Prince Khurram ascended to the throne after a tumultuous succession battle worthy of a Mughal Prince. His own father, Jahangir, had already handicapped Khusrau, when the son aspired to unseat the father. Younger brother Prince Khurram promptly had him killed, as fraternal ambitions were not to be encouraged, even though the wretched Prince Khusrau was blind. Prince Shariyar, Nur Jahan’s son-in-law had lost his bid to the throne and murdered by Khurram’s father-in-law, Asaf Khan (also Nur Jahan’s brother). Another brother Parwiz was of no consequence. With the wealth created by Akbar, the Mughal kingdom was probably the richest in the world. Prince Khurram gave himself the title of Shah Jahan, the ‘King of the World’ and this was the name that was immortalized by history. With his imagination and aspiration, Shah Jahan gained a reputation as an aesthete par excellence. He built the black marble pavilion at the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar and a white marble palace in Ajmer. He also built a tomb for his father, Jahangir in Lahore and built a massive city Shahajanabad in Delhi but his imagination surpassed all Mughal glory in his most famous building Taj Mahal. It was in Shahajanabad that his daughter Roshanara built the marketplace called Chandni Chowk.
His beloved wife Arjuman Banu (daughter of Asaf Khan and niece of Nur Jahan) passed away while delivering their fourteenth child in the year 1631. The distraught emperor started building a memorial for her the following year. The Taj Mahal, named for Arjuman Banu, who was called Mumtaz Mahal, became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The beauty of the white marble structure is unsurpassed. Almost four hundred years later it still is the awe inspiring place where lovers hold hands and swoon over each other. The thrill one feels at the first sight of Taj Mahal through its main archway is beyond description.
The great Juma Masjid built by him was the largest in India at the time. Shah Jahan also built or renovated forts in Delhi and in Agra. White marble chambers that served as living quarters and other halls for public audiences are examples of classic Mughal architecture. Here in Agra fort, Shah Jahan would spend eight of his last years as a prisoner of his son, Aurangzeb shuffling between the hallways of the palace, squinting at the distant silhouette of his famous Taj Mahal on the banks of River Jamuna.
Shah Jahan’s earlier years were spent in doing his father’s bidding in various campaigns and territorial expansion. However, the territories gained were significant only in a symbolic way. In fact, land and prestige was lost in Kandahar and Northern Afghanistan. The dream of Babur to extend the empire into and beyond Afghanistan into the homeland of the Timurs in Samarkhand was permanently shelved by his progeny, after the humiliating defeats in Kandahar in the hands of Persian king. Never again would a Mughal venture into the northwest. In Deccan, Shah Jahan had initial failures in the hands of an African habshi (Negro) slave from Baghdad, a Malik Ambar, who was under the Bijapur sultan. Later, however, he joined Shah Jahan and helped him quell the threat from his brothers who had aspirations to conquer the throne. Golconda (Hyderabad) and Bijapur (Karnataka), two powerful states of the south were forced to become vassal states but were left alone to govern as they pleased. At least on paper Shah Jahan’s empire had extended deep into the south in Deccan and beyond. The cover of Mughal suzerainty only helped the southern sultanates to extend their borders well into Chola heartland of Tamil Nadu and Mysore. Muslim rule, now effectively extended to the mouth of Kaveri River.
Though Khurram was the favored son of Jahangir in his earlier days, the influence of Nur Jahan on the emperor had a deleterious effect on his relationship with his father. She was trying to prop up her own son-in-law, a brother of Shah Jahan as the legal heir. This alarmed Shah Jahan and with the help of his father-in-law and Malik Ambar he was able to muscle his way into Delhi and pronounce himself the emperor.
In September of 1657, Shah Jahan, in his waning years, suffered from acute constipation and rumors of his imminent death spread rapidly through the land. The potential successors to the throne, four brothers, were alarmed and moved with haste to claim the throne. His third son Aurangzeb eventually claimed the empire, in the year 1658. Shah Jahan would recover from his illness only to spend his last days as an old and decrepit man, imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, in the fort in Agra. There he was to remain in house arrest for eight years watching the magnificent monument he had built for his beloved wife Mumtaz. Shah Jahan died in the year 1666, at age seventy-four, eight years after losing his throne to his son. He was interned in the Taj Mahal, next his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Next: Quintessential Orthodox: Aurangzeb