The Peacock Throne (Hindustani: تخت طاؤس, मयूर सिंहासन: Mayūra sinhāsana, Persian: تخت طاووس, Takht-i Tāvūs) was a famous jewelled throne that was the seat of the Mughal emperors of India. It was commissioned in the early 17th century by emperor Shah Jahan and was located in the Red Fort of Delhi. The original throne was subsequently captured and taken as a war trophy in 1739 by the Persian ruler Nader Shah, and has been lost ever since. A replacement throne based on the original was commissioned afterwards and existed until the Indian rebellion of 1857.Contents
Shah Jahan ruled in what is considered the Golden Age of the vast Mughal Empire, which covered almost all of the Indian subcontinent. It was ruled from the newly constructed capital of Shahjahanabad and the fabled imperial citadel Red Fort, with its marble and golden halls bedecked in jewels and silk, perfumed water fountains and canals running, surrounded by fragrant gardens. Sumptuous feasts, religious festivals, extravagant receptions for state guests, with innumerous artists and musicians, a large zenana and thousands of soldiers, courtiers and servants who ensured for a colourful and joyful life far away from everyday worries. The focus around which everything revolved was the emperor, where he gave audiences and received petitioners. The court and its ruler was a mirror image of paradise on earth, in the very centre of the empire. Amongst the various titles he carried, such as Great King (پادشاه, Badshah), he was also the Shadow of God (Zill-i-Allahi), making him the executor of God's will. The sovereign therefore also held a court of justice. It was therefore necessary to have a proper seat or Throne of Solomon (تخت سليمان, Takht-e-Sulaiman) to underscore his position of the just king. Just like Solomon's throne, the Peacock Throne was to be covered in gold and jewelled, with steps leading up to it, with the ruler floating above ground and closer to heaven.
Since the imperial treasury at that point was full of precious jewels, Shah Jahan had ample resources and decided to put the jewels and pearls into a more public use. Said Gilani and his workmen from the imperial goldsmiths' department were commissioned with the construction of this new throne. It took seven years to complete. Large amounts of solid gold, precious stones and pearls were used, creating a masterful piece of Mughal workmanship that was unsurpassed before or after its creation. It was an opulent indulgence that could only be seen by a small minority of courtiers, aristocrats and visiting dignitaries. The throne was even for the Golden Age Mughal standards supremely extravagant and cost twice as much as the construction of the Taj Mahal. The appearance of the throne was in stark contrast to the older throne of Jahangir, a large rectangular slab of engraved black basalt constructed in the early 1600s, used by the father of Shah Jahan.
It did initially not carry a name and was simply known as the "Jewelled Throne" or "Ornamented Throne" (Takht-Murassa). It received its name from later historians because of the peacock statues featured on it.
It was inaugurated with a triumphant ceremony on 22 March 1635, the seventh formal anniversary of Shah Jahan's accession. The date was chosen by astrologers and was doubly auspicious, since it coincided exactly with Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, and Nowruz, the Persian Spring festival. The emperor and the court were returning from Kashmir and it was determined that the third day of Nowruz would be the most auspicious day for him to enter the capital and take his seat on the throne.
Muhammad Qudsi, the emperor's favourite poet, was chosen to compose twenty verses that were inscribed in emerald and green enamel on the throne. He praised the matchless skill of the artisans, the "heaven-depleting grandeur" of its gold and jewels, mentioning the date in the letters of the phrase "the throne of the just king".
Poet Abu-Talib Kalim was given six pieces of gold for each verse in his poem of sixty-three couplets.
The master goldsmith Said Gilani was summoned by the emperor and showered with honours, including with his weight in gold coins and given the title "Peerless Master" (Bibadal Khan). Gilani produced a poem with 134 couplets, filled with chronograms. The first twelve reveal the date of the emperor's birth, the following thirty-two the date of his first coronation, then the ninety couplets giving the date of the throne's inauguration.
Towards India he turned his reins quickly and went in all glory,
Driving like the blowing wind, dapple-grey steed swift as lightning. With bounty and liberality, he returned to the capital; Round his stirrups were the heavens and angels round his reins. A thousand thanks! The beauty of the world has revived With the early glory of the throne of multi-coloured gems.
