Shah Jahan whose early name was Khurram was one of the four sons of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The other sons were Khusroo, Parvez and Shahariyar.
Among the sons Khurram was most favorite of his father and grandfather Akbar. He was born on 5th January 1592 in Lahore. His mother Jagat Gosain or Jodha Bai was the daughter of Rajput ruler Udai Singh of Marwar.
Jahangir married her in 1586. Khurram was very intelligent, talented bold and handsome. So Akbar loved him the most. He was given the best care and attention by his father and grandfather in the very beginning of his life and career. He became proficient in Persian, Turki and Hindi literature.
He received proper physical education and soon became an efficient rider, able swordsman and a confident shooter of arrows. All these qualities made him an efficient commander and one of the best Generals. Dr. B.P. Saxena says, “Like his father he became a skillful shot both with rifle and bow and arrow and indefatigable rider, an excellent swordsman and a keen lover of all field sport”. Khurram was a man of extraordinary ability and capacity.
In 1607, he was given the mansab of 8000 zat and 5000 sawar which was a grand achievement for a prince. In 1608 he was appointed as the governor of the province of Hissar Feroza which was usually allotted to the prince heir-apparent. In 1611, his mansab was enhanced to 10,000 zat and 5000 sawar. Though he had married to many ladies of high noble families but his marriage with Mumtaj Mahal was very significant.
Mumtaj Mahal or Arjumand Banu Begum was the daughter of Asaf Khan, the brother of Queen Nurjahan. That is why Khurram was a powerful member of the Nurjahan Junta party. During this period his power and prestige reached its zenith. Khurram loved his wife Arjumand Banu Begum very much and bestowed the title of Mumtaj Mahal on her. She was also very much devoted to her husband. She became the mother of fourteen children among them were Dara, Shuja, Aurangazeb and Murad. She breathed her last in 1631 while she was giving birth to her fourteenth child. Sahajahan was very much shattered by the sad demise of his beloved wife Mumtaj and got the Taj Mahal built in her memory which stands today as a unique symbol of love.
Sahajahan’s accession to the throne was a story of long struggle and strife. He was in the good books of Nurjahan till he was loyal to her as an obedient member of the Nurjahan Junta. The moment he rebelled against his father for the throne, he was given a stiff opposition from the side of Nurjahan. However with the help of his father-in-law Asaf Khan, he could defeat and kill Sahariyar who was projected by Nuijahan as the next emperor.
Jahangir died in 1627 and in the very next year in 1628 Khurram ascended the throne and assumed the title of Abul Muzaffar Shahbuddin Mohammad Sahib Kiran-i-Sani. He distributed a lot of wealth on that auspicious occasion. He offered the post of Wazir to his father-in-law, Asaf Khan. Mahabat Khan was also made the Mansab of 7000 zat and 7000 sarwar along with the title of Khan- i-Khana. Both had rendered a meritorious service to Sahajahan to ascend the throne. Nurjahan was given pension of Rs. two lakh per annum and was kept under house arrest. She died in 1645 A.D.
Shahjahan began his rule with vigour. At first he began with an orthodox policy which went against the liberal policy of Akbar. But he changed his attitude in right time and maintained the Mughal legacy of liberalism. Shahjan faced some rebellions in the early part of his reign. The Bundela chief Juhar Singh and the Afghan leader Khan Jahan Lodi revolted against the emperor Sahajahan. But he suppressed them with an iron hand. He also took strong steps to punish the Portuguese traders in Bengal who were indulged in slave trade.
North-West Frontier Policy:
There was a long drawn conflict between India and Persia over the possession of the fort of Kandhar. The Persian emperor conquered Kandhar during the reign of Jahangir and the frontier became unsafe. Though Shahjahan recaptured the fort, he had to house it again to the Persian ruler Shah Abbas II in 1648. It was a severe blow to the prestige of the Mughal Emperor. Shahjahan sent three expeditions one after another under the leadership of his two sons Aurangzeb and Dara but they failed. There was a great loss of men and money. And the North-west Frontier remained exposed to dangers.
The Central Asian policy of Shahjahan like his North-west Frontier policy ended in failure. He sent the Mughal army to conquer Samarkand. The Mughal army conquered Balkh and Badakhshan on the way. But the Mughal rule could not be established there as the local people were hostile to outsiders.
Further, the climate of the place did not suit them. Shahjahan tried his best to establish the Mughal rule even sending his most capable son Aurangazeb to Central Asia. The Uzbek tribes of Central Asia fought against the Mughals ferociously. Aurangzeb could not suppress them. Therefore, Shahjahan’s Central Asian dreams remained unfullfilled.
The Deccan Policy:
Shahjahan followed the Deccan policy of his predecessors. During the reign of Akbar, a part of Khandesh and Berar was annexed to the Mughal empire. Jahangir tried to conquer Ahmadnagar but he could not do it as its Prime Miniser Malik Ambar opposed the Mughal forces very bravely. He was a great warrior of his time.
