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Old Tuesday, November 28, 2006
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Default The Reign of Jahangir, 1605-1627

The Reign of Jahangir, 1605-1627

During his 50-year reign, Akbar accumulated much wealth from the political and commercial centers in northern India. His immediate successors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, were able to surround themselves with a splendor and opulence unequaled by any other Muslim dynasty.

From the beginning, Jahangir's life was overshadowed by the achievements of his father Akbar. Jahangir grew up resentful of his masterful parents and bitterly jealous of his father's long-established coterie of advisers who must have interfered between father and son. Hambly writes that despite Jahangir's acute intelligence, the Mughal ruler was generally indifferent to the larger interests of the empire. Moreover, he lacked any obvious inclination for warfare and was bored by the humdrum details of day-to-day administration. Jahangir was self-indulgent and sensual with a streak of cruelty that emanated from a weak personality.

Despite Jahangir's disinterest in expansion, the imperial frontiers continued to move forward -- in Bengal, Mewar and Ahamadnagar. The only major reversal to the expansion came in 1622 when Shah Abbas, the Safavid ruler of Iran, captured Kandahar with impunity.

Jahangir lived under the spell of personalities that were more colorful than his own; the most influential of these personalities was the beautiful Nur Jahan whom he married in 1611. Nur Jahan then became the real ruler of the empire until the death of her husband Jahangir.

Nur Jahan's Persian grandfather was in the service of Shah Tahmasb; the grandfather died in Yazd laden with honors. His heirs, however, soon fell upon hard times, and his son, Mirza Ghiyas al-Din Muhammad, was forced to set out for India with his family. In 1577, during the trip to India, his wife gave birth at Kandahar to a eautiful daughter, Mihr al-Nisa (Sun of Women). Later, Jahangir would give Mihr al-Nisa the name of Nur Mahal (Light of the Palace) which he later expanded to Nur Jahan (Light of the World).

Mihr al-Nisa's father, Mirza Ghiyas al-Din Muhammad, made his way to Akbar's court at Fatehpur Sikri and rose rapidly in the imperial hierarchy. He held many important positions including that of diwan of Kabul; he ended his days with the rank of commander and the proud title of Itimad al-Dawleh (Pillar of the State). His son, Asaf Khan, was an urbane and affable courtier and a sharp fiscal administrator who secured the favor of both Jahangir and Shah Jahan, writes Hambly.

The son attained the highest provincial governorships and finally the rank of commander-in-chief. Hambly notes that in 1612, a year after Mihr al-Nisa's marriage to Jahangir, Asaf Khan arranged for his daughter, Arjumand Banu Begum, to marry Prince Khurram, one of Jahangir's younger sons. Fifteen years later, Khurram would ascend to the throne as the emperor Shah Jahan. Nur Jahan's niece would win immortality as Mumtaz Mahal, the woman in whose honor the Taj Mahal was built.

According to Hambly, Jahangir's wife, Nur Jahan, was an excellent conversationalist, a fine judge of Persian poetry and a poet herself. Her accomplishments made her an irresistible companion for the emperor. Nur Jahan was a patron of painting and architecture whose interests also extended to the decoration of rooms as well as the designing of ornaments, brocades, rugs and dresses. The fashions in women's clothing that she adopted were still in vogue at the end of the 16th century.

Nur Jahan was Jahangir's favorite companion. She shared his interests in fine artistic objects and precious stones. Nur Jahan also assisted Jahangir in the layout and design of Persian gardens like the beautiful Shalimar-Bagh on the Dal Lake in Kashmir.

Jahangir's love of flowers and animals is reflected in the numerous miniatures painted by artists who shared their master's keen eye for the beauties of wild nature. Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of James I of England, was amazed at Jahangir's knowledge and discriminating taste where pictures were concerned.

Jahangir was not particularly interested in architecture, but one of the buildings that dates from his reign ranks among the finest achievements of the Mughal spirit. This is the tomb of Mirza Ghiyath Beg, usually known by his title I'timad ad-Dawlah (Pillar of the State), built at Agra by Nur Jahan (Light of the World) for her father who died in 1622. The tomb stands in a quadripartite garden. The enclosure walls, a guest-house on the river Yamuna and the podium are made of traditional red sandstone inlaid with colored marble.

Blair and Bloom note that the tomb of I'timad ad-Dawlah is the first structure in India in which white marble replaces red sandstone as the ground for polychrome pietra dura inlay. The tomb, measuring about 22 yards on a side, contains a central tomb chamber surrounded by square and rectangular rooms decorated with carved painted plaster in the Persianate style. Blair and Bloom write that broad octagonal towers, like minarets, mark the corners, and a small pavilion or upper story rises above the roof. Three arched openings on each side provide shadows which contrast with the gleaming surface, while the cornice and eaves mark strong horizontal lines.

