A.D. 1627 TO A.D. 1657

The Knight-of-the-Rueful-Countenance in his youth, remarkable for his

lack of amiability, Shahjahan's character appears to have changed to

cheerfulness from the moment when, at the age of thirty-seven, he

ascended the throne.

It was immediately evident also that not without purpose had he sate

at the feet of that Gamaliel of administrative ability, Akbar.

his grandfather's genius, a man, in brief, of infinitely lower calibre

all round, he is yet palpably a lineal descendant of the Great Moghul.

In reading of him we are continually reminded of that grandfather to

whom he was so much attached, that when in the hour of Akbar's death

he was urged by his father to follow his example and flee the court

for fear of assassination by those who were pushing Prince Khushru's

claim, he replied proudly "that his father might do as he chose, but

that he would watch by Akbar till the last."

It may be that this devotion had not been disinterested, and that

disappointment at not being chosen to succeed may have had something

to do with the moroseness of the young prince; but, on the other hand,

it may have been the hidden impatience of knowing that filial

affection, honour, everything his grandfather (who had been his

boyhood's hero) held most dear compelled him to bide Nature's time for

kingship, that made the long years seem wasted. For Jahangir's

government was not good; after a very few years the whole

administration of the country had visibly declined. It rose again

under Shahjahan, and some historians go as far as to say that,

although "Akbar excelled all as a law-maker, yet for order and

arrangement, good finance and government in every department of State,

no prince ever reigned in India that could be compared to Shahjahan."

One thing is certain. India during his time was peaceful, easeful, and


One reason for this is not hard to trace. Europe for the first time

had really entered the Indian markets, and the superfluities it found

there were being paid for in gold. There had been a time of truce, as

it were, between the Dutch and the English after the massacre at

Amboyna--a needless and brutal massacre which still stands to the

discredit of the Dutch. England had threatened war, Holland had

promised redress, and so the long years passed by, giving

opportunities of commerce to both sides. But it was not until the

seventh year of Shahjahan's reign that the firman granted by

Jahangir to Thomas Roe, authorising the English to trade in Bengal,

was acted upon, and a factory (as such trading centres were called)

opened at Pepli, close to the estuary of the river Hugli.

That the commerce was growing by leaps and bounds may be judged from

the fact that the original East India Company had to petition

Parliament first; to restrain their own servants from taking undue

advantage of a regulation which permitted a certain fixed limit of

private trade; and secondly, against the formation of another trading

company to the East India's. The chief cause of complaint made about

the original one being its failure to fortify its factories, and so

"provide safety or settledness for the establishment of traffic in the

said Indies, for the good of posterity." Whence it may be observed

that the policy of "pike and carronade" was beginning to find favour.

For Charles I. granted a charter to this new company; whereupon time

was lost, as well as tempers, in the consequent conflict of interests.

The record written by the French physician, Francois Bernier, of his

"Travels and Sojourn in the Moghul Empire," gives us clear insight as

to what was happening in this first organised attempt of the West on

the East. Scarcely a page passes without reference to new efforts of

the Portuguese to outwit England, England to outwit Portugal, and of

both to double-dam the Dutch. And behind all were the refuse leavings

of all three nations, mixed up with Malays, Jews, Turks, Infidels, and

Hereticks, in the redoubtable persons of the Pirates of Arracan; those

foremost of buccaneers, who swept the Indian seas and harried its

coral strands. Bernier's description of them is worth recording, as it

shows graphically how the cancer of commerce and so-called

civilisation was eating into the dreamful, slothful, ease-loving

body-politic of the whole peninsula.

"The Kingdom of Arracan has contained during many years several

Portuguese settlers, a great number of Christian slaves, or half-cast

Portuguese and other Europeans collected from various parts of the

world. That kingdom was a place of refuge for fugitives from Goa,

Ceylon, Cochin, Malacca, and other settlements ... and no persons were

better received than those who had deserted their monasteries, married

two or three wives, or committed other great crimes.... As they were

unawed and unrestrained by the Government, it was not surprising that

these renegades pursued no other trade than that of rapine and piracy.

