Shahjahan: The man behind the Emperor - The New Indian Express

Shahjahan: The man behind the Emperor

Published: 14th November 2013 02:07 PM

Last Updated: 14th November 2013 02:08 PM

What was Shahjahan the man really like behind the official persona of the Mughal emperor? His official chroniclers predictably presented him as a larger-than-life Mughal, gilded, jewelled and perfumed. He seemed to the ordinary man a very remote and godlike figure.

There are three meticulously recorded chronicles of Shahjahan’s reign by his courtiers which were approved by the emperor himself or his authorised representative.  However, these were predictably hagiographies and not honest accounts of his reign.

There were few who really knew Shahjahan as a person and there was a cold hauteur about him which did not permit intimacy. Moreover, Shahjahan did not write his memoirs and there were no secret diarists in his reign, like Badauni at Akbar’s court, to expose what the official biographers glossed over. We only have the journals of European travellers who provide honest accounts with all the warts and weaknesses of the emperor and seek to present him as a human being.

Prince Khurram, the son of Jahangir, was born on the night of January 15, 1592, to the Rajput princess Jagat Gossain, the daughter of Uday Singh Rathore of Marwar, nicknamed Mota Raja (Fat Raja) by Akbar.

He was then handed over to Ruqaiya Begum,  Akbar’s childless wife in whose care he grew up.  Little is known about Khurram’s childhood but it seems to have been an uneventful life in the plush environs of the harem. At the age of seven, he was struck by smallpox, but he recovered apparently unmarked. Khurram was Akbar’s favourite grandson. Jahangir quoted Akbar as saying that there was no comparison between Khurram and his other children.

Khurram reciprocated his grandfather’s love and remained in attendance on him day and night and when Akbar lay dying, Khurram did not leave his bedside. His brother Khusrav’s rebellion turned out to be the turning point in Khurram’s career and marked the beginning of his rise in Jahangir’s favour. When Jahangir set out to confront his rebel son, it was Khurram whom he left behind at the helm of affairs in Agra as the nominal head of the regency council.  Later when the prince joined his father in Kabul, he was instrumental in warning Jahangir of Khusrav’s assassination attempt against him.

In the summer of 1607, when Khurram was sixteen, he was engaged to Asaf Khan’s daughter, Arjumand Banu Begum, the future Mumtaz Mahal. He was thereafter treated as an adult and was appointed as a commander of 8,000  with an appropriate salary in lieu of the daily allowance that he had been receiving till then.

Soon after, he was formally designated heir apparent and was allotted Hissar Firoza, the traditional fief of the crown prince. The seal of the emperor was entrusted to him with the authority to authenticate imperial decree.  He was then assigned a flag as his insignia and granted the royal prerogatives of using a parasol and a red tent.

Khurram was married to Arjumand five years after his engagement in 1612.  In the interim period, he married a Persian princess. Five years after he married Arjumand, he took a third wife. It is believed that he also took a Rajput princess somewhere along the way. He had a daughter by his first wife and a son by the third wife died in infancy. Presumably, several of his concubines also conceived as the historian Manucci writes that Khurram had several pregnancies of his concubines aborted.

Apart from his  first child, he would rear only the children of Arjumand. It is believed that Arjumand had pleaded with him, “Raise not issue with any other woman, lest her children and mine come to blows over succession”.

Arjumand bore Khurram eight sons and six daughters in the 19 years of her life with him, averaging a child every 16 months. Half of the children survived which was in fact a good average for medieval times. Arjumand died young at the age of 38 while giving birth to her fourteenth child.

In 1617, after his successful campaign in the Deccan, Jahangir conferred on Khurram the title of Shahjahan and accorded him the privilege of a seat in the Durbar.


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