According to Blair and Bloom, the modest, jewel-like building is remarkable for its delicate but exuberant decoration and warm tonality. The traditional technique of inlay has changed; opus sectile, marble intarsia of various colors, has been replaced by pietra dura, in which hard and rare stones such as lapis, onyx, jasper, topaz, carnelian and agate were embedded in the marble.

Traditional geometric designs and arabesques are combined with representational motifs of drinking cups, vases with flowers, cypress trees and visual descriptions of Paradise from the Holy Qur'an. Blair and Bloom add that the intricate inlay in yellow, brown, gray and black, contrasting with the smooth white marble, prefigures the later phase of white marble garnished with gold and precious stones that marks the most sumptuous buildings constructed under later Mughal patronage.
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Default Jahangir Part I



Jahangir (1569-1627), the fourth Mughal Emperor of India and patron of the arts, ruled for 22 years.


Jahangir was an amicable, liberal Muslim - an emperor who loved painting, architecture, and the fine arts. A successful and benevolent ruler, he cherished the well-being of his Indian subjects, revered both Hindu and Muslim saints, and improved social conditions without interfering with customs. But Jahangir was not without military ambitions. A capable soldier, he dreamt of conquering Transoxiana, the seat of the government of the early Timurids.
Jahangir was a child of many prayers - the eldest son of Akbar, one of the most notable rulers in Islamic history, and his Rajput wife Jodh Bai. The boy was brought up with all possible care and affection and when he grew up, arrangements were made for his education at the new capital, Fatehpur-Sikri. Expert tutors taught the prince Persian, Turki, Arabic, Hindi, arithmetic, history, and geography, but he was most influenced by Abdur Rahim Khan Khana, a versatile genius, soldier, and successful diplomat. Under his guidance, Prince Salim (Jahangir) also mastered the technique of composing verses.



Anxious For The Throne
In compliance with the time, the prince was also given training in civil and military administration. During the Kabul expedition of 1581, he was placed in charge of a regiment of troops and subsequently conducted independent military expeditions. In 1585, he was elevated to the rank of an army officer, commanding 12,000 men. Unfortunately, he was familiar with wine at an early age and became addicted to the good life. He was also impatient. An estrangement developed between father and son due to the prince's scheming ambition to succeed to his father's throne without the customary death of his father. When Akbar was persuaded by his favorite courtier Abul Fazl to develop a brotherhood of "seekers" who viewed the emperor as divinely inspired and hailed him with the phrase allahu akbar, in 1602 the prince had Abul Fazl murdered. Akbar was so depressed by the death of his friend that he did not appear in public for three days. But there was no other reliable successor. Desperate to keep the dynasty alive, in 1605, a dying Akbar (from poisoning traceable to the prince) reluctantly had his imperial turban placed on the head of his eldest son.
A week later, Salim succeeded to the throne at Agra at the age of 36, assuming the name Nur-ud-din Muhammad Jahangir. But he was soon disturbed by the impatience of his own eldest son, Khusrau. When Prince Khusrau's troops were defeated by the imperial forces near Jullunder, the captive prince suffered total humiliation; Janhagir had his son ride along a street lined with the impaled bodies of his recent supporters. Khusrau had neither the capacity to organize a successful revolt nor moral and material support of any influential party in the state, and the people had no desire to have him as their ruler. Jahangir then turned to Sikh Guru Arjun, who had given money to the rebellious Khusrau, and fined him for his offence. But Guru Arjun refused to pay. Though the Sikh was subjected to torture until he died, evidence shows that the Sikh religious leaders suffered only when they interfered in politics. Jahangir did not persecute the Sikhs out of hand.

In fact, Jahangir was determined to dispense justice fairly. One of his earliest orders was the setting up of a "chain of justice" made of gold. Anyone who failed to secure justice might pull the end outside the Agra fort in order to draw the attention of the emperor so that the latter might redress his grievances.
Internal disturbances in India prompted the Shah of Persia to make a bid for the fortress of Kandahar. Owing to its strategic and commercial importance, the fort was a bone of contention between Persia and India during the middle ages. After the death of the second Mughal ruler Humayun, it was given to Shah Husain Mirza by the Persian emperor. Though Akbar had recovered it in 1594, it had again passed into Persian hands. Three attempts were made to recapture the fortress, but the Mughal armies were unsuccessful. These repeated failures had diminished the prestige of the Empire.


