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Jehangir and religion

Jehangir playing holi
Jehangir playing holi

Jehangir was a man who had varied interest in religion. Although he was a muslim he even celebrated Hindu festivals at palace like Diwali and holi. Jehangir got so impressed with a jain saint that he took diksha in Jainism and named himself Jagat guru and his chief consort Jodha Bai as Jagat Gosain. Jehangir celebrated parsee festivals like Nauroz with fervour. Jehangir loved celebrating rakhi the hindu festival of bond between brother and sister. Jehangir not only had many rakhi sisters who were maids at palace but allowed commoners to tie him Rakhi. He even allowed the Hindu nobels at his court to tie him rakhi. Dusserha was another beloved festival of emperor Jehangir. He inspected horses, elephants, camels etc in his stable that day. The animals were decorated and presented in parade before the emperor.

Jehangir even celebrated the festival of Pind Dhan and called learned and religious man and gifted them and gave them food and sent Prince Khurram to Akbars tomb to give away 10000 gold coins in alms to commemorate his fathers death anniversary. In 1620 when Jehnagir was in Kashmir he went on boat to watch the festival of “Vethtarwah”  that is done to commemorate River Jhelum. In 1619 Jehangir went to Mathura and visited the temples of Brindahavan. In 1621 Jehangir visited the holy citry of Haridwar and described it as “one of the most holy cities of hindus”. He gave money and alms to the Barhims who worshipped at the ghats and even visited Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Jehangir followed his fathers liberal religious policy. The fact that when Prince Salim rebelled against his father could have used his fathers liberal policy of following various religions as a apostasy and yet did not neither did historians in his regime use it as reason for his rebellion shows he was a liberal. When Abul fazl was killed again Salim could have convienently blamed Akbars renunciation of Islam as excuse for his crimes yet did not. In 1598 a Christian converted to Islam to marry his dead wife neice and Prince Salim desired to punish him but Akbar forbade it. Jehangir like his father converted many Hindu religious texts into Persian and asserted there was not much difference between Sufism in Islam and Vedanta school of philosophy.

When Jehangir became emperor ther Ulemma assumed that Jehangir will be favourable to Islam. Mullah Shah Ahmad wrote to various ministers in mughal court to implement Shariat etc. Jehangir gave orders to Sheikh farid to give names of four scholars who would oversee that nothing against Shariat is done in Empire.  Mullah Ahmad wanted only one person appointed instead of four scholars and thus this matter reached stalemate.  Jehangir ordered allowances to be given to Islam converts. In the sixth year of his reign he ordered a decree to all Governors of provinces that they were not to convert anyone to Islam forcibly.

Jahangir allowed his friend Bir Singh Bundela to build a magnificent temple at Mathura. More than 70 new temples were allowed to come up in Benaras. He allowed Church to be built in Ahmedabad in 1620 and at Hugli. He allowed Christian cemetery at Lahore and Agra. He allowed unhindered Hindu pilgrimage. Jahnagir gave a allowance of Rs 7 to Christian fathers daily who were in agra.


In the opening section of his autobiography, Jahangir celebrates the tolerance of his father Akbar.

In Akbar’s India, Jahangir writes:

” there was room for the professors of opposite religions, and for beliefs, good and bad, and the road to altercation was closed. Sunnis and Shias met in one mosque, Christians and Jews in one church, and observed their form of worship.”

Britain’s first ambassador to the Mughal court, memorably recorded Jahangir’s own affirmation of religious tolerance, voiced during what was clearly a not unusual drunken evening:

“The good king fell to dispute the laws of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. And in drink was so kind that he turned to me, and said: ‘Am I a king? You shall be welcome.’ Christians, Moors, Jews, he meddled not with their faith. They came all in love, and he would protect them from wrong. They lived under his safety and none should oppress them. And this often repeated. But in extreme drunkenness he fell to weeping and to divers passions, and so kept us till midnight.”

 Drunk or sober, Jahangir was a strikingly tolerant ruler. As he travelled through his Empire, thousands would have been present to watch the Emperor’s visits to holy men and to their shrines, and to witness his public demonstration of a multi-faith society in action. But Jahangir also seems to have been driven by his own, personal desire to explore the spiritual truths of other religious traditions. He had many private meetings with a renowned Hindu hermit, Gosa’in Jadrup, and he describes one of these in his autobiography:

“The place he had chosen to live in was a hole on the side of a hill, which had been dug out and a door made. In this narrow and dark hole he passes his time in solitude. In the cold days of winter, though he is quite naked, with the exception of a piece of rag that he has in front and behind, he never lights a fire. I conversed with him, and he spoke well, so much as to make a great impression on me.”

It’s almost impossible to imagine a European ruler at this date, or indeed at any date, being represented so submissively taking instruction in faith. In spite of all the political upheavals in India all holy men were revered by emperors and Kings alike.


Jahnagir had great issues with Guru Arjun Singh as he sided with Prince Khusrau during rebellion. Jehangir called Guru Arjan Singh and passed capital punishment for treason. But some ministers intervened on his behalf and Jehangir told if he paid 1,00,000 coins as fine he will be let off. Guru Arjun singh refused to pay. Diwan Chandu Lal of Lahore stood is surety. The Diwan of Lahore tortured him and he asked to be allowed to bathe in river Ravi. He did not come out alive from the river.


