The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 60


Emperor Jahangir

Sep 29, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

As previously mentioned, Jahangir's two-year stretch of close association with the Vaisnava sadhu, Gosain Jadrup, was summarized by the Mughal emperor's philosophical conclusion that Jadrup "is not devoid of learning and has studied well the science of the Vedanta, which is the science of Sufism". Jahangir quoted passages from the Persian poetry of Rumi and Sana'i to describe Jadrup, relying on the same literary material his father Akbar had used. Both father and son appreciated poetry that expressed the sorts of nonspecific, secular yet mystical ideals they were attracted to.

Both Akbar and Jahangir had an affinity for the mystical, preferring to adopt it outside of the bounds of strict Islamic tradition. We find this predisposition expressed in their speeches, in their writing, and in the philosophical positions they promoted, which academics today often characterize as 'benevolently embracing all religions'.

The reader will recall that in several past segments, we described how the Mughal emperors became attracted to Hindu religious practices and to various sadhus and ascetics, seeking relief from their anxiety about health issues, impending death, etc. The same is true of Jahangir, who at the time of his meetings with Jadrup, was struggling with serious alcoholism and addictions. His brother Daniyal was fighting a similar battle and like Jahangir, he too died from his substance abuse.

So the proclivity for things mystical on the part of the Mughal rulers can be considered an expression, in many instances, of their search for relief from suffering. Given all that we know about their warlike pursuits and the indifference with which they destroyed countless temples, deities, and lives of devotees, it seems likely that their spiritual explorations were driven more by fear than by some high philosophical ideal, or actual attraction to the Supreme.

Gold Mohur of Jahangir, commemorating the 6th year of his reign, 1611

By the time Prince Salim stepped onto Akbar's throne in 1605, he had already developed the same sort of inflated sense of self-worth his father had. The name chosen by the Prince Jahangir means "seizure of the world". Because Akbar's reign had been so successful, conquering much of North India and spreading into the central regions, the fame of the Mughal Empire was by now spread far and wide. Jahangir was left with a rather hard act to follow.

While pockets of resistance always existed, Akbar had settled many of the political rebellions in his various territories, deputing governors and generals like Raja Man Singh, and bringing the Rajput presence to bear in quieting and controlling the Hindu population. Jahangir saw as his personal challenge the extension of Mughal might and the fame of the empire throughout the world. He married well, and his wife, Nur Jahan, became the most active political agent in his court. Jahangir, meanwhile, attempted to bolster his own fame in various ways, one of which was the minting of high quality coins, many bearing his picture.

The minting of coinage was not Jahangir's innovation various Mughal rulers before him had done the same. But in Jahangir's case, we see how he blended his penchant for the sentimental and mystical, which were combined on a number of coins. One series bore fragments of mystical poetry that hinted at Jahangir's fame these were produced even before Akbar's death. In later years, Jahangir minted a series of coins with his image on the face, and the astrological signs on the verso. Both the emperor and the zodiac symbols are framed against the sun, making the coins very beautiful.

As we'll discuss more in the segments to come, Jahangir sought refuge from various forms of suffering in his life by fleeing to Kashmir. There, he took shelter amongst the beautiful scenery and enjoyed the sweet-natured Kashmiri people, while trying to overcome political subterfuge in his court and in his family, and trying to heal his body, mind and spirit from the destructive force of his addictions.

During one of his numerous journeys back and forth to Kashmir, Jahangir was returning to Agra when he was struck with severe stomach pain, which seemed unbearable. He sent one of his allies, Chidrup sannyasi, ahead to Agra with a quantity of gold coins to be distributed to the Vaisnava brahmanas and the poor. Jahangir was seeking blessings, and hoping his pious act of distributing wealth would get him relief from his suffering but unfortunately, the sannyasi proved to be a rascal, who distributed only some of the coins and kept the rest for himself. It was Jahangir's wife, Nur Jahan, who discovered the subterfuge, reporting it to her husband.

Jahangir then called on all sorts of Hindu saints and Sufi hakims (physicians), trying to get relief from his pain. He was eventually told about a Vaisnava preacher a Pushtimarg devotee named Shri Gokulesh and was encouraged to appeal to him for purification of the sinful activities which resulted in his suffering. Jahangir sent his messenger to deliver a letter to Shri Gokulesh, in which he begged for forgiveness. The Bhakti preacher then traveled to Agra to meet with Jahangir, and gave his blessings for the recovery of the emperor's health.

Jahangir's Letter is Delivered to Shri Gokulesh

While Jahangir's gold coins were very beautiful and valuable, it was ultimately the emperor's humble prayers that purchased relief from his pain albeit temporary. The gold coins were sought after during Jahangir's reign, sometimes being mounted with loops and worn as a medallion, or hung from turbans. They are highly prized by collectors to this day, but are in very short supply. Not surprisingly, after Jahangir's death, his successor, Shah Jahan had the coins withdrawn from circulation, announcing the death penalty for anyone caught using them. Many were melted down, replaced with coinage that glorified the new emperor.


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