Saturday, February 2, 2013

Muhammad Shah Rangila

Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal emperor, died in 1707.  Muhammad Shah became Mughal emperor in 1719.  During the interregnum, Bahadur Shah I, Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Rafi-ud-Darajat and Rafi-ud-Daula ascended the Mughal throne. Jahandar Shah was murdered on the orders of Farrukhsiyar who had the support of the two powerful Mughal nobles Sayyid Abdullah and his brother Sayyid Husain Ali at that time. They are famous in history as Sayyid brothers, the King-makers.

In 1719, Farrukhsiyar were murdered in utter disregard of a Mughal emperor by Sayyid brothers. Rafi-ud-Darajat died of consumption in a few months. Rafi-ud-Daula was addicted to opium and died in 4 months. Sayyid brothers now chose Raushan Akhtar, a son of Jahan Shah (the fourth son of Bahadur Shah I, to be the emperor. Raushan Akhtar ascended the throne under the title of Muhamamd Shah in September 1719.

In the beginning Muhammad Shah was a puppet in the hands of Sayyid brothers who soon began to lose their grip over the Mughal polity. The Mughal emperor, with the support of Chin Qulich Khan or Nizam-ul-Mulk, hatched a conspiracy to get rid of them. In October 1720, Sayyid Husain Ali, then governor of Deccan, was killed. A month later, Sayyid Abdullah was made prisoner and later poisoned to death.

Muhammad Shah celebrating Holi ca. 1737 by Bhupal Singh Photo: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

When Muhamamd Shah ascended the throne he was only 17 years old. He was given to pleasure. He loved to spend his time in the company of eunuchs and ladies of the harem.
This earned him the nickname of Rangila (merrymaker). His favourite courtesan was Gulab Bai. Watching elephant fights in the morning was his favourite pastime. In the evening, he enjoyed the company of jugglers. 

Muhammad Shah Making Love. ca. 1735 Photo: British Library, London

It was during the reign of Muhamamd Shah that Nadir Shah, the ‘Napolean of Iran’ invaded India in 1739. Muhammad Shah died in 1748 and was succeeded to the throne by his only son Ahmad Shah.

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