After the death of Malik Amber, his son Fateh Khan became the Prime Minister of Ahamadnagar. He was a contemporary of Shahjahan. He was not in good terms with his ruler. Taking that opportunity, Shah Jahan paid heavy bribes to Fateh Khan and conquered Daulatabad. After that Ahmadnagar was annexed to the Mughal empire in 1633.
Shahjahan next proceeded against the rulers of Golkonda and Bijapur and they submitted to the Mughal ruler out of fear. They accepted the Mughal supremacy and paid huge tributes. Shahjahan appointed his third son Aurangzeb as the Governor of Deccan in 1636. After some time Aurangzeb left the Deccan to become the Governor of Gujarat and to head the Mughal army in Central Asian campaigns.
Aurangzeb became the Governor of Deccan for the second time in 1653. This time he wanted to annex Bijapur and Golkunda in the Mughal empire in order to take the credit. And another reason for this move was that Aurangzeb was an orthodox Sunni Muslim who hated the Shia Muslims of Bijapur and Golkunda. He invaded Golkunda in 1656. Golkunda was about to fall when he received the news from the emperor to stop the war.
Aurangzeb accused his elder brother Dara behind this political move not to allow him to take credit. Similarly, Aurangzeb had to stop the war against the state of Bijapur. Aurangzeb could not annex Golkunda and Bijapur and left for Delhi in 1657 after hearing the news of the illness of his father emperor Shahjahan. So the Deccan policy of Shahjahan was a mixture of successes and failures.
The Golden Age of the Mughals:
During the reign of Shahjahan, the Indo-Islamic architecture reached at its zenith which enhanced the glory of the Mughal rule. For his majestic achievements in the field of architecture, he is described as Shahjahan, the Magnificent. He outstripped his predecessors as a builder. His great grandfather Akbar had built the beautiful city at Fatehpur Sikri and the impressive gate-way named Buland Darwaza. It is said that “nothing like Sikri was ever created before or can be created again. It is a romance in stone.”
His father Jahangir had built a massive tomb of Akbar at Sikandra. He was more interested in painting. But Shahjahan proved to be the greatest builder among them. The Indo-Islamic architecture reached its highest point of glory under him. For this innovative idea some historians have described his time as the golden age of the Mughals.
Monuments of Shahjahan:
Though Akbar had built the Agra Fort, it was completely remodeled by Shahajahan with additional structures in marble. Shahjahan reconstructed the old buildings with marble stone. He also constructed some new marble buildings. Among them Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque and the Musamman Buri were most beautiful. The Moti Masjid which he constructed in the honour of his daughter Jahanara was one of the most beautiful mosques of India. It was in this beautiful building that Shahjahan spent the last years of his life as a prisoner.
The Red Fort:
Shahjahan’s next great creation was the Red Fort of Delhi. It took almost nine years for completion. The buildings inside the Red Fort are the Moti Mahal, Hira Mahal, Rang Mahal, the Diwan-i-Am and the Diwan-i-Khas. These are the most wonderful marble structures with attractive decorations. Out of them the Diwan-i- Khas was the most ornamented and decorated with precious stones. It was the special chamber of the Emperor. On its body it is written. “If there be a paradise on the earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”. The Red Fort is an architectural pride of India.
The Jamma or the Jam-i-Masjid of Delhi is another great creation of Shahjahan. It is a structure of red sandstone. It is huge and spacious in size. The entrance to the Mosque looks majestic. It took six years for completion.
The Taj Mahal:
The Taj Mahal at Agra is the best monument of Shahjahan. It is famous as one of the wonders of the world. He built it in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. The best builders from the Empire and also from abroad were engaged to build it. The foreign traveler Tavernier wrote that the Taj Mahal was built in 22 years and three crores was spent for its construction. It is indeed a “Dream in the marble.” It is the crowning glory of Indo-Islamic architecture.
Apart from all these architectures, Shahjahan made a beautiful and fabulous throne famous as the Peacock Throne for himself. It is said that precious jewels worth 86 lakh of rupees was spent for its construction at that time. One lakh tolas of gold were used in its body. When finished, the peacock throne became 3 yards x 21 yards, and 5 yards in height. Its canopy was covered with rubies and gems.
The canopy was supported by twelve pillars made of emerald. Two peacocks were designed on each pillar with gems fixed on them. Between each pair of peacocks, a tree was designed, with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and pearls fixed on it. This was like a fine piece of art made in jewels. Unfortunately this precious throne was taken away from India by invader Nadir Shah later on.
Shahjahan’s time was the golden age of the Mughals for its superb development in art and architecture. But beneath if, there were some signs of weakness which have created some amount of hesitations in the minds of the historians to give the credit of his age as golden age. The loss of Kandahar, tragedy in Central Asia, famines in Decean and Gujarat and above all, the war of succession which broke out, showed the darker side of Shahjahan’s regime.