The lackluster reign of Emperor Jahangir



November 2, 2021

Emperor Jahangir

The fourth Mughal emperor, Jahangir was the first to have been born into a stable empire with wealth and security. In contrast, the struggle to gain and hold their northern Indian territories had consumed the lives of each of his predecessors. Things turned out easy for Jahangir as his father had placed the Mughal empire on solid footings that was to last not only during Jahangir’s reign. But would also provide almost smooth sailing to his son and grandson. The Mughal throne was certainly not a bed of roses. And it required the steadfast support of the imperial elites. And such support was not granted unreservedly. It was well-known that loyalty was a rare commodity in the monarchical system. And it suffered from the blemishes of unreliability. The norm of the times were that relationships between the ruler and his nobility remained competitive. Requiring regular mutual reinforcement.

Jahangir’s accession to throne was also not uncontested. As his grown-up son Khosrow has already emerged as his rival. In the wake of his contested succession. Jahangir’s most immediate dilemma was the general unease among imperial elites regarding his inheritance. To make matters worse Jahangir’s reputation had been badly marred by his years of rebellion against Akbar. As well as by the public knowledge of his alcoholism and rumors of the atrocities. He had committed as an independent ruler in Allahabad. At the crucial time of succeeding the throne however. Jahangir foiled the efforts of his son Khosrow. And the powerful noblemen who had supported him. There was obviously a strong clique favoring to enthrone Khosrow who was reputed to be a better. And competent prince and was also supported by his grandfather. Akbar who was obviously angry at Jahangir’s recalcitrance and genuinely believed him to be unworthy to rule.

Though, Emperor Jahangir was resentful that influential members of his royal court had recently been actively fomenting a counter-succession. He had already taken the gruesome step of assassinating his father’s favorite courtier Abu’l-Fazl through one of his proxy supporters. Right at the outset it was obvious that due to the precarious nature of inheritance. Jahangir’s next few years would be dominated by his efforts to assert his authority. And establish absolute control over the nobility. Including the members of the contentious extended royal family. He was particularly worried about the opposition harbored by the relatives of Khosrow. Who held significantly powerful positions at the court including Mirza Aziz Koka. Jahangir’s foster brother who also happened to be the father-in-law of Khosrow. However, to his good fortune Akbar in the end relented to the collective wisdom of his court to let Jahangir succeed him.

As was the abject need Jahangir rushed forward and immediately addressed the anxiety at court. Confirming the positions of his father’s palace functionaries. While broadcasting a general pardon for the elites of the empire. Including those who had worked against his ascension to the throne. Assuring them that there would be no investigation into the mistakes and failures of which they must now be ashamed. Jahangir proffered generous cash awards on them and increased their ranks in the imperial hierarchy. Though he was deeply cognizant of the rebellious nature of Khosrow.

But for the time being he did not take any action against his son and let the matters settle on their own. It certainly proved to be a mistake and Khosrow soon rose against him. And caused a great degree of discomfiture to the royal machinery to bring him to control. He however, could not satisfactorily deal with Khosrow and this problem was sorted out. Only when Khosrow was handed over to Jahangir’s younger son Shah jahan. Who showed no scruples to finally physically eliminate him.

Jahangir ruled for twenty-two years mostly basking the in the glory of his father’s achievements. In wake of the brilliance of his father and his son, Shah jahan, and grandson, Aurangzeb. Jahangir’s reign pales in comparison. The general tendency is to disregard his reign and some historians even disdain his tenure of office. There are many reasons for this and. The chief reason was that Jahangir had the misfortune to reign between two of the most successful scions of the dynasty.

His father emperor Akbar, had been able at a very young age to seize control of what was a tenuous and fragile patrimony. And expand it into one of the world’s largest and wealthiest empires. Following Jahangir’s death, his son and successor.  Shah jahan, would also overshadow his father’s memory. Proving to be among the dynasty’s gifted military leaders with his legacy assured by his architectural manifesto, the Taj Mahal.

Jahangir’s lackluster reign is mostly attributed to his lack of military ambitions. Belying the strong family traditions to aggressive empire building and he had little appetite to gain more territory.  The result was that his military adventures were few having no effect on the size of the Mughal state. His heavy drinking kept him intoxicated for most of his working hours and. He felt no inclination to engage in military pursuits. In addition to drinking he was a drug-addict that considerably slowed his reflexes. And he could find it hard to maintain the rigorous working scheduled prescribed by his energetic and workaholic father. His wayward nature made him to excessively worry about his health and publicly agonized over his own health and sobriety.

Though he was ably assisted in the discharge of his kindly duties by his very able and ambitious wife Nur Jahan. But her initiatives also wrested away the few initiatives that he had taken. His energetic wife and her action-oriented approach to the matters of state further diminished the prestige of her husband. And her strength was often contrasted with his ineffectual indolence. The chronicles of his reign portrayed him as weak and suffering from weakness of will and resolution. From a lamentable propensity to surrender himself to the mercies of superior talent. However, the revisionist history is rectifying the impressions held about Jahangir for a long time. And he is now credited with breaking away from the policies of his father thereby providing a much needed respite from almost half a century of Akbar’s rigorous dominance.

It is now recognized that Jahangir retained a minimalist military profile and demonstrated no ambition for extensive territorial acquisition. But at the same time he ensured there occurred no loss to the imperial domains and. In fact, managed to successfully conquer the territories of local kingdoms. Whose submission had long stymied his father. Significantly Jahangir’s adept handling of the imperial elites and his attentive diplomacy established a period of political and cultural equilibrium. The only threat to his reign was revolt within his family that he ultimately quelled without breaking the continuity of the centralized government.

Jahangir’s twenty-two years on the imperial throne was an era of peace and tranquility in the vast Mughal Empire. The peace and amity granted him the space and time to engage in his passionate patronage of the arts. Resulting in an innovative golden age of Mughal painting. And also the artistic embellishments in the Empire that it henceforth lacked due to consistent warfare. He emerged as a powerful advocate for the cultural understanding and values of his ancestors. But also of his ruled territories in the Empire that he painstakingly nurtured and bequeathed to his following generations.TW

Zoya Ansari has a good deal of teaching experience and possesses a keen historical sense


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