They scoured the neighbouring seas in light galleys, entered the

numerous arms of the Ganges, ravished the islands of Lower Bengal;

and, often penetrating forty or fifty leagues up the country,

surprised and carried away the entire population of villages on market

days, and at times when the inhabitants were assembled for the

celebration of a marriage, or some other festival.... The treatment of

the slaves thus made was most cruel.... By a mutual understanding, the

pirates would await the arrival of the Portuguese ships, who bought

whole cargoes at a cheap rate; and it is lamentable to reflect that

other Europeans have pursued the same flagitious commerce with the

Pirates of Arracan, who boast that they convert more Hindus to

Christianity in a twelve-month than all the missionaries in India do

in twelve years."

Not a pleasing picture, though it whets the curiosity to know more,

for instance, of the career of Fra Joan, the Augustine monk who,

having by means unknown possessed himself of the island of Sundiva,

reigned there King-of-the-Pirates for many years.

It was the encouragement given to these scourges of the seas which

brought down on the Portuguese the vengeance of Shahjahan, whose

laconic reply to the complaint of his governor in Bengal against their

new factory at Hugli is delightful in its peremptoriness, pathetic in

its pride: "Expel those idolaters from my dominions!"

Easier said than done, even though the image-decorated church at Agra,

which had been built in the reign of Akbar, and the newer one with

chimes in its steeple, which had been erected at Lahore in Jahangir's

time, could easily be demolished. Still Hugli could be besieged and

captured, and no doubt the success made a subject for general

rejoicing. For above all things Shahjahan delighted in fireworks; that

is to say, he had a perfect passion for expensive entertainments, for

gorgeous processions, for magnificent buildings. Half the

architectural sights of to-day in Northern India are due to

Shahjahan's lavish love of beauty. Some of his fetes, again, are

estimated to have cost over a million and a half sterling. The famous

peacock throne, of which Tavernier, a French jeweller by profession,

asserts--with apparent credence--that it was commonly supposed to have

been worth nearly six and a half millions, was constructed by this

king's orders.

The question rises insistently: "How came the Emperor of India by such

enormous wealth?" The answer is curiously simple: "L'etat c'est moi."

The State was the Emperor, or rather the Emperor was the visible

State. Every atom of imperial revenue passed through his hands for

distribution. Not in precise pay to clerks and collectors, to

magistrates and ministers, departments and divisions, but in lavish

gifts and prodigal scatterings abroad over the land. Whence the gold,

gaining circulation, filtered down in smaller payments, smaller

giftings. It was a quaint, but not a bad method of making the

king the Fount-of-all-Goodness, the veritable Father-of-his-people.

Indeed, Shahjahan was counted, despite the fact that he spent the

three-and-twenty millions sterling of revenue in right imperial

fashion, to have been an economical king, getting his full money's

worth in all ways. Nor was he privately an inordinately rich man, for

Bernier states that when he died his whole personal estate was worth

about six millions. Thus, while we read of peacock thrones, of

marvellous mosques, of three millions spent without regret on a

mausoleum, of half that sum squandered in what we have called

fireworks, it is necessary to readjust our Western vision, and see

public utility behind the personal extravagance. In fact the spectacle

of Shahjahan, the most magnificent of monarchs, raises the problem as

to how far a millionaire's reckless squandering of a sovereign injures

that coin of the realm for its final purpose of bringing bread to a

hungry mouth.

