished. Jahangir's diary is brimming with his ideas for promoting social justice and administrative efficiency, and in most cases he tried to follow or outdo the liberal ideas of his father, but he was less successful in putting them into effect.
Further Reading on Jahangir
Gascoigne, Bamber. The Great Moghuls. Harper, 1971.
Majumdar, R. C., H. C. Raychaudhuri, and Kalikinkar Datta. An Advanced History of India. St. Martin's Press, 1965.
Sastri, K. A. Nilakanta and G. Srinivasachari. Advanced History of India. Calcutta: Allied Publishers Private Ltd., 1970.
Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. Oxford University Press, 1977.
Jahangir. Memoirs of The Emperor Jahangueir. London: Printed for the Oriental Translation Committee, 1829.
Srivastava, Ashirbadilal. The History of India. Agra: Shiva Lal Agarwala & Co., Ltd, 1964.