After Shah Jahan's, his son Aurangzeb, who carried the title Alamgir, ascended the Peacock Throne. He was the last of the strong Mughal emperors and after his death in 1707, his son Bahadur Shah I reigned from 1707-1712. Bahadur Shah I was able to keep the empire stable and relaxed religious policy, however after his death the empire was in inexorable decline. A series of political instabilities, military defeats and court intrigues brought and fell a number of emperors: Jahandar Shah ruled for one year from 1712–1713, Farrukhsiyar from 1713–1719, Rafi ud-Darajat and Shah Jahan II only for a couple of months in 1719. By the time Muhammad Shah came to power, Mughal power was in serious decline and the empire became more vulnerable. Nevertheless under the generous patronage of Muhammad Shah, the court at Delhi became again a beacon of the arts and culture. Administrative reforms could not however stop the later Mughal-Maratha Wars, which greatly sapped the imperial forces. It was only a question of time until forces from neighbouring Persia saw their chance to invade.
Nadir Shah's invasion of India culminated in the Battle of Karnal on February 13, 1739 and the defeat of Muhammad Shah. Nadir Shah entered Delhi and sacked the city, in which course tens of thousands of inhabitants were massacred. Persian troops left Delhi at the beginning of May 1739, taking with them the throne as a war trophy with many other treasures, amounting to a large reduction in Indian wealth and an irreplaceable loss of cultural goods and treasures. Among the known precious stones that Nadir Shah looted were the Akbar Shah diamond, Great Mogul diamond, Great Table diamond, Koh-i-Noor, Shah diamond, as well as the Samarian spinel and the Timur ruby. These stones were either part of the Peacock Throne or other thrones, or were in possession of the Mughal emperors. The Akbar Shah was said to form one of the eyes of a peacock, as well as the Koh-i-Noor. The Shah diamond was described by Tavernier as being on the side of the throne. Many of these stones ended up becoming part of the Persian crown jewels or were taken later by the British colonialists.
When Nadir Shah was assassinated by his own officers on June 19, 1747, the throne disappeared, most probably being dismantled or destroyed for its valuables in the ensuing chaos. One of the unsubstantiated rumours claimed the throne was given to the Ottoman Sultan, however in reality this could be a minor throne produced in Persia and given as a gift. Persian emperor Fath-Ali Shah commissioned the Sun Throne to be constructed in the early 19th century for him. The Sun Throne has the shape of a platform just like the Peacock Throne. Some rumours claim that parts of the original Peacock Throne were used in its construction, however there is no evidence to that. Over time the Sun Throne was erroneously referred to as the Peacock Throne, a term that was later appropriated initially by the West as a metonym for the Persian monarchy. No proofed parts of the original Peacock Throne survived and the throne has been lost forever. Only some of diamonds and precious stones that are attributed to it have survived and been re-worked.
A replacement throne was probably constructed after the Persian invasion for the Mughal emperor, which closely resembled the original. The throne was located on the eastern side of the Divan-i-Khas, towards the windows. This throne however was also lost, possibly during or after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the subsequent looting and the large-scale destruction of the Red Fort by the occupying British colonialists. The marble pedestal on which it rested in the Divan-i-Khas has survived and can still be seen today.
In 1908, the New York Times reported that Caspar Purdon Clarke, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, obtained what was purported to be a marble leg from the pedestal of the throne. Although mentioned in the 1908 annual report, the status of this pedestal remains unknown. There is another marble leg in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Where exactly these two pedestals originate from however and if they are connected to the Peacock Throne at all remains unclear.
Inspired by the legend of the throne, King Ludwig II of Bavaria installed a romanticised version of it in his Moorish Kiosk in Linderhof Palace, constructed in the 1860s.Description
The contemporary descriptions that are known today of Shah Jahan's throne are from the historian Abdul Hamid Lahori, 'Inayat Khan, the French travellers François Bernier and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. No known painting that would their descriptions exist of the throne.Description by Abdul Hamid Lahori
Abdul Hamid Lahori (d. 1654) describes in the Padshahnama the creation of the throne under Shah Jahan:
In the course of years many valuable gems had come into the Imperial jewel-house, each one of which might serve as an ear-drop for Venus, or would adorn the girdle of the Sun. Upon the accession of the Emperor, it occurred to his mind that, in the opinion of far-seeing men, the acquisition of such rare jewels and the keeping of such wonderful brilliants can only render one service, that of adorning the throne of empire. They ought therefore, to be put to such a use, that beholders might share in and benefit by their splendour, and that Majesty might shine with increased brilliancy.