Regarding the actual events of Shahjahan's reign, there is very little

to say. The Dekkan--in which we can now include the whole southward

country down to Cape Cormorin, the hitherto unsurveyed, unrecorded

triangle forming the apex of India having, chiefly by the nibbling of

foreigners along the entire seaboard, by this time come into the

equation--was as ever unsettled. It had, even in Akbar's time, been

nothing more than a fief of the Crown, and though under his system it

would doubtless have become in time an integral part of the empire, it

was gradually making once more for independence. So, naturally, there

was trouble in the Dekkan. The Rajputs, however, seem to have been

fairly quiescent, and the chief disturbances of Shahjahan's time were

the constant quarrels of his four sons, Dara, Shujah, Aurungzebe, and

Morad. These, with four daughters, Padshah or Jahanara Begum,

Roshanrai Begum, and two others, were undoubtedly the children of one

wife; nor is there mention of others, so if it be true that Mumtaz

Mahal, to whose memory the Taj was built, died in giving birth to a

thirteenth child, many of her family must have died, or been done away

with in infancy; legend says the latter, Shahjahan being three parts

Rajput. It was, curiously enough, Shahjahan's absolute adoration for

his eldest daughter, Padshah or Jahanara Begum, which was the cause of

England's first hold on Bengal. She was badly burnt in attempting to

save a favourite companion, and an English doctor, Gabriel Boughton,

hastily summoned from Surat, asked and received as his fee, the right

for Great Britain to trade in Bengal.

To return to the sons. Dara, the eldest, is drawn by Bernier in fairly

pleasing colours. Frank and impetuous, liberal in his opinions, he

made enemies with one hand while he made friends with the other, while

his open profession of the tenets held by his grandfather Akbar, and

the writing of a book to reconcile Hindu and Mahomedan doctrines,

alienated the orthodox from his cause. Shujah, by his father's

estimate, was a mere drunkard; Morad, the youngest, a sensualist.

There remains Aurungzebe. He was an absolute contrast to Dara. A small

man, with a big brain and absolutely no heart. A man of creeds and

caution, of faith and faithlessness. He had what historians call an

"early turn for devotion." In a thousand ways--and those the least

estimable--he reminds one of Cromwell; Cromwell without his

magnificent sincerity of purpose.

The history of the mutual misunderstandings and divisions and

coalitions of these princes is indeed a weary one. Only Dara comes out

of it with comparatively clean hands. Indeed, in the last act of the

drama of Shahjahan's actual reign of thirty years our sympathies go

entirely with Dara, as he struggles to maintain his own future

position, and still uphold that of the sick king.

As this final incident is an excellent example of what in lesser

degree had been going on for years, it may be given with advantage.

Shahjahan was in his sixty-seventh year. His sons, therefore, all but

the youngest, Morad, touched and overpassed forty. His eldest, Dara,

had for some time had a large share in the Government, both as

heir-apparent, and also because his father in his old age had turned

to wine and women. Padshah Begum, the elder daughter, to whom the aged

emperor had devoted attachment, unbounded affection, was ever on her

brother's side. Shujah, the second son, was Viceroy in Bengal; Prince

Morad, the youngest, Viceroy in Guzerat. Aurungzebe was occupied in

Golconda carrying the Moghul arms into the diamond country.

Thus Dara, on his father's sudden and dangerous sickness--of the cause

of it the less said the better--found himself able for a time, with

his sister's help, to keep all knowledge of the king's danger from

spreading throughout the country. But as Padshah Begum was Dara's

ally, so Roshanrai, the younger sister, was fast friend to Aurungzebe.

