Shah Jahan

mughal art

Shah Jahan, padishah of the Mughal Empire from 1627 to 1658, is famous primarily for three things: the construction of the Taj Mahal mausoleum, the transfer of the capital from Agra to Delhi (200 miles north of Agra) and also the fable-like wealth of his treasury. The great-great-grandson of the founding father of the empire, Babur, was very ambitious as a ruler, but not very successful as a commander. His wars with Persia were ultimately lost, the economic situation of the state was on the brink of default, and he himself was captured by his own son, who imprisoned him in his own treasury, where he died.

Shah Jahan is a coronation name. Before accession to the throne, the future ruler bore the name given at birth, that of Khurram. According to Mongol rules (and the Great Mughals were ethnic descendants of the ruler of the Chagatai Ulus of Mongolian origin Timur Tamerlane) the ending “bagatur” (man-of-war) was added to the name of a noble commander or a member of the ruling family. The heir to the throne was called Shahzade by the Mughals. Thus, until the very end of 1627, Shah Jahan bore the name of Shahzade Khurram Bagatur.

Shahzade Khurram-bagatur was the favorite of his grandfather, padishah Akbar (grandson of the founder of the empire Babur). When he was born, his grandfather himself chose the name Khurram for him meaning Joy. The birth of a grandson was indeed good news for him. The fact is that his wife Rukaiya (one of the six wives of the padishah who bore the title of the “beloved wife”) was sterile yet the fortune-teller had prophesied to her that she would still have a child who would become the new emperor of the Baburid dynasty.

Padishah Akbar assured her that the fortune-teller was not mistaken. So what if he and his wife were 50 years old, nothing is impossible for Allah. At this moment, the third child was born to Crown Prince Selim (future emperor under the name Jahangir). Padishah Akbar considered it a heavenly sign. As soon as Khurram was 6 days old, his grandfather took him to himself and gave him to be raised by his beloved wife. Grandmother Rukaiya replaced Khurram’s mother. Padishah Jahangir wrote in his memoirs that Rukaiya loved his son a hundred times more than the boy’s own mother.

Khurram received an excellent education in military skills, poetry and art. His teachers were the best scholars and warriors of the empire. Khurram grew up as an educated and well-rounded youth. Later, becoming the padishah, he patronized scholars and poets, planted beauty and splendour everywhere in his court. During the reign of Shah Jahan, the jewels inherited by Babur during the conquest of Agra were combined into a single treasury, in particular, the famous Kohinoor diamond weighing 105 carats, which in our time is one of the main adornments of the crown of Elizabeth II. By order of Shah Jahan, the famous Peacock Throne was made, which was taken to Persia after the fall of the Mughal Empire and was dismantled there.

Precious stones embedded in the throne have survived (such as the Shah Diamond weighing 88.7 carats, now kept in the Diamond Collection in the Moscow Kremlin, the Ruby of Timur weighing 361 carats, kept in the Indian room of Buckingham Palace, the Great Moghul Diamond, the biggest diamond ever found in India (after cutting it had a weight of 279 carats) from which the famous Orlov Diamond was later made and inserted into the scepter of the Russian emperors currently also on display at the Diamond Collection of the Kremlin). A Russian agent who witnessed the sending of the Peacock Throne to Persia reported that the 21 camels used to haul the parcel carried 5 tons of diamonds, emeralds and rubies, half a ton of small diamonds and a load of pearls which no one bothered to count so numerous they were. The throne carcass weighed 2 tons of pure gold. Unfortunately, its fate was lost in history.

Padishah Akbar died when Khurram was 14 years old. Khurram loved his grandfather so much that he refused to leave his bedside even when they tried to drag him away by force. After the death of the padishah he was allowed to return to his father (who now became the padishah himself while Khurram was now shahzade Khurram-bagatur) and his mother, whom he had practically never seen or known during his childhood and youth.

During the reign of his father, Shah Jahan served as governor of large provinces. Several times he rebelled against his father who by the end of his life turned into a weak-willed drunkard and on whose behalf the court schemers ruled. The last mutiny was crowned with success. In 30 years, the same fate would await Shah Jahan himself who would be overthrown by his son Aurangzeb. After his death, Shah Jahan was buried in the recently completed mausoleum, which he had been building all his life (20 years) for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1632 while giving birth to her fourteenth child.