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Early Modern India

The Mughals: Jahangir

by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 1 June 2009

Nuruddin Mohammed Salim ('Jahangir') was born in 1569. He was named Salim, because he was born after the blessings of the Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti.

Akbar had already lost his first two sons in their infancy. Jahangir was the third in line to succeed him. He was the son of Akbar and Hira Kunwari, also known as Mariam uz Zamani, the daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amer (Jaipur, in Rajasthan).

There are different stories about Jahangir's mother. Some call her Jodhabai, but some sources insist her name was Hirakunwari, and Jodhabai was in fact the other name of Jahangir's second wife, Jagat Gosain, the princess of Jodhpur and the mother of Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan). Jahangir's first wife was Manbai, daughter of Raja Bhagwandas and the sister of Raja Man Singh, both of Amer. She became the mother of Prince Khusrav. Prince Parvez was the third son of Jahangir from Begum Sahib i Jamaal. Jahangir also had a son, Shaharyar, from one of his concubines, and in his later years he married Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan wielded considerable influence over Jahangir and is said to have made many decisions on Jahangir's behalf.

Salim assumed the name 'Padshah Jahangir Gazi' after his coronation in 1605. 'Jahangir' literally means 'conqueror of the world'. Jahangir's eldest son, Khusrav, is said to have revolted twice against Jahangir at the behest of his uncle, Man Singh, and father in law, Mirza Aziz Koka. Prince Khusrav had also been allegedly supported by the Sikh guru, Arjundev.

Jahangir did forgive Khusrav once, but after the second attempt, Jahangir apparently gave orders for Khusrav to be blinded. Khusrav was later assassinated in the Deccan, allegedly at the orders of his brother and rival to the throne, Prince Khurram. Jahangir even imprisoned, tortured and killed Arjundev for his support of Khusrav. This started the drawn-out bitterness between the Sikhs and the Mughals.

Jahangir's Mewar campaign

Jahangir continued Akbar's campaigning against the Rajputs of Mewar. Rana Amar Singh, son of Rana Pratap Singh, was offering stiff resistance to the Mughal challenge. From time to time, Jahangir had despatched many of his famed nobles like Mahabbat Khan, Prince Parvez, Abdullah Khan, Mirza Aziz Koka, Raja Basu, and Prince Khurram to challenge the Rajputs. After many battles between 1605 and 1615, the Rajputs under Amar Singh agreed to sign a peace treaty (on the advice of Amar Singh's courtiers and his son, Prince Karan Singh). Amar Singh, apparently not very happy with his submission to the Mughals, retired to the confines of the lonely Nan chauki.

The Rajputs agreed to the suzerainty of the Mughals. In return, all the territories of Mewar were magnanimously restored to the rajputs. Prince Karan Singh was deputed to the Mughal court and given a high rank there, along with a 'mansab' of 5000 'sawar' (cavalry) and 5000 'jat ' (foot soldiers).

Jahangir's other miscellaneous conquests were Fort Kangra in Punjab, Kharda in Orissa, and Kishtwar in Kashmir.

Jahangir's southern Indian campaign

Jahangir's southern campaign was challenged by Malik Amber, an Abyssinian general of Nizam Shah, the ruler of Ahmednagar (in present day Maharashtra). Malik Ambar resisted the Mughal intrusions till 1617, when he was forced to sign a peace treaty with the Mughals led by Prince Khurram. That was when Prince Khurram was given the title 'Shah Jahan' by Jahangir. But Malik Ambar didn't adhere to the treaty and Prince Khurram was again sent to the Deccan to subdue him. Malik Ambar again entered into a peace treaty with Khurram in 1621. This time he had to cede a major part of the Ahmednagar territory to the Mughals, along with lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of rupees in compensation.

But differences between Jahangir and his son, Khurram, and later a revolt by his general, Mahabat khan, forced Jahangir to abandon his southern campaign.

Nur Jahan

One of the most important events of Jahangir's life was his marriage to Nur Jahan. Nur Jahan was born Mehr un Nisa to Mirza Ghiyas Beg, a Persian courtier of Akbar's. She was the wife of Jahangir's deceased officer, Sher Afghan. When Mehr un Nisa was brought before Jahangir, he fell in love with her.

Mehr un Nisa was almost thirty-four when she married Jahangir. She was said to be very beautiful, multi-talented and wielded considerable influence over Jahangir (especially when he was in an inebriated state). Her daughter from her previous marriage, Ladli Begum,  had been married to Prince Shaharyar. Her brother, Asaf Khan, had married his daughter to Prince Khurram.

