Published:  04:05 PM, 10 June 2021 Last Update: 04:13 PM, 10 June 2021

Shah Jahan: The ruler who built Taj Mahal!

Shah Jahan: The ruler who built Taj Mahal!

-Riffat Ahmed

The Mughal Dynasty represents a greatly influential and commemorable time in the history of the Indian Subcontinent. Having clutched its dominance over North India for over two centuries, this empire was initially established by Babur, in 1526, after he rejoiced his victory in the Battle of Panipat against Sultan Ibrahim Lodi of Delhi. After Babur’s reign, Humayun stepped up to his father’s throne. Following Humayun, the Mughal Empire attained its most prominent ruler yet: Akbar the Great. He was one of Humayun’s three sons and under his rule, the Mughal Empire saw its most glorious days yet.

Akbar had done it all when it came to building his empire up to be prosperous and untouchable, however, some circumstances were still out of his control; like the unfortunate situation regarding his wife, Ruqaiya Begum. Ruqaiya was Akbar’s first wife and their relationship fell into the realms of soulmates rather than lovers. Ruqaiya was very keen on raising a child but she was not able to conceive. This matter upset her greatly. Even though Akbar had children with other wives, seeing Ruqaiya in this helpless state dismayed him as well. He was unable to find a solution to this issue until the day he met a soothsayer.

The soothsayer predicted that Ruqaiya would be raising the future Mughal emperor and that the child would be Akbar’s son, Jahangir's. This news elated both Akbar and Ruqaiya and they commenced preparations for their grandson’s arrival. Akbar had also decided on a name for him; it was Khurram, which meant “happy” in Persian. 

Previously, Akbar had lost children not long after their births, so the birth of his third child, Jahangir, was a very important yet nerve-racking period for him. It seemed that history was repeating itself as he was yet again in that situation, nervously anticipating the birth of his grandson. He was delighted yet anxious. Finally, on the 5th of January, 1592, a healthy boy was born to Jahangir and his second wife, Jagat Gosaini. He was named Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram. A mere six days after being brought into this world, Khurram was taken under the care of Akbar and Ruqaiya. 

Khurram was blessed with a fruitful childhood because of his grandfather, Akbar. He received the education that was typical for a Mughal prince, but alongside, was also taught everything that would be required to be the future Mughal emperor. He received training on battle and leadership skills from Akbar, while Ruqaiya taught him the significance and application of righteous principles. Through the aid of both these parental figures in Khurram’s life, he was able to gain ample knowledge and skills to solidify his future on the throne.

Khurram had great admiration for his grandfather, Akbar. Hence, when Akbar was on his deathbed, Khurram, at the age of 13, refused to leave his side even though the boattle to the throne led to unsafe circumstances. Jahangir was the one to claim the throne after he defeated a rebellion against him initiated by one of Khurram‘s half-brothers. Due to this incident, Khurram grew closer to his father. In 1605, after Akbar’s death, Khurram returned to his biological parents. However, the love and care he had received from Akbar and Ruqaiya remained unparalleled. In Jahangir’s autobiography “Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri”, he professes that even though Khurram was his son, Ruqaiya Begum had loved him a thousand times more than he, himself, ever could.

As a teenager, Khurram was not interested in political affairs, instead he opted to concentrate on his studies and training. In 1607, Jahangir gave him the title of “Hisar Firoza'', which was typically given to the heir of the throne. This created buzz in the kingdom as people now thought that he was the definite successor of Jahangir. In 1607, Khurram was also engaged to Arjumand Banu Begum, a member of a noble Persian family, at the age of 15. They proceeded to get married four years later. Khurram truly loved Arjumand, so much so that she was named “Mumtaz Mahal”, meaning “the chosen one of the palace”, due to the preferential treatment she received from her husband.

Khurram first got to show off his military abilities in 1614, at the mere age of 22, when he led Mughals to victory by commanding an army of 200,000 soldiers during the Mughals’ battle with the Rajputs in Mewar. In 1617, Khurram, again, successfully handled an uprising by the Lodi Empire in the Deccan. This accomplishment earned him the title of “Shah Jahan”, meaning “king of the world” in Persian, by his father. Shah Jahan would then become his more recognized name.

While carrying out his father’s missions, Shah Jahan derived a newfound ambition to be the next Mughal emperor. In fact, he was getting restless for it. Meanwhile, his relationship with his father was turning sour due to Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan’s insistence on making her own son-in-law the successor of the throne. This forced Shah Jahan to lead a battalion against his own father in 1622. However, after a four year long fight, Shah Jahan faced defeat and had to surrender the throne for the time being.