Jahangir Gains Territories And Erects Statues And Mosques
In pursuance of his father's policy of imperialism, Jahangir aimed at the conquest of the entire country. In 1605, he sent his second son to reduce Rana Amar Singh, a Hindu ruler, to submission. It was not easy to conquer the great fort of Chittor. In 1608, the Emperor sent another force. Eventually a treaty of peace was signed in 1615. Because the Rana recognized the suzerainty of Jahangir, the Mughal emperor restored all his territory, including Chittor. Jahangir's treaty is a landmark in the history of the relations between Mewar and Delhi. No ruler of the Sishodia dynasty had ever before openly professed allegiance to a Mughal ruler and a long-drawn struggle came to an end. Subsequently, Jahangir placed two lifesize marble statues of the Rana and his son in the gardens of his palace at Agra. By granting generous terms and adopting a conciliatory policy, Jahangir secured Mewar's loyalty for the empire which lasted until his grandson's (Emperor Aurangzeb) policy alienated Rana Raj Singh.
Jahangir's Deccan policy was a continuation of that of Akbar's which, following ancient Hindu traditions, treated the north and south as indivisible parts of one country. It was the emperor's desire to annex Ahmadnagar and, if possible, the two remaining independent states of Bijapur and Golkunda. Jahangir placed his son, Prince Khurram, in command of his army in 1613 and ordered him to lead a number of campaigns against Rajput forces in Mewar and Kanga, and the Deccani sultanates of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, and Golkonda. The long siege of Kanga was brought to a successful end in 1629. This was the most notable military achievement of Jahangir's reign, prompting him to visit the place of conquest and build mosques there.
The complete success of the Mughal army over the forces of Ahmadnagar was not possible, however, owing in part to the strength of the Deccan kingdom and in part to the inferiority of Mughal weapons. Not only did Ahmadnagar defy the Mughal advance, but successful opposition came from an able Abyssinian named Malik Ambar, a former slave, who prepared for a war by training the mountaineers of Maharasthra in guerrilla tactics (later perfected by the great Hindu ruler Shivaji to the despair of Emperor Aurangzeb). When the Mughals had partial success in 1616, Prince Khurram was rewarded by Jahangir with the title of Shah Jahan ("King of the World"). But the Deccan was far from conquered.
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Default Jahangir Part II

Wife And Son Vie For Power


The most important development in the first half of Jahangir's reign had been the rise of his favorite wife Nur Jahan ("Light of the World") and the emergence of this third son Khurram (whose mother was a Rajput princess). Nur Jahan was a lady of great energy and many talents. Because of her, Persian poets and artists, architects, and musicians flocked to the Mughal court at Agra. She became an effective political power in India. But Shah Jahan was the leading contender for his father's mantle, and Nur Jahan resented his growing influence.
Nur Mahal's first step was simply to persuade the suggestible Jahangir that Shah Jahan should leave court, get away from the center of affairs, and return to military service against rival kings in the Deccan. Shah Jahan accepted the commission in ill grace, and took with him Khusrau, who had remained popular despite his rebellion and had a strong claim to the throne. Hearing that Jahangir's health was worsening and that his death was imminent, Shah Jahan's first act was to kill this brother, who would otherwise have become the center of a rival faction.
In 1623, Shah Jahan marched in open rebellion toward Agra. At Nur Mahal's behest an imperial army set out to track down Shah Jahan's forces, but the shrewd prince evaded his pursuers rather than meet them at a military disadvantage. The rebellious Shah Jahan was chased around southeast India for three years before finally agreeing to return to his father's fold.
Meanwhile, Jahangir held an impressive court. For one thing, he was fond of religious discourse. Sir Thomas Roe of England would testify that the Emperor accorded equal welcome to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Once again, Hindu festivals like Rakhi, Dasahra, etc., were allowed to be celebrated. Because of his father, Jahangir had come in contact with the Jesuits at an early age and treated them with great courtesy. He was too good a Muslim and too proud a Mughal, however, to convert to Christianity as they had hoped. The veneration he showed to the paintings of Jesus and Mary was due to his passion for works of art. Though in the spirit of the times there were incidents of fanaticism, for the most part Jahangir followed the policy of Akbar in showing general tolerance for Christianity and contributing large sums for the erection of churches.
Soon the Jesuit mission at the Mughal court assumed the character and functions of an embassy with the intention of outplaying the English and furthering the interests of the Portuguese. But Portuguese power, owing to its contempt for orientals, was already on the decline. The English seized the opportunity and made a significant impression on Jahangir. English trade was then secured.
In 1608, Captain William Hawkins arrived with a letter from James I of England. Though the emperor was impressed, the Portuguese effectively prevented Hawkins from gaining any tangible success from his mission. In 1615, came the aforementioned Sir Thomas Roe, England's first official ambassador to India, who tried to secure from the Mughal ruler a trade agreement for the young East India Company. The Portuguese had a head start in the lucrative business of exporting calicoes and indigo from India, and the Dutch also were ahead of the English. Though Roe failed to enter into any agreement with Jahangir, he secured some privileges for the English trading company that made it a factor in Indian politics. Roe's accounts provide valuable insight into the royal court.
A notable military success of Jahangir's reign was the capture of the strong fortress of Kangra in the northeast Punjab on November 16, 1620. But this event, which Jahangir found cause for exultation, was quickly followed by disasters and rebellions which continued until he died. Alienated by the intrigues of his wife Nur Jahan, his son Shah Jahan rose in rebellion against him. Facing Persian pressure from the northwest and the defection of Shah Jahan within the heart of the empire, Jahangir's situation was grave. Though Shah Jahan's rebellion ended in futility, it caused substantial damage to the empire.

