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Biography of Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan

(1592-1666) 

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 A good name for Kings is achieved by means of lofty buildings...
 
From great-great grandfather to father, the Mughals had supported the arts, setting the precedent for Shah Jahan. He was fascinated by painting and jewelry, as his father Jahangir had been, and the fine arts flourished under Shah Jahan as they had in no previous reign.

According to art historian Milo Beach, "He was well known as a connoisseur of jewels. He had time to dabble in the arts, and was maybe even a jewel carver himself. But clearly his real engagement was with architecture."

Like his grandfather, Akbar the Great, Shah Jahan was passionate about architecture. Not content with the hand-me-down buildings in Akbar's Red Fort, he replaced them with resplendent palaces of pure white marble. As soon as the Agra Fort was completed, he moved the Mughal capital from Agra back to the ancient site of Delhi where he built a magnificent new city, owing nothing to his ancestors, yet keeping the long-established legacy of the Delhi throne. (The palaces of Shahjahanabad, now Old Delhi, are also faced entirely in white marble. Consequently, the reign of Shah Jahan is sometimes referred to as the "reign of marble.")

Heir to an empire that spanned the sub-continent and beyond, Shah Jahan was also passionate about dynastic pride and his own celebrity. "Much of his life was spent demonstrating his power," says Beach. "And because jewels were the basis for calculating wealth, for confirming that in fact the Mughals were healthy economically, his power was displayed by means of a very gaudy display of jewelry." To further enhance his image as a preeminent ruler, Shah Jahan set aside the six thrones bequeathed to him by his forebears and commissioned another encrusted with hundreds of diamonds, emeralds, pearls and rubies the famous Peacock throne where he held court surrounded by exquisite silk carpets and cushions under arches of silver inscribed in gold. The emperor's great palace fortress, Qila Mubarak [Auspicious Fortress], was built on the bank of the river Yamuna; opposite it stood the grand Mosque, the Jama Masjid, which remains to this day the largest structure in India.

According to Beach, "In the paintings of Shah Jahan, he's depicted with the coldness of an icon. European accounts of him at the time talk about him, even as a young prince, as being very cold, very disdainful, and extremely haughty. He's presented as a symbol of royalty rather than a human being, which separates him enormously from his father and grandfather, who really delighted in a personal revelation of their characters. Shah Jahan absolutely didn't want that. He wanted himself to be seen as the symbol of perfection the perfection of a jewel so carefully crafted and so flawless that there could be no question at all of the vagaries of a human personality."

Shah Jahan spent incalculable wealth on his preoccupations: a life of ease, pageantry and pleasure, expeditions to expand his dominion and the creation of his celebrated edifices. Unlike the buildings of Akbar, which show such eclectic delight in diversity, Shah Jahan's constructions demonstrate cool confidence in a new order.

In his structures, the Hindu and Islamic traditions are not simply mixed but synthesized in a resolved form the balance of inlaid ornamentation and unadorned spaces; the cusped arch, neither Islamic nor Hindu; the simplified columns and brackets created without the rich carvings; the kiosks with Islamic domes typical of the nobility, grace and genius that characterize the constructions of Shah Jahan.

 Shah Jahan's Architectural Legacy:

Anar Sagar Pavilions, Ajmer
Palaces in Agra Fort, including Anguri Bagh, Khas Mahal, Diwan-i-Khas, and Diwan-i-Am, Agra (1627-38)
Taj Mahal, Agra (1631-52)
Black Pavilion (Shalimar Bagh), Srinagar (1630)
Wazir Khan's Mosque, Lahore (1634)
Shalimar Bagh, Lahore (1637)
Palaces in Lahore Fort, including Chati Khwabgah, Diwan-i-Am, and Mussaman Burj, Lahore
Asaf Khan's Tomb, Lahore (c. 1641)
Shahjehanabad, Delhi (1638-48)
Red Fort and Palace, Delhi (1639-48)
Chini ka Rauza, Agra (c. 1639)
Jama Masjid, Agra (1648)
Jama Masjid, Delhi (1650-6)
Fatehpuri Masjid, Delhi (1650)
Moti Masjid (Agra Fort), Agra (1654)


For all the beauty of the embellishments used in the Taj Mahal and his other buildings, it is the stylistic unity and harmony of design that is Shah Jahan's greatest accomplishment, providing the finishing touch in the Mughal style of architecture.