It was accordingly ordered that, in addition to the jewels in the Imperial jewel-house, rubies, garnets, diamonds, rich pearls and emeralds, to the value of 200 lacs of rupees, should be brought for the inspection of the Emperor, and that they, with some exquisite jewels of great weight, exceeding 50,000 miskals, and worth eighty-six lacs of rupees, having been carefully selected, should be handed over to Bebadal Khan, the superintendent of the goldsmith's department. There was also to be given to him one lakh of tolas of pure gold, equal to 250,000 miskals in weight and fourteen lakhs of rupees in value.
The throne was to be three gaz in length, two and a half in breadth, and five in height, and was to be set with the above-mentioned jewels. The outside of the canopy was to be of enamel work with occasional gems, the inside was to be thickly set with rubies, garnets, and other jewels, and it was to be supported by twelve emerald columns. On the top of each pillar there were to be two peacocks thick set with gems, and between each two peacocks a tree set with rubies and diamonds, emeralds and pearls. The ascent was to consist of three steps set with jewels of fine water.
This throne was completed in the course of seven years at a cost of 100 lakhs of rupees. Of the eleven jewelled recesses (takhta) formed around it for cushions, the middle one, intended for the seat of the Emperor, cost ten lakhs of rupees. Among the jewels set in this recess was a ruby worth a lac of rupees, with Shah 'Abbas, the king of Iran, had presented to the late Emperor Jahangir, who sent it to his present Majesty, the Sahib Kiran-i sani, when he accomplished the conquest of the Dakhin.
On it were engraved the names of Sahib-kiran (Timur), Mir Shah Rukh, and Mirza Ulugh Beg. When in course of time it came into the possession of Shah 'Abbas, his name was added; and when Jahangir obtained it, he added the name of himself and of his father. Now it received the addition of the name of his most gracious Majesty Shah Jahan. By command of the Emperor, the following masnawi, by Haji Muhammad Jan, the final verse of which contains the date, was placed upon the inside of the canopy in letters of green enamel. . . .
On his return to Agra, the Emperor held a court, sat for the first time on his throne.Description by 'Inayat Khan
The following is the account given of the throne in the Shahjahannama of 'Inayat Khan:
The Nauroz of the year 1044 fell on the 'Id-i fitr, when His Majesty was to take his seat on the new jewelled throne. This gorgeous structure, with a canopy supported on twelve pillars, measured three yards and a half in length, two and a half in breadth, and five in height, from the flight of steps to the overhanging dome. On his Majesty's accession to the throne, he had commanded that eighty-six lakhs worth of gems and precious stones, and a diamond worth fourteen lakhs, which together make a crore of rupees as money is reckoned in Hindustan, should he used in its decoration. It was completed in seven years, and among the precious stones was a ruby worth a lakh of rupees that Shah 'Abbas Safavi had sent to the late Emperor, on which were inscribed the names of the great Timur Sahih-Kiran, etc.Description by François Bernier
The French physician and traveller François Bernier described in his Travels in the Mogul Empire A.D. 1656-1668 the throne in the Diwan-i-Khas:
The King appeared seated upon his throne, at the end of the great hall, in the most magnificent attire. His vest was of white and delicately flowered satin, with a silk and gold embroidery of the finest texture. The turban, of gold cloth, had an aigrette whose base was composed of diamonds of an extraordinary size and value, besides an Oriental topaz, which may be pronounced unparalleled, exhibiting a lustre like the sun. A necklace of immense pearls, suspended from his neck, reached to the stomach, in the same manner as many of the Gentiles wear their strings of beads.