Reign An Era Of Family Strife And Notable Architecture
Jahangir's reign was noted for architectural works. When his chief minister Itimad-ud-daulah died in 1622, his daughter, the powerful Nur Jahan, commissioned the construction in white marble of his exquisite tomb at Agra which was finished in 1628. Unlike the much larger Taj Mahal, with which it ranked in quality, the appeal of the tomb depended on its decoration. It looked like a brilliant casket, bejewelled with various styles of inlay. Its two major innovations - the extensive use of white marble as a material and inlay as a decorative motif - were to become the distinguishing features of the greatest period of Mughal architecture.
The high quality of both paintings and coins during Jahangir's reign was a direct result of the emperor's personal interest. Having grown up at Fatehpur-Sikri in the busy days of Akbar's studio, he was a keen student of technique and claimed to be able to tell which master had painted the eye and eyebrow in a face and which the rest of the portrait. In addition, he seems to have invented and commissioned from his artists a new style of political allegory in art which, however self-congratulatory and vain, provided some of the most magnificent paintings of the period. One such picture claims to celebrate a new spirit of peace with his Persian neighbor, Shah Abbas.
Toward the end of Jahangir's reign, Nur Jahan took a more active role in the government and appointed her politically adroit brother, Asaf Khan, as the premier of the realm. In 1626, brother and sister decided to attack the powerful Mahabat Khan. An Afghan by birth, Mahabat Khan realized the precarious situation and so marched north with 5,000 Rajput troops toward the imperial camp on the bank of the Jhelum. As Jahangir and Nur Jahan traveled to Kabul, Mahabat Khan took the emperor prisoner. Though Jahangir managed to escape with the help of a clever scheme by Nur Jahan, Mahabat Khan then joined forces with Shah Jahan. The prince was now stronger than ever.

A shaken emperor turned north to the only place where he now found solace. For several years, he had made an almost annual journey to Kashmir. There, he had found a natural paradise, but he and his court had done much to make it an artificial one. The Mughal gardens, which are one of the main glories of Srinagar, are the direct result of his enthusiasm. The Shalimar Bagh, built by Jahangir, is distinguished by a series of pavilions on carved pillars, surrounded by pools with seats which can only be reached by stepping stones.

When Jahangir died in October on 1627 in a village at the foot of the Kashmir hills, Asaf Khan betrayed his sister by backing his son-in-law, Shah Jahan. Informed by Asaf's courier of his father's death, Shah Jahan rushed north to claim his throne, reaching the capital in 1628. Nur Jahan was pensioned off and went to live in solitude in Lahore until she died in 1645.
While some European historians consider Jahangir as a fickle-minded tyrant, Indian authors regard him as a just and noble ruler. Most writers now agree that he was a highly educated and cultured man. His autobiography is a testimony of his interest in subjects like botany and zoology. Among the notable buildings renovated by him, Akbar's tomb at Sikandra is the most remarkable. He altered its design and partly rebuilt it. Under his patronage, a great mosque was built in Lahore; it rivals the grand mosque in Delhi, built by his son, Shah Jahan.

But he did not possess the high idealism and genius of Akbar. The administrative machinery of his father was allowed to remain untouched. The vakil (chief minister) remained the highest dignitary next to the emperor. A liberal ruler, he made no departure from his father's policy of admitting Hindus to higher public services. On the whole, Jahangir was a successful ruler and his people were well off. Agriculture, industries, and commerce flourished. Jahangir's diary is brimming with his ideas for promoting social justice and administrative efficiency, and in most cases he tried to follow or outdo the liberal ideas of his father, but he was less successful in putting them into effect.
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