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 How he succeeded to the throne

 Prince Khurram ascended to the throne after a tumultuous succession battle worthy of a Mughal Prince. His own father, Jahangir, had already handicapped Khusrau, when the son aspired to unseat the father. Younger brother Prince Khurram promptly had him killed, as fraternal ambitions were not to be encouraged, even though the wretched Prince Khusrau was blind. Prince Shariyar, Nur Jahans son-in-law had lost his bid to the throne and murdered by Khurrams father-in-law, Asaf Khan (also Nur Jahans brother). Another brother Parwiz was of no consequence. With the wealth created by Akbar, the Mughal kingdom was probably the richest in the world. Though Khurram was the favored son of Jahangir in his earlier days, the influence of Nur Jahan on the emperor had a deleterious effect on his relationship with his father. She was trying to prop up her own son-in-law, a brother of Shah Jahan as the legal heir. This alarmed Shah Jahan and with the help of his father-in-law and Malik Ambar he was able to muscle his way into Delhi and pronounce himself the emperor. Prince Khurram

gave himself the title of Shah Jahan, the King of the World and this was the name that was immortalized by history. With his imagination and aspiration, Shah Jahan gained a reputation as an aesthete par excellence. He built the black marble pavilion at the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar and a white marble palace in Ajmer. He also built a tomb for his father, Jahangir in Lahore and built a massive city Shahajanabad in Delhi but his imagination surpassed all Mughal glory in his most famous building Taj Mahal. It was in Shahajanabad that his daughter Roshanara built the marketplace called Chandni Chowk.

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the diwan-i-aam or the hall of public audience at red fort, delhi

 During his reign

The expenditures resulting from Shah Jahan's failed attempts at frontier expansion, as well as his insatiable appetite for new and grand architecture, were appreciable factors in the empire's eventual financial crisis.

Shah Jahan was an exceedingly able man -- although less able than his father Akbar and less conscientious than his son Aurangzeb. Still, Shah Jahan is in the first rank of Indian rulers. Endowed with all the qualities required of a medieval Muslim ruler, he was a brave and competent commander; a generous master who treated his servants with respect, dignity and affability; and a far-sighted leader with a strict sense of justice.

Shah Jahan was an active patron of palaces and mosques. Upon Shah Jahan's accession, the fort at Agra was renovated to include three major courts: Halls of Public and Private Audience (Diwan-i Khass wa 'Am); an area for treasures and private audience (Machhi Bhavan); and a residential court known as the Garden of Grapes (Anguri Bagh). The first court is close to the entrance, while the other two courts, which were used by the emperor and his entourage, overlook the river.

Inside the fort is a congregational mosque known today as the Moti (Pearl) Mosque because of the translucent white marble used on the interior. The mosque comprises a rectangular prayer hall, about 53 by 21 yards, divided by cruciform piers into three aisles of seven bays supported on cusped arches and surmounted by three bulbous domes. The additive system of vaulted bays used in the Moti Mosque at Agra is the type of plan favored for smaller mosques constructed under imperial patronage.

The single-aisled plan that had been used for Shir Shah's mosque in Delhi was preferred for large, urban congregational mosques which have immense courtyards with narrow prayer halls fronted by pishtaq and surmounted by three or five domes. The mosque of Vazir Khan at Lahore, constructed by the court physician Hakim Ali of Chiniot in 1635, is but one example of this group. The congregational mosque at Agra was completed in 1648 under the patronage of the emperor's daughter Jahanara. Constructed of red sandstone, the mosque used white marble sparingly for calligraphic bands.

In 1638, Shah Jahan moved his capital from Agra to a city in Delhi. Known as Shahjahanabad, the new capital city was laid out under the emperor's auspices from 1639-1648. The massive project was designed by Ahmed Lahwari, the chief architect of the Taj Mahal, and by the architect Hamid. Ghayrat Khan and Makramat Khan, who also worked on the Taj Mahal, supervised the construction. The walled city, included broad avenues with water channels, souqs (markets), mosques, gardens, houses of the nobility, and the fortified palace known as the Red Fort or Lal Qala. Twice the size of the fort at Agra, the Red Fort was named for the high, red sandstone wall that surrounded the white marble palaces.

From Shah Jahan to the end of the Mughal line the famous Red Fort was heart of the empire and the principal residence of the emperors. At the height of the Mughals' power, the Red Fort constituted not only the esidence of the emperor and his court but also housed the central dministrative machinery of the empire, a military garrison, an arsenal, the imperial treasury, factories (karkhaneh) for the manufacture of luxury commodities, and much more.

Shah Jahan, like his father Jahangir, was a notable patron of gardens. Jahangir had developed Kashmir as a summer residence for the court where he constructed a garden around the natural spring at Vernag south of Srinagar. Shah Jahan received an order from his father to dam the stream around Shalimar on Lake Dal at Srinagar. This garden, known as Farah Bakhsh (Joy Giving), became the lower garden of Shah Jahan's famed Shalimar Garden. In 1634, Shah Jahan added another quadri-partite garden named Fazd Bakhsh (Bounty Giving) to the northeast. Water was supplied by a canal linking the Ravi River to the city. The canal was dug by Ali Mardan Khan, an Iranian nobleman and engineer who had defected to the Mughal court in 1638.

