An Elephant as an Order: Shah Jahan's Awards and the Careers of his Officers

In the state of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58), obligatory gifts (pēshkash) were required whenever an officer was called to court, and especially when he hoped to be promoted, moreover at Naurōz and the emperor’s birthday. Such pēshkashes represented the official’s status and could influence his career if the emperor was impressed. The emperor usually emphasized successful promotions by giving a ‘favour’ (ʿināyat) to the official. These ‘favours’ ranged from ceremonial daggers to elephants with silver howdahs, reflecting the rank and the performance of the official. Shah Jahan standardized these ‘favours’ so that they acquired the function of graded military decorations instead of signs of an actual favour of the emperor. For other than his father Jahangīr, Shah Jahan wanted his administration focus not on his personality but on his function as the emperor, and he emphasized that he valued performance over proximity.
This paper will trace the gifts to and by select officers of Shah Jahan as a mirror of their career, by drawing on the chronicles and taking background information from Mughal biographies (Maâthir ul-'umarâ, Zâkhirat ul-khavânîn). It will demonstrate a development towards a more bureaucratic and less patrimonial state in the thirty years of Shah Jahan's reign through the treatment of its high military ranks and ask for consequences on cultural development in Mughal India.


Stephan Popp
Austrian Academy of Sciences