Shah Jahan

Jahangir died in 1627. His son Shah Jahan (ruled 1627–58) assumed the throne at the age of 35, after a brief but bloody succession struggle that was resolved by the execution of two brothers and several adult male cousins. At the time, Shah Jahan was already a mature general in his father’s armies. Over the course of his reign he maintained Mughal military dominance against challenges from Afghan nobles, through campaigns in Sind, and against regional rulers in Central India. He ruled a mature empire, enormous in size and wealth, where the revenues from a large district in Lahore or Agra brought in more than 1 million rupees each year.

Shah Jahan was a seasoned general, and his army overall was largerthan it had been in Akbar’s time. Yet he spent a smaller proportion of  his wealth on military and government officials than had his grandfather. Instead he directed a series of spectacular building projects. For his coronation he had the Peacock Throne constructed. At the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, he commissioned the Taj Mahal as an eventual tomb for both their bodies. In 1639 he ordered a new capital city, Shajahanabad, to be built on a site just south of Delhi. When finished in 1648, the new city contained a great royal fortress and the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. During Shah Jahan’s reign, a Sufi revival movement was urging Sunni Muslims to adhere strictly to the orthodox sharia laws. Perhaps this, as much as personal inclination, accounts for the more Muslim style of Shah Jahan’s rule. He celebrated Islamic festivals with great enthusiasm and resumed sponsorship of a yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. Beginning in 1633 he enforced sharia laws forbidding the repair of churches or temples. In his relations with court nobles he abandoned the personal discipleship encouraged by his father and grandfather, emphasizing instead the long-standing familial ties Muslim nobles had with Mughal rulers. By the middle of his reign all the highest nobles and 80 percent of middle-ranking mansabdars were Muslim. Conflict among Shah Jahan’s adult sons (and their court factions) preoccupied the last years of the emperor’s reign. Dara Shukoh, the emperor’s favorite and appointed heir, shared his great-grandfather’s  ecumenical interest in religion. He had had the Upanishads translated into Persian and believed that they reflected a monotheistic religious sensibility that was, at its core, Islamic. Dara attracted those at court who yearned for a return to Akbar’s more religiously diverse court. At the opposite pole was Shah Jahan’s third son, Aurangzeb. An excellent

Jama Masjid, New Delhi. Built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, this is one of the largest and finest mosques in India.

military commander and experienced administrator, Aurangzeb was a pious Muslim. “He pretended to be a faquir (faqir), a holy mendicant,” observed an unsympathetic Italian at the court, “by which he renounced the world, gave up all claim to the crown, and was content to pass his life in prayers and mortifications” (Richards 1995, 153). Aurangzeb attracted those who wanted a court committed to Islam and the institution of a religiously orthodox state. When Shah Jahan fell seriously ill in 1657, these two court factions turned the Mughal military inward upon itself. The struggle for succession lasted two years. It ended with Aurangzeb (ruled 1658–1707) as emperor; his father, Shah Jahan, imprisoned; and all three of his brothers dead. Dara Shukoh was executed after the Delhi ulama convicted him of apostasy and idolatry.

Taj Mahal, Agra.The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial and resting place for his favorite wife, Arjurnand Bano Begam (otherwise known as Mumtaz Mahal,“ornament of the palace”).They were married in 1612, and all 14 of Shah Jahan’s subsequent children were hers. She died in 1631, at the age of 39, giving birth to her 15th child. Construction of the Taj, which would provide a tomb for the bodies of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, began in 1632.

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