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Paintings > Mughal > Mughal Emperor Shahjahan
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Mughal Emperor Shahjahan

Mughal Emperor Shahjahan

Mughal Emperor Shahjahan

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Watercolor on Paper
Artist Kailash Raj

13.8 inches X 18.5 inches
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Mughal Emperor Shahjahan

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Viewed 22729 times since 24th Aug, 2009
This large size equestrian portrait, measuring 35 x 48 cm., represents one of the Great Mughals, emperor Shahjahan, the builder of Tajmahal. The portrait reveals in his costume and ornaments his lavish and gorgeous life-style and on his face, a shadow of melancholy, as amongst all Great Mughals – from Babur to Aurangzeb, he was the only one to have lived to the greatest of grandeur and glory and to as worst grief, gloom and pathetic end. His life at court and in harem abounded in great splendour, but he was essentially a visionary. The brilliant gold-edged halo and a pale dull opaque background behind him underline these contrasts of his real life.

In this portrait, Shahjahan looks exactly as he looked in his authentic contemporary portraits except that his face is a little slenderer and turban reveals Jahangiri touch. His father, Jahangir, had developed a style of turban different from that of his father Akbar. So had Shahjahan, but here in this portrait, his turban blends in its style, though not much, the style of his father's turban. In Shahjahan's contemporary art, this style of equestrian portraits – horse with the dramatically raised forelegs and with a wide-flinging tail, portrayed figure carrying a long lance, and a quiver full of arrows attached to the saddle, and the like, was quite common. This portrait of Shahjahan corresponds exactly to a similarly rendered and historically quite significant portrait of one of the Mughal nobles Shayista Khan of around 1640. In his portrait, Shayista Khan has the reins of the horse in his left hand and the lance in the right, which was the usual mode of carrying them. On the contrary, Shahjahan has the reins in the right hand and the lance in left. The sword is also tied on his right side. One of his most authentic portraits of 1616-17, rendering him at his 25 year age, in the National Museum, New Delhi, signed and authenticated by Shahjahan himself, represents him as holding his characteristic jewel in his left hand. All these aspects suggest that Shahjahan was probably a left-hander.

Shahjahan, born in 1592 by a Rajput princess of Marwar, was the third son of Jahangir. His name, before he enthroned as Shahjahan, was Khurram Shihab al-Din Muhammad. As the fifth Mughal emperor of Hindustan, he ruled from 1628 to 1657. In 1657, he was overthrown by his own power-greedy son Aurangzeb and was put under arrest at the Musammam Burj in the Agra fort to pass the rest of his life in misery and humiliation. Ironically, this Musammam Burj and other marble pavilions at Agra fort were Shahjahan's own creation. Here, the creator of Tajmahal, with Tajmahal fading away in his eyes, though the memories of his beloved wife still hovering in his mind, breathed his last with no one to shed a tear on his corpse, except his daughter Jahanara who had preferred a sick lonely father's prison cell rather than a cruel brother's palatial magnificence and luxuries.

The most glaring aspect of his life was his love for his wife Arjumand Banu Begum who he had married when he was just twenty. After marriage, she was re-named as Mumataj Mahal – glory of the palace. Creativity was his other passion, and architecture, the foremost in it. A highly cultured Shahjahan led the Mughal Empire to its all-time cultural heights. When in 1631, Mumataj passed away, his two passions– one for her and the other for architecture, combined and one of world's greatest monuments Tajmahal was born.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.

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