In the Shahdara area of Lahore lies a magnificent Mughal tomb famed for its marble inlay work on red sandstone. This is the mausoleum of Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605 - 1627), a gem of Mughal architecture dwarfed by other famous Mughal monuments, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra and Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi.
Jahangir ascended the Mughal throne on the death of his father, Emperor Akbar, in 1605 CE. During a reign that lasted 22 years, Jahangir built a reputation as an aesthete and a connoisseur of the arts. In the later years of his life, his favourite wife, Empress Nur Jahan, grew extremely influential and powerful in the Mughal court.
Death of Emperor Jahangir
In early 1627 CE, Jahangir decided to move from Lahore to Kashmir, to cooler climes. It was the last journey he ever took, for he took ill on the way and died. Jahangir breathed his last near Rajouri, in present-day Jammu & Kashmir, on 28th October 1627 CE.
His body was embalmed and only his intestines were buried in a temporary grave at Chingas or Chingus Sarai near Bhimber (now in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir). Interestingly, ‘Chingas’ means ‘intestines’ in Persian.
After the temporary death rituals were performed, the Emperor’s embalmed body was sent to Lahore by his brother-in-law, Asaf Khan, brother of Nur Jahan. In the book, Nur Jahan – Empress of India (1993), Ellison Banks Findly writes, “Asaf Khan sent the corpse to Lahore for burial under the supervision of Maqsud Khan and other nobles, with strict instructions that Nur Jahan was to accompany her dead husband at every stage through to the very end. The long royal procession then left Bhimbar for Lahore in two stages... Nur Jahan, with the body of Jahangir, then followed a day behind as they made their way to his final resting place in Shahdara.”
Construction of the Tomb
It was only fitting that Lahore was chosen as Jahangir’s final resting place, for the Emperor had called it “one of the greatest places in Hindustan” and often held court there. A large, square mausoleum was built for the Emperor in the centre of a beautiful garden called Dilkhusha in the Shahdara area
Situated on the banks of the Ravi River, the mausoleum took ten years to complete. Financed by his son and successor, Emperor Shah Jahan, it was completed in 1637 CE at a cost of 10 lakh rupees. While it is popularly believed that Nur Jahan built the tomb for her beloved husband, the truth is she
did not have the resources to finance such a grand mausoleum as she was given only a modest purse on Jahangir’s death. Nur Jahan lived the rest of her days in Lahore and, on her death in 1645 CE, was buried in a tomb in the Jahangir tomb complex.
In keeping with Mughal tradition, Jahangir’s square-shaped tomb was built in the centre of a Persian-style Charbagh garden. The four corners of the tomb are marked by elegant minarets and four terraces. Each minaret is topped by a chhatri that bears a white marble dome.
The mausoleum is fringed on the outside by a corridor that runs along its square perimeter, bearing a row of rooms. In the centre of the mausoleum is the Emperor’s cenotaph, on which are carved the 99 names of Allah.
While the tomb’s façade is made of red sandstone, it is the exquisite marble inlay work known as ‘Pietra Dura’ or ‘Parchin Kari’ that takes your breath away. In this exquisite art, highly polished semiprecious stones such as agate, jasper, turquoise and lapis lazuli are cut into shapes and pieced together to form delicate patterns and images. This ‘jigsaw’ is usually inlaid in marble. The precision with which the stones are cut, grooved and assembled is incredible, with the borders fitting together so seamlessly that they are almost invisible.
Pietra Dura was widely patronised by the Mughals, and the earliest example of this art can be seen in the tomb of Itmatuddaulah in Agra, father of Nur Jahan.
The Tomb after the Mughal Empire
Following the decline of Mughal rule in the mid-18 th century, Lahore fell to the great Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in 1799 CE. Much of the ornamentation on Jahangir’s tomb was stripped during this time. The grounds of the tomb were even converted into the residence of a Spanish adventurer in Ranjit Singh’s court, a man known as ‘Senor Oms’ or ‘Musa Sahib’.
Following the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1846, the East India Company used the Akbari Sarai, also situated in the Jahangir tomb complex, as warehouses for the railways. A railway line was also built between the tombs of Asif Khan and Nur Jahan in the complex, which damaged these monuments.
Today, Jahangir’s tomb and the surrounding complex are managed by the Department of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan. With the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Jahangir’s tomb became ‘disconnected’ from the Mughal monuments in India and it doesn’t receive many visitors. Yet it stands tall as an exquisite reminder of Mughal splendour.
The Mughal Art of Marble Inlay is still thriving in the old Mughal capital of Agra. You can buy marble inlay coasters, adding a Mughal touch to your home, from our History Shop – The Peepul Tree
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