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History
History of Islam in India
The World Conqueror: Jahangir (1569-1627)
Neria Harish Hebbar, MD

JahangirPrince Salim (b 1569 of Hindu Rajput princess from Amber) showed signs of restlessness at the end of a long reign by his father Akbar. During the absence of his father from Agra he pronounced himself as the king and turned rebellious. Akbar was able to wrestle the throne back but the prince was showing no signs of remorse. There was also an unconfirmed story of strained relationship between father and son due to Salim’s amorous advances to an ordinary dancing girl. Deeply in love and enchanted by the dancing girl, Anarkali, who was of common birth, Salim was ready to make her his queen. This union, surprisingly, was said to have been unacceptable to Akbar and the girl was abducted and deported to a far off land. Though the historians do not mention the existence of such a girl called Anarkali, the folklore certainly has survived. This also might have exacerbated the strain between the monarch and the prince.

Salim did not have to worry about his sibling’s aspirations to the throne. His two brothers, Murad and Daniyal, had both died early from alcoholism. Ironically a similar fate would await Salim at the end of his reign when he also succumbed to the ill effects of excessive drinking. But his challenge came from a surprising member of his family. His son Khusrau was favored by the nobles and made an attempt to unseat Salim, who by 1602 had proclaimed himself as the emperor and renamed himself Jahangir (World Conqueror). Khusrau laid siege to Lahore but was captured by Jahangir and blinded. The cruelty of the previous Sultans of Delhi had now pervaded into the Mughal emperors. Hitherto unknown fraternal and filial murder and torture at the time of succession was to become the norm and almost expected in the kingdom. Jahangir explained that a king should consider no man his relation and sovereignty did not regard the relation between father and son. Treacherous perfidy during succession would not shock any future Mughal heirs.

Jahangir began his era as a Mughal emperor after the death of Akbar in the year 1605. He considered his third son Prince Khurram (future Shah Jahan-born 1592 of Hindu Rajput princess Manmati), his favorite. Rana of Mewar and Prince Khurram had a standoff that resulted in a treaty acceptable to both parties. Khurram was kept busy with several campaigns in Bengal and Kashmir. Jahangir claimed the victories of Khurram – Shah Jahan as his own. However, Kandahar, which had been won by Akbar, was lost to Persia’s Shah Abbas. Further defeats were handed in Northern Afghanistan. Some success was at hand in the Deccan when an African slave, Malik Ambar, brought from Baghdad, serving under the sultante of Ahmadnagar, helped Khurram-Shah Jahan.

The monarch meanwhile was basking in the glory of his son’s victories. He also had unlimited sources of revenue largely due to a systematic organization of the administration by his father, Akbar. The opulence of the Mughals had reached its pinnacle during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s rule, thanks to Akbar’s foresight. Jahangir built his famous gardens in Kashmir and spent much time relaxing and delegating his work to others. One such person was Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan, whom he married in 1611. She was the thirty-year-old widow of one of his Afghan nobles. Her father, Persian born Itimad-ud-Daula became a minister and closest advisor to the emperor. Very able Nur Jahan along with her father and brother Asaf Khan, who was a successful general, ran the kingdom. Jahangir was the monarch in absentia. Addicted to alcohol, he was content to let his wife govern.

After the fiasco in Kandahar, the relationship between Khurram and Jahangir soured. Khurram suspected that Nur Jahan favored her son-in-law Prince Shariyar (son of Jahangir from a slave), who was married to her daughter Ladli Begum, from her first marriage. Khurram was in rebellion with his father and in this the African slave Malik Ambar and Nur Jahan’s brother Asaf Khan aided him. Khurram- Shah Jahan was married to Asaf Khan’s daughter Mumtaz Mahal. Prince Shariyar was murdered and Nur Jahan spent her last years building a tomb for her father Itimad-ud-Daula in Agra. She could have little influence over the willful Shah Jahan or her niece Mumtaz Mahal.

Jahangir had kept a diary that can pass marginally as memoirs. He describes inane and insignificant details of his garden and daily happenings around the palace. It only serves to give a glimpse of the emperor’s life in a superficial way. Though not a soldier, Jahangir was an ardent patron of Mughal art and an avid builder. He built Akbar’s five-tiered tomb in Sikandra. The emperor kept busy building in Lahore, Allahabad and Agra. While the de facto emperor, Nur Jahan was attending to administrative details, Jahangir found solace in loitering in his gardens and appreciating art and nature.

The darkest incident of his rule perhaps was the disposition of a peaceful leader of newly formed religion called Sikkhism. Akbar had watched the blossoming of the new religion founded by Guru Nanak, with fascination. Jahangir, in a controversy with its leader, was responsible for the death of Sikh Guru Arjan Singh (who died in Mughal prison) and this would have lasting consequences for future Mughal emperors. The peaceful religion of Sikhism would turn militant later when Jahangir’s grandson Aurangzeb murdered the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. Jahangir, the laid back emperor died in 1627 from alcohol abuse and Prince Khurram–Shah Jahan’s reign as the emperor began. 

June 12, 2002

Next :  King of the World : Shah Jahan 

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