India: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

The Light of the World

With the accession of Jehanjir to the throne the history of the empire undergoes a remarkable change. It was the strong, fine character of Akbar which had made good and orderly government possible. But the new emperor possessed none of his father's virtues, and although Akbar's system of government remained, all men soon began to find that the new ruler was a self-indulgent man who cared nothing for goodness, wisdom' and justice. Consequently, every one began to plot an strive for his own advantage without caring for the good of the country and the public welfare.

In this evil course the Emperor himself led the way, and before long the reign of Jehanjir becomes one long story of conspiracy, intrigue, and bloodshed. How changed it was from the noble time of Akbar will be seen from what follows.

One of the first acts of Jehanjir was secretly to order the murder of Sher Afkun, one of his father's trusted nobles, a man of great courage and wonderful bodily strength. He was known as the tiger-slayer, because he was said to have killed one of these beasts with his own hands and without a weapon of any kind. His wife was the most beautiful woman of her time, and Jehanjir had long desired to marry her himself. As soon, therefore, as Sher Afkun was dead, after a desperate fight, in which he slew very many of his murderers, his wife was carried off to Delhi, and after some time became the wife of the Emperor, not knowing him to be guilty of her husband's death. She proved to be one of the most extraordinary women that ever lived, and the history of the Moghul Empire at this time is entirely the story of Nur Jehan, "The Light of the World," as the Emperor, fascinated by her beauty, ordained she should be called. Her family were favoured beyond all, and placed next in rank to the royal princes. She was allowed to assume the title of Empress, and the coins of the realm were stamped with her name as well as with that of the Emperor. In fact, such was the power of this clever and beautiful woman that, although the imperial orders were issued in the Emperor's name, they were always in reality devised by Nur Jehan. It is a great proof of her wisdom that, in spite of much bloodshed and turmoil, the reign of Jehanjir was in other respects one of the most prosperous in Mohammedan history.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - India by Beatrice Home


A few years after her rise to power the Emperor's life and throne were endangered by the insurrection of his third son, Prince Churrum, who eventually succeeded his father as Shah Jehan. He was a dashing military leader, and had won considerable fame in suppressing a dangerous revolt in the Deccan, when, finding himself at the head of a powerful army, which he completely won over to his designs, he assassinated his eldest brother and proclaimed himself Emperor.

He would probably have been successful but for two people—Nur Jehan and Mohabet Khan, the imperial general, who, like Baber and Akbar, was the most skilful leader of his time. The great Sultana had never trusted Prince Churrum, or Shah Jehan, as he now began to be called, and although she found the greatest difficulty in persuading the Emperor that he was a dangerous conspirator, preparations to resist him were at last made, and Mohabet Khan, bringing an army from the north, overthrew Prince Shah Jehan in a desperate battle and compelled him to fly.

But he had a secret friend at court, by whose aid he very nearly out-manúuvred the wily Nur Jehan. This friend was Azif Khan, his father-in-law and a trusted counsellor of Jehanjir. He knew that Nur Jehan's great object was to secure the empire for her own family, and so planned a desperate scheme to give the throne to Shah Jehan.

He persuaded Jehanjir to remove the imperial treasures of the Moghuls from Agra to Lahore, and sent secretly to Shah Jehan advising him to intercept and carry them off. These treasures consisted of vast stores of gold and precious stones, which had been accumulated in the treasury guarded by the great fort at Agra ever since the early days of Akbar the Great. If Shah Jehan could seize these on the road to Lahore, he would have enough money to bribe the whole army of the Emperor.

Jehanjir fell into the trap, and before Nur Jehan knew anything about it, his sealed order had been delivered to the imperial treasurer at Agra. The latter officer was a faithful and trusted servant of the empire, and could not help wondering greatly at this strange and sudden removal of all the imperial wealth. So, although he was forced to obey the Emperor's command, he did so unwillingly and with many forebodings.

It was not an easy business, however, to examine the records, make fresh entries, withdraw the numerous cases from the vaults, and superintend their careful packing before they were carried out to the long line of camels upon whose backs they had to be secured for the long journey before them. All this could not be done quickly, and the treasurer, suspicious of he knew not what, contrived that the work should take as long as he could possibly make it. He invented all sorts of delays on the pretext of making extra sure of his charge during the transport, until two whole days passed by before the work was finished.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - India by Beatrice Home


Suddenly a messenger, breathless and travel-stained, rushed into the fortress at Agra with the startling news that Shah Jehan with a large force was advancing from the south. At once the treasurer saw through the entire plot. Without a moment's delay he restored the treasure to the vaults of the fortress and dispatched a messenger on a swift dromedary to inform the Emperor at Lahore of what he had done.

It was a narrow escape. The prince had been too impatient, or he would have captured the vast wealth of the Moghuls on the open road from Agra. Now it was once more safe behind the strong walls raised by his grandfather Akbar. He captured the city and slaughtered the inhabitants in a fury of disappointment, but the impregnable fortress and its treasure defied his attack, and in a few days news reached him that Jehanjir was advancing with an immense army. Once more Shah Jehan had to flee, and was an exile until the death of his father.

The rest of the history of Jehanjir and the beautiful Nur Jehan is stranger than the wildest romance ever invented by the wit of man. But I have only space to tell here how Nur Jehan grew jealous of the great General Mohabet, who had so often saved the empire, how she tried to get him into her power in order to kill him, and how at last she persuaded the Emperor to believe that Mohabet was guilty of treason and to help her take him prisoner.