The throne was supported by six massive feet, said to be of solid gold, sprinkled over with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. I cannot tell you with accuracy the number or value of this vast collection of precious stones, because no person may approach sufficiently near to reckon them, or judge of their water and clearness; but I can assure you that there is a confusion of diamonds, as well as other jewels, and that the throne, to the best of my recollection, is valued at four crores of Rupees. I observed elsewhere that a lakh is one hundred thousand rupees, and that a crore is a hundred lakh; so that the throne is estimated at forty millions of rupees, worth sixty millions of pounds or thereabouts. It was constructed by Shah Jahan, the father of Aurangzeb, for the purpose of displaying the immense quantity of precious stones accumulated successively in the treasury from the spoils of ancient Rajas and Patans, and the annual presents to the Monarch, which every Omrah is bound to make on certain festivals. The construction and workmanship of the throne are not worthy of the materials; but two peacocks, covered with jewels and pearls, are well conceived and executed. They were made by a workman of astonishing powers, a Frenchman by birth, named..... who, after defrauding several of the Princes of Europe, by means of false gems, which he fabricated with peculiar skill, sought refuge in the Great Mogul's court, where he made his fortune.
At the foot of the throne were assembled all the Omralis, in splendid apparel, upon a platform surrounded by a silver railing, and covered by a spacious canopy of brocade with deep fringes of gold. The pillars of the hall were hung with brocades of a gold ground, and flowered satin canopies were raised over the whole expanse of the extensive apartment fastened with red silken cords, from which were suspended large tassels of silk and gold. The floor was covered entirely with carpets of the richest silk, of immense length and breadth.Description by Jean-Baptiste TavernierPortrait of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, as a traveller wearing a Mughal dress, from his Les Six Voyages, published in 1679
The French jeweller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier made sixth voyage to India between 1663 and 1668. It was a great privilege that he was invited to visit the court at Delhi by emperor Aurangzeb himself, where he remained as his guest for two months from September 12, 1665 to November 11, 1665.
The main purpose of Tavernier's invitation to court was for the emperor to inspect the jewels Tavernier had brought from the west, with an interest of purchasing them. During this visit Tavernier not only sold several jewels to the emperor and his uncle Jafar Khan, but established a close relationship with the emperor that allowed him to stay longer in Delhi. He was invited to stay on until the conclusion of the emperor's annual birthday celebrations, and he also got the opportunity to inspect the jewelled thrones in the Red Fort, including the Peacock Throne. He was also given the opportunity to inspect the valuable jewels and stones belonging to the emperor, but was not able to see those still kept by Aurangzeb's father Shah Jahan, who was imprisoned at Agra Fort. A few months after Tavernier inspected the jewels in Aurangzeb's possession, Shah Jahan died in January 1666 and Aurangzeb claimed the remaining inheritance.
Tavernier gives a detailed description of the Peacock Throne in his book Les Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier, published in 1676 in two volumes. His descriptions of the Peacock Throne are the most comprehensive account available to modern historians to date. The account of the throne appears in Chapter VIII of Volume II, in which he describes the preparations for the emperor's annual birthday festival, during which he is solemnly weighed every year in gold coins, and also about the splendour of his thrones and the magnificence of his court.
It should be stated that the Great Mogul has seven magnificent thrones, one wholly covered with diamonds, the others with rubies, emeralds, or pearls.
The principal throne, which is placed in the hall of the first court, is nearly of the form and size of our camp-beds; that is to say, it is about 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide. Upon the four feet, which are very massive and from 20 inches (51 cm) to 25 inches (64 cm) high, are fixed the four bars which support the base of the throne, and upon these bars are ranged twelve columns, which sustain the canopy on three sides, there not being any on that which faces the court. Both the feet and the bars, which are more than 18 inches long, are covered with gold inlaid and enriched with numerous diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.
In the middle of each bar there is a large balass ruby, cut en cabuchon, with four emeralds round it, which form a square cross. Next in succession, from one side to the other along the length of the bars there are similar crosses, arranged so that in one the ruby is in the middle of four emeralds, and in another the emerald is in the middle and four balass rubies surround it. The emeralds are table-cut, and the intervals between the rubies and emeralds are covered with diamonds, the largest of which do not exceed 10 to 12 carats in weight, all being showy stones, but very flat.
