Shah Jahan

views updated May 14 2018

Shah Jahan

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

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). □

Shah Jahan

views updated May 29 2018


SHAH JAHAN (1592–1666), Mughal emperor (1628–1658). Shah Jahan, whose reign has been dubbed the "Golden Age of the Mughals," was born in 1592 and was named Khurram ( Joyous). He was able, ambitious, and ruthless in youth, and was later renowned for opulence and magnificence, a "Great Moghul." He built the Jama Mosque in Delhi, the Pearl Mosque in Agra, and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, as well as one of the most renowned buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal in Agra, which was built as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, his partner in his government and the mother of fourteen of his sixteen children. Shah Jahan would be buried there next to her. In addition, he built a mausoleum for his father, Jahangir, and a new capital at Delhi, Shahjahanabad, completed in 1648, where he placed the gem-covered Peacock Throne in its Red Fort. Persian literature and art permeated Shah Jahan's court. His reign represents a return to Sunni Muslim orthodoxy, although he continued the Rajput Hindu alliance. He ordered a number of recently completed Hindu temples torn down, and his official court policy conformed to Shariʿa laws. Muslim festivals were lavishly celebrated, and he resumed sponsorship of the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca for his courtiers and faithful servants.

Shah Jahan continued the expansion of the Mughal empire, supervising campaigns, though not leading the armies personally. The Bundela campaign of 1635, led by his third son, Aurangzeb, marked the change of formerly tolerant Mughal religious policy and a reversion to orthodoxy, as a Hindu temple was demolished and a mosque built in its place, and forced conversions to Islam were ordered. In 1629 rebellion broke out in the south as Shah Jahan attempted to subjugate the Muslim Deccan states of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, and Golconda, remaining in the south until 1631. Ahmednagar was captured in 1632, but the war dragged on and the Mughals were driven out of Bijapur. Shah Jahan returned to the south in 1636, and Bijapur and Golconda were obliged to accept a peace that endured for two decades. The Mughals then aquired four more provinces: Khandesh, Berar, Telingana, and Daulatabad. The Mughals also attacked and defeated a number of states in the north, and Sind was brought more firmly under Mughal control.

In 1638 Shah Jahan captured Afghan Kandahar. From there, the Mughals moved on Balkh in Central Asia, occupying it in 1646. The following year, harassed by Afghan tribal raiders, the Mughal army returned to Hindustan, losing thousands in the mountain passes, the expedition a total failure. In 1649 Kandahar fell to the shah of Persia, and three major Mughal campaigns to recover Kandahar all failed.

Shah Jahan then became more retiring, delegating more of the responsibility for governing the empire to his eldest son, Dara Shikoh. In the north, Lesser Tibet was subdued in 1637 and Garhwal in 1656. Turning to the south again, in 1656, the Mughals captured Golconda, and in 1657 Bijapur and Kalyani. In 1657 Shah Jahan became ill, and a murderous war of succession began among his four sons. His third son, Aurangzeb, emerged victorious. He imprisoned Shah Jahan in his Agra palace, where he spent the last year of his life, confined to Agra Fort, from which he could view, but never visit, the Taj Mahal. When he died, he left an expanded and prosperous empire with some quarter million men under arms.

Roger D. Long

See alsoAkbar ; Aurangzeb ; Islam's Impact on India ; Jahangir


Begley, W. E., and Z. A. Desai, eds. The Shah Jahan Nama ofʿInayat Khan. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Eraly, Abraham. The Mughal Throne: The Saga of India's Great Emperors. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.

Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Saksena, Banarsi Prasad. History of Shah Jahan of Dihli. Allahabad: Indian Press, 1932.

Shah Jahan

views updated May 29 2018

Shah Jahan (1592–1666) Mogul Emperor of India (1628–58). Third son of Jahangir, he secured his succession by killing most of his male relatives. His campaigns expanded the Mogul dominions and accumulated great treasure. Although relatively tolerant of Hinduism, he made Islam the state religion. Shah Jahan was responsible for building the Taj Mahal and the vast ornamental chambers of the Red Fort at Delhi, which became his capital.