Through her he learnt the truth, and instantly took his part

cautiously, diplomatically. He did not instantly proclaim himself

king, as Shujah and Morad did in their several viceroyalties when the

news also reached their ears. He stood aside and waited, while Shujah

marched with his army to engage Dara, and then wrote to his younger

brother Morad one of the most fulsome letters of flattery ever penned,

declaring that he, and he alone, was fit for the crown, and offering

him the service of one who, weary of the world, was on the eve of

renouncing it, and indulging the devotion of his nature by retirement

to Mekka! Morad must have been a fool to have swallowed the bait, but

swallow it he did; and with this cat's-paw puppet in front of him,

Aurungzebe, with their conjoined armies, moved to Agra, whence Shujah

had been driven back by Dara into Bengal. The old king was by this

time convalescent, and, finding Dara, instead of taking advantage of

his illness, was, on the contrary, ready to yield up his brief regency

with cheerfulness, was inclined to trust his eldest son more than

ever. He therefore consented, somewhat against his own will, to the

latter trying conclusions at once with the Morad-Aurungzebe

confederacy. Fortune went against him. During the battle Aurungzebe,

who asserted that he warred alone against the irreligious, the

heretical, the scandalous Dara, was loud in prayerful protestations

that God was on their side; after it he fell on his knees and thanked

Divine Providence for the victory and the round thousand or so of

souls sent below. Dara fled, and three days afterwards Aurungzebe

marched into Agra, coolly imprisoned the aged king in the fort, and

having now no further use for Morad, invited him to supper, plied him

with drink (waiving his own pious scruples for the time), so, when

hopelessly intoxicated, disarmed him in favour of chains, and packing

him on an elephant, despatched him as a State prisoner to Selimgarh,

the mid-river fort at Delhi! So ended poor, foolish Morad's dream of

kingship; nor was his life much more prolonged, for shortly afterwards

he was executed in prison on a trumped-up charge. Shujah escaped a

like fate by disappearance, and poor Dara, after unheard-of dangers,

difficulties, trials and terrors, met with a worse one.

But this record belongs to the reign of Aurungzebe, the man without a


Shahjahan, meanwhile, remained for seven years a captive in the fort,

old, decrepid, tearful, counting his jewels, and comforted by his

daughter, Padshah Begum.

A sad ending this, for a man who had been the most magnificent monarch

who ever sate upon the throne of India. But all his energies, all his

capabilities seem to have deserted him. He made no effort to reassert

his kingship, and what is still more strange, no friend or companion,

no minister, no adherent, attempted it for him. Utterly deserted by

all save his daughter, he died seven years afterwards, in 1665, and

was buried at his own request beside his wife in the Taj Mahal, that

most marvellous monument of marriage which the world has ever seen.

And out of this there springs to light for the seeing eye a pitiful

story which brings back a pulse of human sympathy for the man whose

old age was so sordid, so degenerate.

How many years was it since with bitter grief he had buried the wife

to whom he was so devotedly attached that history declares he kept

faithfully to her, and to her only, till death did them part?

It was four-and-thirty years since the daughter she was bearing to him

cried--so the story runs--ere it was born, and within a few hours,

Arjamund the Beloved lay dead with her still-born babe.

A tragedy indeed! Think what it means! Long years of hardship, exile,

wandering, and then four only--four short years of content, of

kingship, in which to heap comforts, luxuries, on the woman whom you

love--who has borne with you the heat and burden of the day.

That was Shahjahan's fate. But the history of these Moghul kings,

these Great Moghuls whose name still lingers in conjunction with that

of the Grand Turk and Bluebeard as something slightly shocking and

decidedly despotic so far as women are concerned, is curiously

disconcerting to one's preconceived ideas on this counter.

Babar, whose Mahum met him after long years "at midnight," as with

bare head and slipper-shoon he ran to catch the earliest glimpse of

her along the dusty road. Humayon, whose sixteen-year-old bride,

Hamida, wedded in hot love-haste, brought him his first son at the age

of thirty-eight. Akbar, who, after a brief youth of normal passion,

settled down into the life of an anchorite. Shahjahan, who built the

Taj, who spent twenty-two years of his life in gathering together

every conceivable beauty to lay at the dead feet of a woman who bore

him thirteen children.

These are not the records which we should have expected from a line of

Eastern kings.

Regarding this same monument of marriage, the Taj. So much has been

said about it, that little remains to say. Perhaps the most

bewildering thing about its beauty is the impossibility of saying

wherein that beauty lies. Colour of stone, purity of outline,

faultlessness of form, delicacy of decoration--all these are here; but

they are also in many a building from which the eye turns--and turns

to forget.

But once seen, the Taj--whether seen with approval or disapproval--is

never forgotten. It remains ever a thing apart. Something which the

world cannot touch with either praise or blame--something elusive,

beyond criticism in three dimensional terms.

It was Shahjahan who first thought of it; but who designed, who built


The very question brings a certain revulsion. It is impossible to

dislocate one stone of the Taj from another, to think of it in

fragments, as anything than as a perfect whole.

No! it was never built. It is a bit of the New Jerusalem which some

yellow Eastern dawn coming after a velvet-dark Eastern night, found

standing, as it stands now, amid the cypresses of the garden.