A year later, in 1627, Jahangir passed away and Nur Jahan announced her son-in-law, Prince Shahryar, as the next Mughal emperor. However, little did they know that Shah Jahan was scheming to retrieve his rightful place to the throne. Asaf Khan, the father of Mumtaz Mahal and the brother of Nur Jahan, wanted Shah Jahan to be the next emperor. With his help, Shahryar was dethroned and a decoy emperor was placed in his stead to keep the seat secured for Shah Jahan. Finally, in 1628, Shah Jahan claimed the throne and became the next Mughal emperor.

Soon after coming into power, Nur Jahan was forced into retirement, yet receiving a substantial amount of pension alongside executing all his half-brothers, to reinforce his rule even further and eliminate all competition. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Shah Jahan set out to expand the Mughal territories even farther throughout southern Asia. He took over Rajput territories in Baglana, Mewar and Bundelkhand, and conquered the citadel at Daulatabad in Maharashtra. Many additional territories were annexed by his sons, especially Aurangzeb. Furthermore, at the age of 18, Aurangzeb was made the viceroy of the Deccan as he had proven himself capable by displaying excellent military skills. In 1638, Shah Jahan and his sons conquered the Safavid ruled region of Kandahar. This enraged the Persians and in the late 1640s, they revolted against Shah Jahan and was successful in defeating him as his army was dwindling. Despite this, under Shah Jahan, the Mughal empire expanded more than it ever had before.

While Shah Jahan’s military prowess was nothing to dismiss, his cultural influence was even grander. During his rule, the Mughal empire saw its golden age with art and architecture. Shah Jahan had an affinity towards jewels and gems, hence his palaces and forts were refurbished to adorn them with such glimmering and extravagant stones; including walls entirely covered in gemstones. Shah Jahan was also the one responsible for the creation of the renowned Peacock throne, which was a lavish seat made with countless of the most valuable stones, including diamonds, emeralds, pearls and rubies, and is estimated to be worth millions even now. Several of the world’s most monumental buildings were also erected during Shah Jahan’s reign, including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid of Delhi and Moti Mosque of Lahore and, most notably, the Taj Mahal of Agra. 

In 1631, after bearing 14 children, Mumtaz Mahal died of postpartum complications following the birth of her last child. Her sudden death devastated Shah Jahan to the point where he isolated himself from his empire and its duties for an entire year. When he did come back, he was in a haggard condition. To commemorate his wife, he authorized the creation of the Taj Mahal in 1632, planning, managing and overseeing the development of it in its entirety by himself. It would be the most extravagant tomb the world had ever seen, only for Mumtaz Mahal. The mausoleum was under construction for twenty years and included the effort of 20,000 workers from near and far. It is created entirely of white marble, adorned with valuable gems and stones. The Taj Mahal is now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and an ancient heritage visited and admired by millions.

Despite leading a prosperous and grand life, Shah Jahan was met with a miserable death. He fell severely ill in 1658. Dara Shikoh, his son, took the role of a substitute for his father in the meanwhile. This showed the clear bias Shah Jahan had regarding the future emperor. However, his other sons, already in significant positions of power, were ready to fight for the throne. Aurangzeb, being the most politically skilled, deemed his father unfit to rule even after Shah Jahan had recovered, and put him under house arrest. After executing his brothers, Aurangzeb was able to rise to the throne and become the next Mughal emperor.

Meanwhile, Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the Agra Fort for eight long years. It is said that he spent those years sadly staring at his wife’s magnificent tomb. In January of 1666, he fell ill again and, this time, did not have the chance to recover. On the 22nd of January, 1666, at the age of 74, Shah Jahan passed away. His eldest daughter, Jahanara Begum, took care of him in his last years. After a life filled with success and extravagance, Shah Jahan faced a cruel end. He was buried in the Taj Mahal next to his beloved wife.

As the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan made significant strides and achievements in his thirty years on the throne. During his reign, his empire remained politically stable while also expanding substantially. Shah Jahan will always be remembered as the pioneer of major artistic advancements of his time. He has left behind an architectural legacy that will remain admired and unforgettable for centuries.

The writer is Chairperson of Siddiqui's International School & Treasurer of Bangladesh English Medium Schools' Assistance Foundation (BEMSAF)

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