Historical Introduction, Part Five: Shah Jahan
*Shah Jahan* -- *The Monuments of Shah Jahan's reign at Agra*
*Shah Jahan*, on his father's death, though only fourth in right of succession to the throne, speedily disposed of his brothers by means very commonly adopted in Oriental royal families, and was enthroned at Agra in 1648. Immediately afterwards he wreaked his vengeance on the Portuguese, who had taken part against him in his rebellion against Jahangir, by destroying their settlement at Hughli. The next year, while on an expedition to suppress disorder in the Deccan, he lost his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the lady of the Taj. For a long time the Emperor abandoned himself entirely to grief, and he remained faithful to her memory until his death.
The actual building of the Taj commenced in 1632. From this date until 1658, when Aurangzîb usurped the throne, was the most magnificent period of the Mogul dynasty. The whole empire enjoyed comparative peace and prosperity. Shah Jahan's just and liberal government continued his father's and grandfather's policy of tolerance towards the Hindus, and his administration, though conducted with great pomp and splendour, did not press hardly upon the people. It was one of the greatest epochs of Indian architecture; besides the Taj Mahal, the buildings erected during these years include four of the masterpieces of the Mogul period-- the Jâmi Masjid, or Cathedral Mosque, of Delhi; the Mûti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, of Agra; part of the Agra Palace; and the great palace at Delhi, of which only a small portion now exists.
It is said that as Shah Jahan advanced towards old age he abandoned himself more and more to a life of pleasure and self-indulgence, but his last years were darkened by the same kind of family intrigues through which he himself had gained the throne. In 1657 the serious illness of the Emperor brought these intrigues to a head. His eldest son by Mumtaz Mahal, called Dara Shikoh, a gracious and generous Prince, but headstrong and intolerant of advice, was appointed Regent. On receiving this intelligence, his younger brothers, Shuja, Viceroy of Bengal, and Murad, Viceroy of Gujarat, declared their independence, and marched upon Agra. Aurangzîb, the third son, a religious bigot, but the ablest and most virile of the brothers, hastened to join them, and being placed in chief command, attacked Dara's army close to Agra and completely defeated him.
Three days afterwards he entered the city. Shah Jahan sent his chamberlain to order him to leave the city at once and return to his post in the Deccan, but Aurangzîb, affecting to believe that his father was dead, disregarded the order. He succeeded by bribes and promises in bringing over some of the principal nobles to his side, and being well informed by Rushanara, his younger sister, who was his equal in cunning and artifice, of all that went on in the palace, he baffled Shah Jahan's attempts to lay hands on him. At last, under pretence of arranging an amicable meeting with his son Mahmud, Aurangzîb beguiled Shah Jahan into withdrawing his troops from the Fort. Mahmud immediately forced his way in with a picked body of men and seized the person of the Emperor. The plan succeeded so well that no attempt at a rescue was made.
The French traveller Tavernier, who has left a complete record of the time, writes of this event: "It is most surprising that not one of the servants of the grand King offered to assist him; that all his subjects abandoned him, and that they turned their eyes to the rising sun, recognizing no one as king but Aurangzîb. Shah Jahan, though still living, passed from their memories. If, perchance, there were any who felt touched by his misfortunes, fear made them silent, and made them basely abandon a king who had governed them like a father, and with a mildness which is not common with sovereigns. For although he was severe enough to the nobles when they failed to perform their duties, he arranged all things for the comfort of the people, by whom he was much beloved, but who gave no signs of it at this crisis."
Shah Jahan remained confined in a set of apartments
of the Agra Palace for seven years. He died in 1666, and was buried by
the side of Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj. His captivity was shared by his favourite
daughter, Jahanara, who since the death of her mother had ruled the imperial
household and taken a prominent part in state affairs. She had actively
supported the cause of Dara, and thus incurred the resentment of Aurangzîb.
On her father's death she retired to Delhi, and she lived there until 1681.
Her simple grave, covered with grass, is in a quiet corner of the courtyard
of Nizamuddin's tomb, near Delhi, where the memory of her filial piety
adds to the poetic charm of all the surroundings.
The Taj Mahal; the Jâmi Masjid; and the following buildings in the Fort: The Mûti Masjid; the Dîwan-i-âm; the Dîwan-i-khas; the Khas Mahal.
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