A good name for Kings is achieved by means of lofty buildings...
From great-great grandfather to father, the Mughals had supported the arts, setting the precedent for Shah Jahan. He was fascinated by painting and jewelry,as his father Jahangir had been, and the fine arts flourished under Shah Jahan as they had in no previous reign.
According to art historian Milo Beach, "He was well known as a connoisseur of jewels. He had time to dabble in the arts, and was maybe even a jewel carver himself. But clearly his real engagement was with architecture."
Like his grandfather, Akbar the Great, Shah Jahan was passionate about architecture. Not content with the hand-me-down buildings in Akbar's Red Fort, he replaced them with resplendent palaces of pure white marble. As soon as the Agra Fort was completed, he moved the Mughal capital from Agra back to the ancient site of Delhi where he built a magnificent new city, owing nothing to his ancestors, yet keeping the long-established legacy of the Delhi throne. (The palaces of Shahjahanabad, now Old Delhi, are also faced entirely in white marble. Consequently, the reign of Shah Jahan is sometimes referred to as the "reign of marble).
Heir to an empire that spanned the sub-continent and beyond, Shah Jahan was also passionate about dynastic pride and his own celebrity. "Much of his life was spent demonstrating his power," says Beach. "And because jewels were the basis for calculating wealth, for confirming that in fact the Mughals were healthy economically, his power was displayed by means of a very gaudy display of jewelry." To further enhance his image as a preeminent ruler, Shah Jahan set aside the six thrones bequeathed to him by his forebears and commissioned another encrusted with hundreds of diamonds, emeralds, pearls and rubies ? the famous Peacock throne ? where he held court surrounded by exquisite silk carpets and cushions under arches of silver inscribed in gold.
According to Beach, "In the paintings of Shah Jahan, he's depicted with the coldness of an icon. European accounts of him at the time talk about him, even as a young prince, as being very cold, very disdainful and extremely haughty. He's presented as a symbol of royalty rather than a human being, which separates him enormously from his father and grandfather, who really delighted in a personal revelation of their characters. Shah Jahan absolutely didn't want that. He wanted himself to be seen as the symbol of perfection ? the perfection of a jewel ? so carefully crafted and so flawless that there could be no question at all of the vagaries of a human personality."
Shah Jahan spent incalculable wealth on his preoccupations: a life of ease, pageantry and pleasure, expeditions to expand his dominion and the creation of his celebrated edifices. Unlike the buildings of Akbar which show such eclectic delight in diversity, Shah Jahan's constructions demonstrate cool confidence in a new order.
In his structures, the Hindu and Islamic traditions are not simply mixed but synthesized in a resolved form.
the balance of inlaid ornamentation and unadorned spaces; the cusped arch, neither Islamic nor Hindu; the simplified columns and brackets created without the rich carvings; the kiosks with Islamic domes ? typical of the nobility, grace and genius that characterize the constructions of Shah Jahan.
For all the beauty of the embellishments used in the Taj Mahal and his other buildings, it is the stylistic unity and harmony of design that is Shah Jahan's greatest accomplishment, providing the finishing touch in the Mughal style of architecture.