There are also in some parts pearls set in gold, and upon one of the longer sides of the throne there are four steps to ascend it. Of the three cushions or pillows which are upon the throne, that which is placed behind the King's back is large and round like one of our bolsters, and the two others that are placed at his sides are flat. There is to be seen, moreover, a sword suspended from this throne, a mace, a round shield, a bow and quiver with arrows; and all these weapons, as also the cushion and steps, both of this throne and the other six, are covered over with stones which match those with which each of the thrones is respectively enriched.
I counted the large balass rubies on the great throne, and there are about 108, all cabuchons, the least of which weighs 100 carats, but there are some which weigh apparently 200 and more. As for the emeralds, there are plenty of good colour, but they have many flaws; the largest may weigh 60 carats and the least 30 carats. I counted about 116; thus there are more emeralds than rubies.
The underside of the canopy is covered with diamonds and pearls, with a fringe of pearls all round, and above the canopy, which is a quadrangular-shaped dome, there is to be seen a peacock with elevated tail made of blue sapphires and other coloured stones, the body being of gold inlaid with precious stones, having a large ruby in front of the breast, from whence hangs a pear-shaped pearl of 50 carats or thereabouts, and of a somewhat yellow water. On both sides of the peacock there is a large bouquet of the same height as the bird, and consisting of many kinds of flowers made of gold inlaid with precious stones. On the side of the throne which is opposite the court there is to be seen a jewel consisting of a diamond of from 80 to 90 carats weight, with rubies and emeralds round it, and when the King is seated he has this jewel in full view.
But that which in my opinion is the most costly thing about this magnificent throne is, that the twelve columns supporting the canopy are surrounded with beautiful rows of pearls, which are round and of fine water, and weigh from 6 to 10 carats each. At 4 feet distance from the throne there are fixed, on either side, two umbrellas, the sticks of which for 7 or 8 feet in height are covered with diamonds, rubies, and pearls. The umbrellas are of red velvet, and are embroidered and fringed all round with pearls.
This is what I have been able to observe regarding this famous throne, commenced by Tamerlane and completed by Shāhjahān; and those who keep the accounts of the King’s jewels, and of the cost of this great work, have assured me that it amounts to 107,000 lakhs of rupees, which amount to 160,500,000 livres of our money.
Tavernier however describes seeing the throne in what is probably the Diwan-i-Am. One of the theories is that the throne was sometimes moved between the two halls, depending on the occasion. He further describes five other thrones in the Diwan-i-Khas.Discrepancies in descriptionShah Alam II seated on the throne, next to him the crown prince. Although the Peacock Throne was lost by the time of this painting, it depicts what was either a replacement throne modelled on the original one, or painted from memories and descriptions (circa 1800)Akbar II seated on the throne (circa 1811)Akbar II in durbar (holding court) in the Diwan-i Khas at the Red Fort (circa 1830)
The descriptions of Lahori from before 1648, and Tavernier's published in 1676 are generally in broad agreement on the most important features of the thrones, such as its rectangular shape, standing on four legs at its corners, the 12 columns on which the canopy rests, and the type of gemstones embedded on the throne, such as balas rubies, emeralds, pearls, diamonds and other coloured stones. There are however some significant differences in the two descriptions:
Apart from the significant differences between the two accounts given above, there are several details given in Lahori's account, which are not mentioned in Tavernier's, and vice versa.Lahori's description
Tavernier was allowed to closely inspect the throne and the jewels and wrote the most known detailed description to date.
After the destruction caused by Nadir Shah, another throne was made for the Mughal emperor. Various 19th century Indian company paintings of this throne exist. It was located in the Diwan-i-Khas and could have been smaller in size than the original one made for Shah Jahan. However the appearance would have been similar, based on either the original plans or by memories and eye-witness accounts. It was made out of gold or was gilded, and studded with precious and semi-precious stones. Just like the original, it featured 12 columns. The columns carried a Bengali do-chala roof, which were graced with two peacock statues on the two ends, carrying a pearl necklace in the beak, and two peacocks at the top, also carrying pearl necklaces in their beacks. The two peacocks were in the centre underneath a flower bouquet made out of jewels or under a royal umbrella. This throne was protected by a canopy made out of precious and colourful textiles and gold and silver threads. The canopy was carried by four, slender columns or beams made out of metal. Underneatch the throne, colourful and precious carpets were laid out.
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