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shah jahanThe takht-i-shahi (later to be called the peacock throne) serves as Shah Jahan’s throne in the new Mughal capital of Delhi. It is a showcase of the wealth of the Empire and the skill of the Court’s artisans, but also, Shah Jahan’s personal collection of jewels. The throne is decorated with outstanding gems from his prized set: the Kohinoor, the Akbar Shah, the Shah, the Jahangir, and the Timur ruby. The pearl-fringed canopy over the throne is equally stunning: supported by 12 emerald-studded columns, the inside of the enamelled umbrella shimmers with garnets and rubies and above it is a jewel-studded gold peacock with a tail of sapphires.


Emperor Shah Jahan seated on his jewelled throne that has taken six years to create, Image: From 17th C illustration in the Padshahnama (via Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)

But now more than ever, the question is: who will inherit this throne and the Empire? About the same time that the Peacock Throne and the capital finds a new seat in Shahjahanabad, the Emperor’s son and heir apparent is steadily rising up the ranks. Dara Shikoh has been made Governor of Gujarat. Dara, while much loved by all in the Court and the Capital, is no match for his younger brother, Aurangzeb, on the field. Aurangzeb has governed in the Deccan, Multan and Gujarat, and regularly leads military expeditions, such as those against Balkh. In doing so, Aurangzeb has built useful economic and military alliances which he can easily summon to his assistance in a show of strength, or actual confrontation. Meanwhile, Dara, Shah Jahan’s clear favourite from the very start, appears to have overlooked the importance of these practical skills, possibly labouring under false security.

He may be the people’s darling prince, but he is possibly not someone they can trust for protection against a robust enemy. Even as he sees that he must protect his preordained path to the throne, Dara indulges his heart’s calling. Between 1640 and 1657, he composes 20 books, including a Persian translation of the Upanishads, Sirr-e-Akbar (The Great Secret) and Majma-ul-Bahrain (Meeting Place of Two Oceans). It is his Persian translation of the Upanishads that will, in coming centuries, introduce these works to a Western audience.