Both wanted their sons-in-law to succeed Jahangir. Shah Jahan resented Nur Jahan's influence over Jahangir, and revolted against his father in 1623. However, his father-in-law, Asaf Khan, didn't support Shah Jahan in his revolt against the emperor. Maybe his loyalty for Jahangir overrode his ambition for his son-in-law.

The city of Fatehpur Sikri in the district of Agra was Akbar's new capital, but it had been abandoned when Jahangir was sixteen due to a lack of water

Jahangir shoots an arrow

Jahangir shoots an arrow through the head of Malik Ambar in a nineteenth century copy of a painting dated to 1616 by Abu'l Hasan

View image

Mahabat Khan, another of Jahangir's generals, who was close to Prince Parvez, also disliked Nur Jahan and Asaf Khan. They were instrumental in keeping him away from the Mughal court by sending him on expeditions or by using other pretexts. He also felt humiliated by them (after his campaigns in Bengal and Bihar against the rebel Shah Jahan), when he was asked to submit details of the captured property before the Mughal court. Furthermore, his son-in-law, Barkhurdar, had also had his own property confiscated at the behest of Nur Jahan and Asaf Khan. Angry, Mahabat Khan revolted against Jahangir and joined forces with Shah Jahan.

Taking advantage of Shah Jahan's revolt, the Persians captured Kandahar.

Jahangir was furious. He came down heavily on Shah Jahan. Asaf Khan too refused to side with Shah Jahan. Mahabat Khan, realising the futility of the situation, had also switched sides. All of the nobles, who themselves disliked Nur Jahan, failed to side with Shah Jahan against the emperor. Therefore Shah Jahan was isolated and forced to surrender to Jahangir. He was pardoned by Jahangir and let off relatively easily (in comparison to Prince Khusrav).

Jahangir's death and reign

Jahangir, who was addicted to drinking wine, was losing his health. The revolts had also taken their toll on him. On 7 November 1627, while returning from Kashmir, Jahangir fell ill and died. He was buried in Lahore, where Nur Jahan erected a beautiful mausoleum on his grave.

Today, historians view Jahangir differently. While European historians have been somewhat harsh against him, their Indian counterparts have been fairly lenient while accessing his reign.

True, Jahangir was addicted to wine, was prone to pleasure seeking and he led an easy way of life. But he never did so at the cost of his administration. Barring the instances of revolts by his rebellious sons, Khusrav, Khurram, and his general, Mahabat Khan, he was successful in maintaining the loyalties of the people around him. Jahangir had even once revolted against his father, but it was more to stress his identity as an individual and not for any personal ambitions. Even though he was trained in the use of arms, he never led his army in battle. But he had some able commanders doing efficient work at his behest. Jahangir was successfully able to maintain the empire he inherited from his father. In fact he only added to it.

His single loss was Kandahar to the Persians, and that too because of the distraction he felt because due to Khurram's revolt. Jahangir even achieved the loyalty of Mewar, something even Akbar wasn't able to achieve in his lifetime. Jahangir was also famous for his sense of justice. After his coronation, he erected a huge bell outside his palace. Anyone who needed justice could seek Jahangir's attention by ringing the bell.

Jahangir was well educated and erudite. He had a good command of Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He wrote his own autobiography, the 'Tuzuk i Jahangiri'. He encouraged poets from Persia alongside his support of the vernacular poets of the country.

Jahangir is said to have been an expert in paintings, and often boasted that he can spot the source of any artwork. He constructed beautiful gardens, fountains, monuments and buildings. The mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandara, the tomb of Itimad ud Daula near Agra, the grand mosque in Lahore and the gardens in Kashmir are a testimony to Jahangir's aesthetic sense. He beautified his coins, the little things around him and even the dresses he and his wives wore.

Jahangir also wasn't bigoted, and apart from a few instances, he was considered to be quite impartial towards both Hindus and Muslims. He participated in all Hindu festivals. He even employed European teachers for his grandsons. All in all he pursued the religious policy enunciated by his father, Akbar. His individual decisions, such as the blinding of Khusrav or the killing of Guru Arjundev, were carried out more in a fit of rage than any sense of premeditation. Otherwise he was considered to be a loyal friend, an affectionate father and a loving husband. After the death of his wife, Manbai, death, he is said to have abstained from food or water for the initial three days of his mourning.

In spite of all his qualities, his personality has remained an enigma for all historians. Jahangir's evident competency can therefore be said to have been eclipsed by the greatness of his father, Akbar, and by the grandeur of his son, Shah Jahan.


Main Sources

Prasad, L - Studies in Indian History, Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000

Spear, Percival - The History of India, Penguin, 1990



Text copyright © Abhijit Rajadhyaksha. An original feature for the History Files.