Jehangir celebrated various festivals in grand and public way. Guerreiro has recorded festival of muslims. Jehangir kept fasts for Ramzan and invited Shaikhs and Sayyids to break their fast on some days. On the seventh year of his ascension in 1612 Jehangir celebrated  Rakhi festival publicly and allowed citizens to tie him Rakhi or sacred threads. In Bengal once on Maha Shivratri he met yogis and listened to their stories at night. Dusserha was celebrated every year by the emperor with inspection of mughal troops, horses and elephants. On Diwali Jehangir and his ministers sat and involved in gambling games. Christians could openly celebrate Christmas and easter at agra, Delhi and Lahore. Jehangir himself participated in Christmas festivities in palace organized by British and Portugese ambassadors. He kept hindu astrologers at court to tell him auspicious dates and also weighed himself and his children on special days.

Guerreiro records Jehangir discussing religious matters with Christian missionaries at court. Jehangir met the saint Mian Mir at Lahore and listened to his discourse. He met Jadurup in Ujjain and Mathura and even came to the conclusion that Vedanta of Hindus and Sufi philosophy was similar.

Jeahngir banned public sale of wine, opium and bhang. He ordered total suppression of public gambling. Jehangir himself was a very heavy drinker in his adult years and recorded drinking 40 glasses of wine  a day. But when his health detoriated he reduced it to 10 glasses and than 6 glasses a day but added opium to get the intoxication.  He banned child widows whose marriage was not consummated from burning on funeral pyre. He banned sati and it was only permitted with consent of the woman by the governor of state himself. He banned castration of children.


Thomas Roe writes that Jehangir was an atheist. He was an Hindu sometimes, and professing Islam when required.  Willam Finch thought he was a Christian only because he kept pictures of Christ and Mother Mary in his bedroom. Others accused him to be a member of Din- I-Illahi. Since Jehangir hunted wild boar many muslim clerics felt he was a khafir or non believer though none dared to say that openly. 

This Kings disposition seemes composed of extreames : very cruell, and otherwhiles very milde ; often overcome with wine, but severely punishing that fault in others. His subjects know not to disobey . He daily relieves many poore, and will in pietie helpe to carrie sometimes his mother in a palanka on his shoulders. He speakes respectively of our Saviour, but is offended at His crosse and povertie ; thinking them incompetible to such majestic, though told that His humilitie was to subdue the worlds pride


A Christians Priest account of Jehangir and court

All religions are tolerated, and their priests in good esteeme. My selfe often received from the Mogoll himselfe the appellation of Father,  with other many gracious words, with place amongst his best nobles. The Jesuites have not only admittance into his piresence but incouragements from him by many gifts, with libertie of converting to them ; and to the subject, to be without losse of favour converted. He made tryall of one convert ^ with many threats to deterre him from his new profession ; and finding him undauntedly resolute, he assayed by flatteries and promises to re-gaine liim ; but therein also failing, hee bade him continue, and with a reward discharged him ; having told him that if he could have frayed [i. e. frightened] or brought him from his religion, he would have made him an example for all waverers. The chiefe Jesuite was Franciscus Corsi, a Florentine by birth, living at the Mogols court agent for the Portugals. I would I were able to conflrme the reports of their conversions. The truth is they have spilt the water of baptisme upon some faces, working on the necessities of poore men, who for want of meanes, which they give them, are content to weare crucifixes, but for want of instruction are only in name Christians. I observed that of the poore there, five have begged in the name of Marie for one in the name of Christ


In 1617 jehangir met Jadrup Gosain a jain saint in Ujjain. Saint Jadrup lived in an ant hill in a forest and Jehangir wanted to call him to agra to meet him. But he desisted and in 11th year odf his reign went to Ujjain and went to the forest to meet him. Jehangir spent six “garhis” with the saint in forest. They both discussed the science of Vedanta. Jehangir was so impressed by Jadrup Gosain he visited him again after three days and spent many hours talking to him. Jehangir and Thomas Roe both mention this visit in their books. In 1618 Jehangir halted his royal calvacade and visited the saint again and spoke to him at length. He visited him twice during the halt. In 1620 Jadrup moved his residence from Ujjain to Mathura. Jehangir visited him here also twice and talked to him for hours on philosophy and religion etc.

Jadrup requested Jehangir that according to Vedas the weight of a dam was 36 seers and hence it was better to make one dam as 36 seers instead of 30 seers. Jehangir passed an order that the weight of a “dams” be 36 seer in his empire. Mirza Aziz Koka met saint Jadrup and requested him to influence Jehnagir to release Khusrau and Jehangir released Khusrau on the saints request. Aziz Koka was Khusraus father in law. Hakim Beg brother in law of Nur Jahan beat Jadrup in whip on a small pertex, when Jehangir came to know he dismissed Hakim Beg from imperial service and never admitted him back.

Jehnagir banned cow slaughter in his empire. He issued a decree or farman dated 14th September in 1605 prohbiting animal slaughter in Gujarath for six months a year on representation from Bhanuchandra and Siddi Chandra. The jiziya or poll tax to visit mount Satrunjaya was also abolished. In 1617 Jehnagir invited jain saint Vijaya Deva Suri to Mandu court and met him. Jehnagir was highly impressed with him and remained friendly with him even exchanging letters later on.

The Jogis of Jhakbar gaddi Chandra nath requested to grant 10 bigah land in his name in Punjab which was done through firman by Jehangir.  In 1600 Prince Salim aka Jehangir issued Firman granting 178 bigahs of land to Ajunmal Jangam of Jangambari mutt of Benars. Jehnagir visited Pushkar near Ajmer and granted many villages by firman to Barhmins of Pushkar who worshiped the lake.

Thus like his father Akbar, Jehangir was not confined to one religion and he used to converse with various religion followers. He was one of the highest learned man of his times and knew many languages like Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Rajasthani etc and could converse with various religious on varied religious topics.

Bibliography: Jehangirnama, Early travels in india, Thomas roe Embassy, jehangir and jesuits, The religious policy of mughal emperors, majalis i jahangiri  by lahori etc

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