Lahore is also another site of the greatest of the Mughal water gardens known as Shalimar (Abode of Bliss), Brend (1991) notes. The garden was constructed in 1642 . Water flows under the bluster-legged throne and into the tank, whose edge is treated with a lotus ornament. The patform in the center of the tank, called a mahtabi or place for viewing moonlight, might be used for musicians. The gangways from it lead to pavilions on graceful sandstone columuns.

These gardens contained more than a hundred species of plants, including evergreens, screwpines and other trees, roses, violets, sunflowers, cockscombs, and several varieties of jasmines. The gardens were not only enchanting places of repose but also yielded a substantial revenue in roses and musk mallow. In the eyes of contemporary French travelers these gardens were the equal of Versailles.

During Shah Jahan's reign, the Mughals penetrated deeper into the Deccan and the successful campaign in 1636 forced the state ruled by Adil Shah to acknowledge Mughal dominance. Shah Jahan returned north to concentrate on his new capital at Shahjahanabad, while his son, the young prince Aurangzeb, was appointed viceroy and commander-in-chief of Mughal forces in the Deccan.

During the following two decades the Adil Shahis at Bijabur enjoyed peace, and the dynasty's prosperity in the mid-17th century is exemplified by the tomb built for Mohammed Adil Shah. The tomb, known as the Gol Gumbaz, is famous for its formal simplicity. The tomb has a gigantic hemispherical dome (with an exterior diameter of 46 yards) and rests on an almost cubical mass with a staged octagonal turret at each corner. The dome is supported internally by arches set in intersecting squares. The floor area covered 1,725 square yards, exceeding that of the Pantheon in Rome. At the time of its construction, the tomb was the largest space in the world covered by a single dome.

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Siblings

 Succession to the throne

From an early age, Shah Jahan's four sons, Dara Shukoh, Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad Bakhsh, grew up in an atmosphere of bitter rivalry, writes Hambly, even though they were all children of the same mother, Mumtaz Mahal. In 1657, Shah Jahan became seriously ill. The expectation of an early death provoked the four sons into making a desperate bid for the throne. Only two candidates, writes Hambly, stood much chance of success -- Dara Shukoh, who was 42 years old, and Aurangzeb, who was 39.

Dara Shukoh, Shah Jahan's favorite and his heir, was a man of broad intellectual interests. He was a Sufi and a religious eclectic who had translated the Upanishads into Persian.

Aurangzeb was well educated, knowledgeable in the traditional spectrum of Islamic studies, and strict in his religious orthodoxy. Aurangzeb had an acute sense of political realism and a fierce appetite for power. Although Aurangzeb's personality was considered less attractive than that of Dara Shukoh, Aurangzeb was the superior in both military talent and administrative skills.

Aurangzeb easily outclassed his brothers in the bid for power. In the summer of 1658, Aurangzeb held a coronation durbar, or reception, in the Shalimar-Bagh outside Delhi on the Karnal road. This probably was done in order to strengthen the morale of his supporters. It was not until the summer of 1659 that a second and more glorious ceremony was performed in the Red Fort at which time Aurangzeb became the new emperor and assumed the title of Alamgir (World Conqueror).

During his 30-year reign, Shah Jahan had never expected that his last days would be so utterly tragic. With his old age and his poor health, Shah Jahan could only helplessly watch the serious outbreak of hostility among his sons. Shah Jahan was a mere spectator at the savage contest. The emergence of Aurangzeb as the undisputed victor led to the father's imprisonment in the Agra fort.

Tended by Jahanara, his eldest daughter, Shah Jahan was confined to the fort for eight years. According to legend, when Shah Jahan was on his death-bed, he kept his eyes fixed on the Taj Mahal which was clearly visible from his place of confinement.

 Diminishing years

In September of 1657, Shah Jahan, in his waning years, suffered from acute constipation and rumors of his imminent death spread rapidly through the land. The potential successors to the throne, four brothers, were alarmed and moved with haste to claim the throne. His third son Aurangzeb eventually claimed the empire, in the year 1658. Shah Jahan would recover from his illness only to spend his last days as an old and decrepit man, imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, in the fort in Agra. There he was to remain in house arrest for eight years watching the magnificent monument he had built for his beloved wife Mumtaz. Shah Jahan died in the year 1666, at age seventy-four, eight years after losing his throne to his son. He was interned in the Taj Mahal, next to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.