Of Shah Jahan, who
built The Taj Mahal,
was sold For £1.7m In London
London, April 10, 2008
A dagger that once belonged to Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor),
who built the Taj Mahal, as a memorial to his beloved wife, sold
for £1,700,000 at Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale in London
today, 10 April.
The elegant and understated personal dagger carried by Shah Jahan,
(reigned 1627-1657), with its fine gold inscriptions and decoration,
dated to1629-30, was expected to attract bids of around £300,000
– 500,000. The whole collection finally sold for just under
The inscriptions in nasta'liq script on the blade include the
Shah Jahan's official titles, date and place of birth, and the
honorific parasol (an ancient pan-Asian symbol of divinity of
royalty); all state that it was the personal dagger of Shah Jahan.
Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, who built the Taj
Mahal, as a memorial to his beloved wife. His reign was called
the Golden Age of the Mughals and the empire experienced its greatest
period of prosperity and stability.
The dagger was the most important item in a fantastic collection
built by the late Jacques Desenfans, a Belgian driven by his passion
for Islamic, Indian and South East Asian history and culture.
He spent over 50 years amassing this hugely important collection,
which includes arms and armour, early pottery and works of art.
His collection was brought to public attention when the last Shah
of Iran visited him personally at his home in 1969, when the collection
was exhibited at Braine L'Alleud.
In an article titled 'Dagger For The Heart', written for Bonhams
Magazine, by William Dalrymple, the internationally acclaimed
writer, author of The Last Mughal, City of Djinns and White Mughals,
says: "The Emperor's love of beautiful and precious objects
– damascened and gold-embellished blades, enamels and hammered
metals, precious lapidary, inlaid hardstones and inscribed gems
– was something many visitors commented on. According to
Edward Terry, the chaplain to the British ambassador, Shah Jahan
was "the greatest and richest master of precious stones that
inhabits the whole earth."
Claire Penhallurick, Head of Indian and Islamic Department at
Bonhams said: "It was a great privilege to sell such an extraordinary
Indian artefact which took pride of place in the breathtaking
Jacques Desenfans Collection. Objects of this quality and importance
come to the market very very rarely. We are delighted with the
Shah Jahan lived from 1592-1666. This extraordinary dagger seems
to be the second known personal dagger of Shah Jahan. Relatively
few personal objects of Shah Jahan have survived. With its high
quality and complete inscription, the present lot is an important
addition to this small corpus and is the earliest dated piece.
Shah Jahan was born Prince Khurram Shihab al-Din Muhammad in 1592
in Lahore, the third and favourite son of the Mughal emperor Jahangir,
and was later titled Shah Jahan or King of the World in 1627.
His reign was called the Golden Age of the Mughals and the empire
experienced its greatest period of prosperity and stability. Under
his rule, Mughal artistic and architectural achievements reached
their zenith. He was a patron of the fine arts and continued to
foster the Mughal tradition of painting, and was also a prolific
builder with a highly refined aesthetic. Great monuments from
his reign include the Taj Mahal and the Pearl Mosque at Agra,
the Divan-e 'Am, the Divan-e Khas, the Jami' and Moti mosques
and the Palace in Delhi, and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. He
also created the fabled Peacock Throne, or Takht-e Tawus, to celebrate
By Shah Jahan's time weapons were no longer only for warfare:
they had become great works of art in their own right, being decorated
with enamels, precious metals and stones. Mughal princes, nobles
and high officials were honoured regularly by the emperor with
daggers, knives and swords, which were worn as symbols of a wearer's
status, as seen in the illustrated Padshah-nama in the Windsor
Library. The most common types being the khatar or push-dagger
and khanjar with its curved blade, similar to the present lot.
An etiquette of weaponry also developed concerning whether it
was permitted to wear a weapon or not. For example, it was considered
inappropriate for the emperor or a prince to wear a dagger while
visiting or receiving individual holy men, even though we are
told Shah Jahan wore a dagger when honouring his religious orthodoxy,
and his sons and courtiers were also fully armed.
The inscription on the blade is the most detailed of all the
inscriptions found on any of the known group of Shah Jahan's personal
objects. It contains the Emperor's name, his title, and the place
and date of the dagger's manufacture. The blade also depicts the
parasol, an emblem found on blades from the imperial army and
those of princes, which signified the dome of heaven, and which
when carried above the head of a ruler symbolised his exalted
state and his role between God and more ordinary mortals.
Born under the most auspicious astrological circumstances –
the conjunction of the two planets Jupiter and Venus – he
was known throughout his life as the Second Lord of the Auspicious
Conjunction, the first having been his ancestor Timur, whom Shah
Jahan was keen to emulate.
Based on the dates given, i.e. second regnal year 1039 (which
covers the period between 29th August 1629 and 21st January 1630)
and the fact that the blade was made in Akbarabad, it is possible
to suggest the occasion for which it was made, namely of Shah
Jahan's 39th birthday, which fell on 3rd Jumadi II 1039 (17th
January 1630). According to Muhammad Salih, after the Emperor's
weighing ceremony to commemorate this birthday, Shah Jahan and
his court left Akbarabad (Agra), which was the imperial capital
and they moved towards Burhanpur in the Deccan (Muhammad Salij
Kanbu, Shah Jahan Nama, Lahore 1958, p. 279). They did not return
to Akbarabad until 16th June 1632, the year after the death of
his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
The refinement of script and delicacy of the floral decoration
in two-toned gold are of imperial quality, and it fair to assume
that the blade was made at the royal workshop or karkhanas in
Akbarabad. It was a tradition in the Mughal armoury to re-use
blades and to fit them to other hilts, particularly such important
The hilt is made of sardonyx, a type of agate used for its decorative,
multi-layered aesthetic. Sardonyx and other types of agate were
popular in the Mughal court and it was often used in the production
of cameos, for instance one depicting Shah Jahan and datable to
the period 1630-40, sold through these rooms (Bonhams, Islamic
and Indian Art, 1st May 2003, lot 380). In the tradition of the
Mughal courts, Shah Jahan was trained in the art of hard stone
carving and had a great appreciation of this medium.
The only other known personal dagger of Shah Jahan is in a private
collection and has been exhibited several times. It has a jade
hilt in the form of a human head, the blade inscribed sahib-qiran-e
thani 2 and is attributable to the period 1620-30 (Robert Skelton
et al., The Indian Heritage. Court Life and Arts under Mughal
Rule, Exhibition Catalogue, Victoria and Albert Museum, London,
21st April – 22nd August 1982, p. 128, no. 406).