Emperor Jahangir was the fourth in line to the illustrious rulers who are known in history as the great Mughals. Owing to his likable personality, the brilliance of his court and his friendliness toward foreigners, Jahangir has been favourably treated, especially by foreign visitors visiting the Mughal Empire. There are, however, certain aspects of his administration which cast a shadow on his regime and cast a cloud over his reign.
The first drawback suffered by the Empire was in respect of the cessation of the extension of the Mughal dominion and the empire suffered a serious blow in the loss of Qandahar. Jahangir’s languorous temperament saw to it that in spite of vast imperial resources, no serious attempt was made to bring the large unconquered areas of the Deccan under the empire. As expending their dominion was considered the overarching policy of the emperors, Jahangir’s slothful conduct failed to pursue the policy of aggrandisement.
A significant change took place in the composition of the nobility and the holders of high office during the years of Nur Jahan’s ascendency. Akbar had made good use of the indigenous element and aristocrats such Abul Fazl, Faizi, Todar Mal and Man Singh had become pillars of state. Akbar also succeeded in maintaining a due balance between the Irani and Turani elements but under Jahangir this balance was upset and the Iranis became all-powerful. Held in check, the Irani element was a source of strength but this ceased to be the case in the eighteenth century when its political role during the decline of the empire weakened the realm.
One extremely harmful development of Jahangir’s reign was the mushroom growth of bureaucracy and the resultant increase in government expenditure. No large territory was added to the empire but the number of mansabdars, which under Akbar numbered about eight hundred, was increased to nearly three thousand in Jahangir’s reign. The devastation of the country and the diminution of income rose to such a height that the revenue of the exchequer-lands fell to five million rupees while expenditure rose to fifteen million, and large sums were expended out of the general treasury.
Jahangir must bear the ultimate responsibility for this state of affairs but the immediate cause was the dominance and policy of Nur Jahan. She was a woman of fierce ambition and good taste who spent large sums in charity, particularly for the relief of indigent women, and worked hard to relieve the drabness of Indian life. Many innovations which enhanced the grace and charm of Mughal culture can be directly traced to her, and her influence led to the maintenance of a magnificent court. But while it enhanced imperial glory it correspondingly strained the royal resources.
It was quite obvious that the lavish style of living introduced at the royal court was initiated by the nobility and an era of extravagance, with its concomitants of corruption and demoralisation among officers of the state, was inaugurated. This corroded the structure of the Mughal government. A contemporary account sharply criticised Nur Jahan and her “crowd of Khurasanis” for what it was costing the state to maintain “their excessive pomp,” and complained that the foreign bureaucrats were particularly indifferent to the condition of the masses. To Nur Jahan herself belongs the doubtful honour of introducing the system of nazars or gifts to the court that gave way to corruption at the royal level. Mughal Vizier, Asaf Khan emerges as exceedingly greedy for such gifts.
The era of extravagance which was ushered in during Jahangir’s reign was fed from two other sources. One was the change in the prevalent philosophy of life. The old Indian emphasis on plain living and the excellence of limitation of wants was not consistent with the way of life introduced by Muslim rulers in the subcontinent, but it was not without a certain influence. In Akbar’s days in particular, with emphasis on the spiritual side of things, it is easy to trace a certain idealism, an other-worldliness, and the ability to rise above purely materialistic values, in spite of the elaborate grandeur of a great empire. The Irani newcomers were alien to this approach, and under their influence the gracious living became the sum mum bonum, the goal of human existence.
The other factor responsible for increased extravagance was the vast opportunity for spending provided by the new commercial contacts with Europe. By now the fame of the Mughal Empire had spread to distant lands and in Jahangir’s day embassies came to his court from European countries. England sent Captain Hawkins in 1608, and Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of James I, came to conclude a commercial treaty in 1615. By September, 1618, he was able to obtain a ‘farman’ signed by Prince Khurram as viceroy of Gujarat which gave facilities for trade, but owing to the prince’s opposition, did not allow a building to be built as a residence.
The new trade, brought out some pathetic propensities in the Mughal nobility. Costly toys were devised to please the taste of the court. In this Jahangir led the way. He was described as “an amateur of all varieties and antiquities, and displayed an almost childish love of toys.” One traveler tells how he presented the emperor with “a small whistle of gold, weighing almost an ounce, set with sparks of rubies, which he took and whistled therewith almost an hour’. Jahangir sowed the seeds of Mughal decline that finally brought it down. TW
Zoya Ansari has a good deal of teaching experience and possesses a keen historical sense