Shah Jahan: Creator of the Taj Mahal and One of the Most Powerful Mughal Emperors
One of the most well-known buildings in India is the Taj Mahal in Agra, which was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan, more commonly known as Shah Jahan. This building, which houses the tomb of the emperor’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is so famous that one may say that it has overshadowed its builder. Although Shah Jahan is often associated only with the Taj Mahal, he achieved other accomplishments that are worth mentioning. After all, this is the man that some have considered as one of the most powerful Mughal emperors.
Portraits of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and his favorite wife – empress Mumtaz Mahal. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
Shah Jahan’s Family
Shah Jahan was born as Prince Khurram on January 5, 1592 in the city of Lahore (located today in Pakistan). His father was Jahangir, the fourth Mughal emperor and his mother was a Hindu Rajput princess by the name of Taj Bibi Bilqis Makani.
As a child, Shah Jahan was a favorite of his grandfather, the emperor Akbar, who was personally responsible for the young prince’s education. Upon the death of Akbar, a vicious struggle for succession broke out amongst the sons of the late emperor, from which Jahangir emerged victorious. Shortly after his ascension, Jahangir faced a rebellion from his eldest son, Prince Khusrau. After the rebellion was crushed, the prince was blinded and imprisoned in the fort of Agra.
Akbar the Great, Shah Jahan’s grandfather. ( Public Domain )
Although Shah Jahan was also a favorite of his father, the close relationship between father and son broke down during Jahangir’s final years. This was due to court intrigues by Nur Jahan, Jahangir’s Afghan wife, who wanted her son-in-law, Prince Shahryar (who was also the youngest son of Jahangir) to succeed the Mughal throne.
- Debate rages as legal case points to evidence that Taj Mahal was once a Hindu temple
- The Ancient Indian City of Mandu: A Fort and Pleasure Palace
- Garden and pavilions of the Taj Mahal found to align with rays of the sun
- The Tomb of Humayun: The Garden Tomb that Inspired the Taj Mahal
Fearing that he might be side-lined, Shah Jahan made a bid for power in 1622 by rebelling against his father. It took Jahangir four years to defeat his son, and Shah Jahan finally surrendered unconditionally in 1626. Fortunately for Shah Jahan, he was not blinded and imprisoned like his brother, Prince Khusrau. Furthermore, Jahangir died a year later, allowing Shah Jahan to succeed his father legitimately.
Jahangir weighing Prince (later Shah Jahan). (Circa 1610-1615) ( Public Domain )
More Rivalry for the Mughal Throne
Yet, as his father before him, Shah Jahan was faced with rival claimants to the throne. One of Shah Jahan’s first victims was his half-brother, Prince Khusrau, who was executed in 1622, even before the struggle for succession began.
Prince Shahryar, who was supported by Nur Jahan, quickly seized the Mughal throne. Asaf Khan, the father of Mumtaz Mahal, and the brother of Nur Jahan, wanted Shah Jahan to be emperor instead. Therefore, he ousted Prince Shahryar, and placed Prince Khusrau’s eldest son, Dawar, as a puppet on the Mughal throne, to have it safeguarded for Shah Jahan. In response, when Shah Jahan became the Mughal emperor in 1628 he had his rivals, including Dawar and Prince Shahryar, executed.
Emperor Shah Jahan (circa 1628). ( Public Domain )
Shah Jahan was a highly capable military leader. After ascending the Mughal throne, he began expanding his empire in all directions. In the first decade of his reign, Shah Jahan conquered the Rajput kingdoms of Baglana and Bundelkhand in the west, the kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda to the south in the Deccan Plateau, as well as petty kingdoms in the Kashmir and the Himalayas. Following these successes, Shah Jahan decided to launch military campaigns against the Uzbeks in Balkh, Central Asia, as well as the Safavids of Persia. Both these campaigns, however, ended in failure.
17th Century depiction of Shah Jahan leading the Mughal army. ( Public Domain )
Architectural Accomplishments and The End of Shah Jahan’s Rule
Perhaps more important than his military conquests, is the architectural legacy that Shah Jahan left behind. Like his grandfather Akbar, Shah Jahan also had a passion for architecture. The most famous of Shah Jahan’s architectural accomplishments is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal - which was built between 1632 and 1653. In addition, Shah Jahan was also responsible for the beautification of Agra’s Red Fort, as well as the building of numerous mosques, including the Jama Mosque, the Wazir Khan Mosque, and the Moti Mosque.
The Taj Mahal at sunset. ( nedim chaabene /CC BY 2.0 )
Shah Jahan fell seriously ill in 1658. Sensing their father’s imminent demise, his four sons began to fight to become the next Mughal emperor. Whilst Shah Jahan favored Dara Shikoh, who was a liberal, and championed a syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture, it was his fundamentalist son, Aurangzeb, who emerged victorious. Although Shah Jahan recovered from his illness, he was captured by Aurangzeb, declared incompetent to rule, and imprisoned in Agra’s Red Fort. Shah Jahan died in 1666 after an illness.
Shah Jahan and his favorite son - Dara Shikoh. (1638) ( Public Domain )
Featured image: An image of Shah Jahan. Photo source: CC BY SA 4.0
Department of Tourism, Government of UP, Uttar Pradesh, 2014. The Fifth Mughal Emperor: Shah Jahan [1592 – 1666]. [Online]
Available at: http://www.tajmahal.gov.in/shah_jahan.html
Hebbar, N. H., 2002. History of Islam in India, King of the World : Shah Jahan (1592-1666). [Online]
Available at: http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=797
Lal, V., 2014. Shah Jahan. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/Mughals/Shahjahan.html
Szczepanski, K., 2015. Shah Jahan. [Online]
Available at: http://asianhistory.about.com/od/india/fl/Shah-Jahan.htm
www.culturalindia.net, 2015. Shah Jahan. [Online]
Available at: http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-history/shah-jahan.html
www.pbs.org, 2015. Shah Jahan. [Online]
Available at: http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/taj_mahal/tlevel_1/t7_reign.html