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Old Tuesday, November 28, 2006
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Default The Reign of Shah Jahan, 1628-1658

The Reign of Shah Jahan, 1628-1658


Prince Khurram was 35 years old when he ascended the throne as Shah Jahan (King of the World). Succeeding Jahangir in 1627, Shah Jahan enjoyed the support of experienced administrators and advisors -- like his father-in-law Asaf Khan -- who were holdovers from the previous reign.

Shah Jahan, notes Hambly, revived Akbar's policy of pressing southward against the independent Muslim Sultanate of the Deccan. But almost all of his expansion expeditions were unsuccessful. 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.

During the early years of his reign, Shah Jahan preferred Agra to Delhi as a place of residence. This preference is reflected in his selection of Agra as the site for a number of building ventures including the world's most famous and beautiful mausoleum, Taj Mahal. Many historians have -- perhaps unfairly -- accused Shah Jahan of building the glorious tomb as a tribute to himself and his rule rather than as a tribute to his wife.

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. Blair and Bloom write that 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, note Bloom and Blair, 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, write Blair and Bloom, is a congregational mosque known today as the Moti (Pearl) Mosque because of the translucent white marble used on the interior. The mosque, continue Blair and Bloom, 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.

According to Blair and Bloom, 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, continue Blair and Bloom, 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. According to Blair and Bloom, 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, note Bloom and Blair, 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. Hambly writes that in the 17th century, 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, write Blair and Bloom. 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, note Blair and Bloom, 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.

According to Blair and Bloom, 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, note Blair and Bloom, 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, write Blair and Bloom. 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, continue Blair and Bloom.

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, writes Hambly. He was a Sufi and a religious eclectic who had translated the Upanishads into Persian.

Aurangzeb, notes Hambly, 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, writes Hambly, 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, writes Hambly, 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. After his death, Shah Jahan was buried there beside his dead queen, Mumtaz Mahal.
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