Shah Jahan (1592-1666) was the fifth Mogul emperor of India. During his reign, from 1628 to 1658, the Mogul Empire reached its zenith in prosperity and luxury. He is remembered as the builder of the Taj Mahal.
The third son of Emperor Jahangir, Shah Jahan was born at Lahore on Jan. 5, 1592, and was given the name of Khurram. During his father's reign he distinguished himself in many military campaigns, especially in Mewar (1615), the Deccan (1617 and 1621), and Kangra (1618). During Jahangir's closing years, Shah Jahan came into open conflict with Empress Nur Jahan, but his rebellion against his father, in 1622, was unsuccessful. On the death of Jahangir on Oct. 29, 1627, disputes for the succession broke out, and Shah Jahan emerged successful. He was proclaimed emperor at Agra on Feb. 4, 1628.
Despite his Hindu mother, Shah Jahan did not follow the liberal religious policy instituted by his grandfather, Emperor Akbar. In 1632 he ordered all Hindu temples recently erected or in the process of erection to be torn down. Christian churches at Agra and Lahore were also demolished. In the same year the Portuguese settlement at Hooghly near Calcutta was also attacked. The Portuguese were accused of piracy and of kidnaping Mogul subjects, infecting them with Christian doctrines, and shipping them as slaves to Europe. The settlement was reduced, and several thousand Christians were killed.
Between 1630 and 1636 Shah Jahan reduced the independent kingdoms of the Deccan. Ahmadnagar was taken in 1632, Golkonda in 1635, and Bijapur in 1636. In the northwest, however, imperial armies were unsuccessful. The attempt in 1647 to annex Balkh and Badakshan, ancestral possessions of Babur, the founder of the Mogul Empire, failed.
Patron of the Arts
Shah Jahan had three wives. His second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whom he had married in 1612, died in 1631. She had been the mother of 14 of his 16 children. It was to her memory that the Taj Mahal was built. In this most beautiful of the world's tombs, the minutest detail has been carefully thought out and executed with tireless precision. In inscribing texts from the Koran round the tall doorways, the artists have shown themselves such masters of perspective that the letters 30 feet or more above the line of the eye appear to be exactly of the same size as those a foot above the floor level. Onyx, jasper, cornelian, carbuncle, malachite, lapis lazuli, and other precious stones are studded in the mosaic. It has been described as "A Dream in Marble."
The Jama Mosque of Delhi and the Pearl Mosque of Agra are two other masterpieces. Near the city of Old Delhi, Shah Jahan built a new capital, Shahjahanabad, with its magnificent Red Fort. Within the fort is the Hall of Public Audience, and here Shah Jahan sat on the Peacock Throne, which consisted entirely of jewels and precious metals and stones. Four legs of gold supported the seat; 12 pillars of emeralds held up the emerald canopy; each pillar bore two peacocks encrusted with gems; and between each pair of peacocks rose a tree covered with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and pearls.
Under Shah Jahan's patronage jewelry reached a high degree of perfection, and jewelers from both Asia and Europe visited the Mogul court to sell their craft and gems. Yet in spite of all these lavish expenditures, the imperial treasury was never in debt; in fact, Shah Jahan ended his reign with more money in the treasury than he had at the beginning of his reign.
Patron of Letters
Hindi language was coming into vogue, and Shah Jahan himself spoke Hindi and patronized Hindi poets like Sundar Das and Chintamani and Hindi musicians like Jagan Nath, Sukh Sen, and Lal Khan. His reign also saw the rendering into Persian of several Sanskrit classics; some of these translations were patronized by his son Dara Shikoh.
Shah Jahan had begun his reign by killing his brothers and all male members of their families. His sons likewise recognized no kinship in their pursuit of kingship. In 1657, when the Emperor's health appeared to be failing, his four sons, Dara Shikoh, Shuja, Murad Baksh, and Aurangzeb, began to take steps to secure the succession. Eventually the contest resolved itself between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb, and the latter proved successful. On June 8, 1658, Aurangzeb entered Agra, made a captive of his father, and assumed the throne. For 8 years Shah Jahan remained a prisoner in the Agra Fort, attended by his faithful daughter Jahanara and gazing, it is reported, most of the time upon the Taj Mahal, where he was to be laid to rest beside his favorite consort.
In some respects Shah Jahan is a paradox. He employed many non-Moslems at his court but nevertheless showed considerable intolerance to Hinduism and Christianity. His son Aurangzeb continued this illiberal policy to its worst extent. Shah Jahan's court was enormously rich, and he spent a vast sum on splendid buildings. His was an age of luxury. Yet he did nothing to arrest the decline in Mogul economy. The policy of reducing the Deccan and conquering the northwest, also continued by his successor, proved disastrous and shook public confidence in the Mogul imperium. Though he was a just man, he was also at times quite vengeful, and he set into motion wars of succession from which the Mogul polity never recovered. But as the builder of the Taj Mahal, he ensured himself a place in world history.
Further Reading on Shah Jahan
The best biography of Shah Jahan is Banarsi Prasad Saksena, History of Shahjahan of Dihli (1932). For a contemporary account of his reign see François Bernier, Travels in the Mogul Empire, A.D. 1656-1668, translated by A. Constable and edited by V. A. Smith (1914). Shah Jahan's architecture is dealt with in Percy Brown, Indian Architecture: The Islamic Period (1942; 3d ed., 2 vols., 1959-1960).