Shah Jahan-The Favorite Grandson of Emperor Akbar
The scene of history shifts to Delhi again with Shah Jahan (of the Taj Mahal fame), the son of Jahangir ascending the throne. Shah Jahan was the grand old emperor Akbar's favorite grandson. In fact, at one time there was a genuine fear that the sovereign would name him, instead of his son, as the successor. This was largely because Akbar regarded Jahangir as a bit of a bounder who whiled away his time with wine and women from a startlingly young age. One of the most famous movies in Indian cinematic history is Mughal-e-Azam (a must-see) which, if you take away the romantic trimmings, is all about Akbar saving Jahangir from his romantic excesses.
Shah Jahan's Strain Relations With His Father Jahangir
Jahangir got a taste of his own medicine when he was king and his son Shah Jahan (then Prince Khurram) revolted against him. Jahangir had to eventually resort to the extreme measure of kidnapping his own grandchildren away to Kashmir with him to shut his son up. What drove Shah Jahan further away from his father was the intense court intrigue with the calculating Nur Jahan at the hub. Jahangir, while being every inch an autocrat, was completely dependent on his extremely capable and shrewd wife, Nur Jahan. The queen had a daughter from a previous marriage, and she wanted to see her daughter's husband safely to the throne. Nur Jahan, who could not have expected to win any popularity contests in Agra, went alone in this choice. A major chunk of the nobility was with Shah Jahan. However it was she who had, as they say, the king's ear. So despite the fact that Jahangir agreed to forgive and forget Shah Jahan's misadventures in 1625, the tension could not be defused entirely.
Shah Jhan Chosen As A Successor of The Throne
When Jahangir died in 1627 in Lahore, the Queen tried all the tricks in the book to put her candidate on the throne. But it was all in vain. Shah Jahan ascended the throne on popular demand, Nur Jahan retired from public life and her son-in-law was imprisoned.
The Golden Period of The Mughal Dynasty.
The reign of Shah Jahan has been widely acclaimed as the golden period of the Mughal dynasty. There are many reasons for this. Thanks to the firm base left by his grandfather and father, Shah Jahan's reign was relatively peaceful and hence prosperous. Except for a drought in 1630, in the areas of Deccan, Gujarat and Khandesh, the kingdom was secure and free from poverty. The coffers of the state were brimming with the right stuff. So it's no wonder that Shah Jahan was the greatest and most assiduous builder of the Mughal dynasty.
Shah Jhan- Undoubtedly A Great King
In 1639, he decided to shift his capital to Delhi and construct a new city on the banks of the Yamuna, near Ferozabad. It was to be called Shahjahanabad. Work on the fort and city commenced in 1639 and it took 10 years to build the Red Fort and palace. The spectacular peacock throne (the one that Nadir Shah took away) was transferred from Agra to the Red Fort, the new seat of the Mughal rulers, on April 8, 1648.
Jahangir had built a great reputation for himself as a dispenser of justice and Shah Jahan carried forward the good work and took a personal interest in the judiciary. He demanded a high standard of law and order and even petty thieves were not spared. The age was pretty dynamic in the sense that there was intense interaction with foreign countries and travellers poured into India from Persia, France, Italy, Portugal and England. Which is very interesting for the scholar, for one gets accounts of people from myriad nationalities during the Shah Jahan's reign.
Shah Jahan was undoubtedly a great king. He had shown evidence of being a great general even under his father's reign. Military genius apart, his capacity for hard work is also legendary. A good administrator, he saw to it that the government machinery moved on oiled wheels. Within a year of his becoming king, the revenue of the state had shot up meteorically.
The Breathtaking Constructions of Taj Mahal
Shah Jahan was an aesthete and loved building. His greatest achievements of course were the breathtaking Taj Mahal, which he built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, and the magnificent city of Shahjahanabad, which remained the capital of India till well into the 19th century.
There was a downside, of course. He was a bigoted Muslim and a confirmed nepotist. He provided for the imperial princes before anyone else in the matter of administrative and judicial postings regardless of age, capability and talent. He also started the practise of bestowing each prince with an important office. For instance, Dara Shikoh was made the governor of Punjab and Multan while Aurangzeb was appointed governor of all the four provinces of the Deccan. This might have just been a clever way to keep them occupied but that was not how the nobility saw it. The nobles viewed the practice as an obstacle in the path of their prosperity and promotions.
Emperor's Devin Love For His Wife Mumtaz Mahal
It is said that Shah Jahan died in spirit the day his Queen Mumtaz died. Stories are told of how he shut himself up in a room after her death and when he came out next morning his hair had turned white. A nice romantic tale, but the truth is that for all his love, Shah Jahan did not hesitate to expose Mumtaz to the rigours of travel in all states of health so that she died at the young age of 39 after giving birth to their fourteenth child. Also he was quick to seek consolation elsewhere and married several other women after Mumtaz died. However the love for Mumtaz must have been enduring, for when he was old and dying he began missing his queen all over again. By that time however, the power equation had changed once again.
The Peacock Throne
The fantastic Peacock Throne of the Mughals is now only a blurred memory in the collective imagination of Indians. It is now only alluded to illustrate the splendour and riches of India and all our lost glory. Painstakingly created by skilled craftsmen and artisans between 1628 and 1635, it was carried away to Persia by the marauding Nadir Shah in 1739. There are however still some miniature paintings that depict Akbar and Jahangir sitting proud on it. Shaped as a golden bedstead with golden legs and an enamelled canopy supported by 12 pillars, it looks breathtakingly fabulous. Each of the 12 emerald pillars bore two peacocks encrusted with gems and a tree with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls nestled between each pair of birds. Just look at the picture - can you guess how much it cost?
A whopping 10 million rupees, equivalent then to a million and quarter pound sterling.