The Missing Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne

Vimal Kumar
8 Min Read

Painting of the Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort

Humans have always obsessed with displaying their value, most importantly physical capability in various forms like shape, size, assets, or even intelligence. Sometimes the display is subtle sometimes nakedly blatant. Stories of the display are not just stories of the past but a continuation of an ongoing saga of human’s evolvement. There are numerous monuments still available. Some are destroyed, looted, and some remained in the memory of the human’s mind or just staring from the pages of history books. One of the truths which is left with no or barely diminutive existential trace but have a fine imprint on the pages of history: Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne.  It was named after two peacocks dancing at the rear of the throne; however, peacocks had no importance but the tonnes of gold and gemstones.

The Iconic Peacock Throne which is also known as Takht-i-taus was the greatest accumulation of precious gemstones and a stark reminder of the extravagant Mughal era. It was constructed during the time of Shah Jahan. The period was also termed as Golden period of the Mughal dynasty. During this period, Mughal architecture was also at its peak. This is the period during which the Taj Mahal — one of the seven wonders of the World, Redfort were thought of and came into existence.

On the seventh anniversary of Shah Jahan’s accession, the throne was commissioned on 22nd March 1635 and Shah Jehan ascended for the first time on the magnanimous throne. The date was carefully chosen by the astrologers and coincided with Eid al-Fitr. The throne also took coincidentally seven years to be in its shape.

Tavernnier View

In accordance with the French jeweller and traveller, Jean Baptiste Tavennier, who had made the sixth visit to India between 1663 and 1668 and had the opportunity to have a close view of the throne. He confirms that the throne was usually placed at the Hall of private audience known as Diwan-I-Khas, although it was kept at the Hall of public audience known as the Diwan-I-Am when the larger audience was expected.

Tavernnier gives a detailed description of the Peacock Throne in his book Les Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier, which was published in 1676 in two volumes.

The principal throne, which is placed in the hall of the first court, is nearly of the form and size of beds. It was about 1.8 meters long and 1.2 meters wide. It was 64 cm high and rested on four feet. Upon these, there were twelve columns, which sustain the canopy on three sides. There were not any on the side which faces the court. Both the feet and the columns were covered with gold inlaid and enriched with numerous diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.

As per Tavennier, there were 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 colours, but they have many flaws; the largest may weigh 60 carats and the least 30 carats.

The underside of the canopy is covered with diamonds and pearls, with a fringe of pearls all around, and above the canopy, which is a quadrangular-shaped dome, there is to be seen a peacock with an 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 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.

It was made of 1150 Kg of gold and 230 kg of precious stones, conservatively in 1999, the throne would be valued at $804 million or nearly Rs 4.5 billion. In fact, when made, it cost twice as much as the Taj Mahal crafted for the same Emperor Shah Jahan.

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During the golden age of Mughal empire, Shah Jahan ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent. He ruled from newly constructed capital of Shahjahanabad which is referred as Old Delhi. In order to make court, petitioners, and subordinate to feel the importance of the magnanimous King, it was put forth: The Ruler would be worthy of a Throne of Solomon (Takht-e-Sulaiman) to underscore his position as a just king. Just like Solomon’s throne, the Peacock Throne was to be covered in gold and jewels, with steps leading up to it, with the ruler floating above ground and closer to heaven.

War booty

In 1739, the Persian emperor Nadir Shah overran the Mughal Empire defeating emperor Muhammad Shah in the battle of Karnal. Later, he raped, rampaged, looted, brutalised Delhi. Simultaneously, he stole the Peacock throne and brought it to Persia along with other treasures valued (at today’s prices) at US $ 5 billion. It is also said that the Peacock throne was carried by seven elephants while Nadir shah happily reclined on his war booty.

The Persian king Nader Shah seated upon the Peacock Throne with members of the court, after his victory at the Battle of Karnal

In 1747, Nader Shah’s bodyguards assassinated him, and Persia descended into chaos and the Peacock Throne ended up being chopped to pieces for its gold and jewels. Although the original was lost to history, some antiquities experts believe that the legs of the 1836 Qajar Throne, which was also called the Peacock Throne, might have been taken from the Mughal original. The 20th century Pahlavi dynasty in Iran also called their ceremonial seat “the Peacock Throne,” continuing this pillaged tradition.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is said to also have potentially discovered a marble leg from the pedestal of the original throne. Similarly, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London said to have discovered the same years later. 

However, neither of these have been confirmed. Indeed, the glorious Peacock throne may have been lost to all of history forever  —  all for the want of power and control of India.

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