The Master Builder
While his grandfather Akbar is best known for developing the Mughal empire, it is Shah Jehan who is remembered as the sultan who spent his time literally building it. Shah Jehan was a patron of the arts, and a lover of all things big: big mosques, big forts, big gemstones. He commissioned hundreds of paintings and engravings for his palaces, many of which survive to this day.The most enduring of Shah Jehans creations were his massive construction projects. Employing a mix of Persian palatial sophistication and local Hindu engineering know how, Shah Jehan defined the architectural style recognized the world over as Mughal. The Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, both in Delhi, stand out as towering achievements of both civil engineering and art. Yet above all else, we remember Shah Jehan today for the Taj Mahal, the massive white marble mausoleum constructed for his wife Mumtaz Mahal along the bank of the Jamuna River in Agra.Mumtaz Mahal died during childbirth soon after Shah Jehan ascended to the throne. Grief stricken, Shah Jehan decided to built the Taj Mahal as a tribute and final resting place for her. It took over a decade to build and it nearly bankrupted the empire, but Shah Jehan had his monument for the ages. He continued to spend lavishly, beginning new construction projects and revamping old ones (including the Agra Fort, first built by Akbar two generations earlier). He even commissioned the creation of a brilliant gold throne encased in hundreds of precious gems the Peacock Throne, a symbol of Mughal royalty until it was stolen and co opted by the Persians a century later.
But despite his successes as a patron of art and architecture, Shah Jehan was unable to gauge the discontent among his own court. A power struggle among his sons ensued, and eventually, the ruthless prince Aurangzeb deposed Shah Jehan in a coup detat in 1658. Shah Jehan was imprisoned in the Octagonal Tower of the Agra Fort (a beautiful addition to the fort that he himself had constructed) and would remain there until his death, eight years later, in 1666. He was then buried next to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in the Taj Mahal, two kilometers down river from the fort.