But the general was too clever to be caught, and when at last he went to see Jehanjir, it was at the head of a large force of Rajputs, with whom he surprised and carried off the Emperor himself, although he treated him with the greatest respect and consideration. Then Nur Jehan followed with an army and, mounted on an elephant, led her troops across a great river in the face of the enemy's fire, but after fighting desperately and being wounded, she saw her army defeated by Mohabet and swam back across the river. But the end of all was stranger still. For when at last Mohabet had got both the Emperor and Nur Jehan into his power, and when he might also have slain the Grand Vizier, who fell into his hands at the capture of Rhotas, he declared that, having righted his own wrongs, he wanted nothing more, and set his prisoners at liberty, only making the Emperor promise that all which had passed should be forgotten.

The Emperor promised, and meant to keep his word. Nur Jehan, with friendly smiles on her beautiful face, also promised, and meant in her heart to kill Mohabet at the first opportunity. She waited until the trusting general had sent his army away and then threw off her mask. She sent men to kill Mohabet, and he had to fly, leaving all his wealth, while the Empress sent messages to the governors all over the empire ordering them to take him alive or dead.

But while this great man was now a fugitive with a price on his head, he had, without knowing it, a powerful friend at court. This was none other than Nur Jehan's own brother, the Grand Vizier Azif Khan, and father-in-law of Shah Jehan.

He knew that Mohabet, who had spared his life at Rhotas, was the finest general as well as one of the noblest men of his time, and that he had done nothing to deserve the hatred of the Empress. So Azif sent a secret message to Mohabet, telling him that he was his friend and desired to see him. Alone and without a single follower, Mohabet rode four hundred miles to meet Azif at a spot between Lahore and Delhi. Upon seeing the worn and ragged condition of the hero, the Grand Vizier fell upon the neck of the famous old warrior and burst into tears.

The result of this meeting was a compact to proclaim Shah Jehan as Emperor, but the sudden death of Jehanjir once more changed the aspect of affairs. It prevented civil war, but Nur Jehan suddenly placed Prince Bulaki, Jehanjir's grandson, upon the throne, and for the moment Azif Khan had to keep quiet. He actually assisted the new monarch to assume the crown, for at present Shah Jehan and his supporters had no army in readiness behind them. Accordingly Azif sent to the prince, and between them a plan of amazing craft and cunning was devised.

By the advice of the Grand Vizier the new Emperor sent to Shah Jehan to demand his submission. The emissary found him lying upon a couch seemingly at the point of death with blood oozing from his mouth, and returned with this news to Delhi. Shortly after the prince was reported dead, and his friends requested that as a last favour he might be buried in the tomb of Akbar at Agra. Bulaki, overjoyed at the removal of his dangerous uncle, readily consented.

All this time the supposed dead man was perfectly well, the scene at his sick bed having been a clever piece of acting, with the aid of a mouthful of goat's blood, which completely deceived the Emperor's messenger. Azif Khan, with many signs of deep grief for the death of his son-in-law, advised Bulaki to be present at the funeral in Agra. Nothing loth, the Emperor went to Agra with a small retinue just as Shah Jehan arrived, riding behind a grand funeral bier and followed by a great army. Then Bulaki, seeing the plain filled with horsemen and foot-soldiers, at once suspected treachery, and, turning, his horse only just in time, galloped to Lahore, while behind him sounded a great noise of trumpets and kettle-drums proclaiming as emperor Shah Jehan, who entered the fortress at Agra and ascended the throne of the Moghuls. What became of Bulaki is not known, although it is believed he escaped to Persia.

As for Nur Jehan, the "Light of the World," her power ceased with the death of Jehanjir. She retired henceforth from the world, devoting the rest of her life to study and domestic quiet. The singular beauty of this wonderful woman lasted almost to the very end of her life. During this period of seclusion she invented the perfume so well known as attar of roses, and she died in 1645 at Lahore, eighteen years after the death of Jehanjir.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - India by Beatrice Home


The story of Jehanjir's reign, with its maze of plot and counter-plot, war and insurrection, is continued under his successors. Although the emperors are different, yet we find the same sort of things happening. The Imperial Court is surrounded by the greatest magnificence and with all the wealth and splendour of the East. There are wars against the chiefs of the Deccan in the south, with the Persians and Tartars of the north, or against princes of the Royal House who strive to gain the throne. It was only because Akbar the Great had built the empire so well that it stood the strain. Apart from these struggles, the reign of Shah Jehan is chiefly remarkable for the additions he made to the grandeur of the empire.

In memory of his favourite wife, niece of the celebrated Nur Jehan, he commenced to build the magnificent Taj Mahal at Agra, the most beautiful of many beautiful buildings in all India. It was constructed of all the most costly materials at a vast expense, and it took a multitude of workmen twelve years to complete it. Shah Jehan also made the wonderful Peacock throne. It was of solid gold and blazed with jewels. The figures of two peacocks stood behind it with expanded tails inlaid with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and other precious stones to represent the natural colours. Among the ornaments was a parrot of life-size, cut from a single emerald. He also erected many other famous buildings which are the wonder and glory of India to-day. It may be said, indeed, that all the Moghul emperors left behind them some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, while the English have erected some of the ugliest.

In 1657 Shah Jehan, under whom the empire reached its greatest pitch of magnificence, was seized with paralysis, and, as usual, the princes, his sons, at once began to fight for his throne. The struggle was eventually won by the superior cunning and military skill of Aurunzebe, who made a prisoner of his father and overpowered his brothers. The latter fled, but after much desperate fighting were captured one by one and put to death.

We have now seen something of the splendid dynasty of the Moghuls. We have yet to learn how their great empire fell. But first we must see how in the meantime Europe had found its way by sea to Asia, and how among the Western nations the English established themselves upon the Indian sea-coast.