Shah Jahan


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Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan assumed the Mughal throne on 24 January 1628 in Agra, a few days after the death of Jahangir. He inherited a vast and rich empire; and at mid-century this was perhaps the greatest empire in the world, exhibiting a degree of centralized control rarely matched before. Shah Jahan expanded his empire in all directions: he annexed the Rajput kingdoms of Baglana and Bundelkhand to the west, and in 1635 he captured the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda in the Deccan. The king of Bijapur offered some resistance, but was eventually compelled to capitulate to the Mughal army's superior might. Shah Jahan also captured petty kingdoms in Kashmir and the Himalayas.

Due to his conquests in the first decade, the empire grew in size and influence. Encouraged by this, Shah Jahan turned his eyes towards Central Asia in the 1640s. He fought the Uzbeks in Balkh for several years before giving up. The other disastrous campaign was against the Safavids of Persia, who ruled Qandahar. Shah Jahan mounted three campaigns against the Safavids, but each of them failed completely. Though Balkh and Qandarhar constituted, in a manner of speaking, the ancestral homeland of the Mughals, their ambitions were thwarted by the harsh realities of cold weather, distance, scanty resources, and determined local resistance.

SShah Jahan has left behind an extraordinary architectural legacy. It was at his command that the Taj Mahal was built in Agra in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This mausoleum, made of white marble, took seventeen years to complete, and has intricate carvings and designs. His "Peacock Throne", which was to have a chequered history in later years, set the tone for a new era of ceremonial display. It featured precious stones embedded in gold. In 1648, he moved his court to the newly constructed capital, Shahjahanabad, at Delhi. Shahjahanabad was a carefully designed courtly city. 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 such structure in India. Shah Jahan kept his architects and artisans occupied by numerous other ventures.

It is certainly arguable that the Mughal Empire achieved its greatest prosperity under Shah Jahan. His traditional biographers have suggested that his military campaigns were organized with diligence, and judging from the hospitals and rest houses built in his reign, he appears not to have been devoid of a social conscience. He is said to have donated liberally to the poor and dispensed justice fairly. Poetry and music flourished in his reign. Yet it is indisputably clear that he had to exhaust the revenues of the state, and tax the peasants at exorbitant rates, to satisfy his craving for monunmental architecture. Nor was he as religiously tolerant as Akbar or Jahangir, and it has been argued that some Hindu temples were destroyed in his reign. In 1658, Shah Jahan became very ill and, not unpredictably, a violent battle for succession broke out between his four sons, Dara Shikoh, Murad, Aurangzeb and Shuja. Though Shah Jahan favored the liberal Dara Shikoh, who championed a syncretistic Hindu-Muslim culture, it was Aurangzeb who eventually triumphed in the succession struggle by methodically eliminating his brothers. Aurangzeb captured Shah Jahan on 8 June 1658, and had him jailed at the Agra Fort, from where the old emperor could look wistfully at the glorious Taj. Shah Jahan died in captivity.

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