On June 17th 1631 Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, died while giving birth to their fourteenth child in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh. Thereafter, Shah Jahan spent more than twenty years building the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife.
The Taj Mahal is probably the world’s most recognized building apart from being called one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World". This magnificent, white marbled mausoleum was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his wife Arjuman Banu (also known as Mumtaz Mahal), who died during childbirth on June 17th, 1631.
Mumtaz Mahal was born on April 6th, 1593 in Agra to Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan, a Persian Nobleman, which made Mumtaz Mahal the niece of Empress Nur Jehan and later her daughter-in-law. At the age of fourteen, Mumtaz Mahal was engaged to Prince Khurram (also known as Shah Jahan) who fell in love with her at first sight. The year was 1607. The couple had to wait for five years after their engagement to get married - the date of their wedding was to be decided by an astrologer, which would be instrumental in ensuring a happy married life for the couple. Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan finally got married in 1612 and she became the love of his life.
After their marriage, Shah Jahan gave his new wife the title of Mumtaz Mahal which means the “chosen one of the palace”. Shah Jahan had two wives previously before he married Mumtaz Mahal. Ever since his marriage to Mumtaz, however, Shah Jahan showed little interest in his earlier wives. Shah Jahan had deep love and great respect for Mumtaz Mahal and gave her his complete, undivided attention.
Mumtaz Mahal was renowned for her beauty and grace and was the source of inspiration for many poets and writers who wrote about her ethereal beauty and charm. Some poets even went so far as saying that so great was the beauty of Mumtaz that even the moon hid its face in her presence. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz shared a very loving relationship and Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s trusted companion who, despite her many pregnancies, travelled with her husband around the country during his military campaigns. Shah Jahan trusted his wife so deeply that he gave her his Imperial Seat - the Muhr Uzah.
Historical records portray Mumtaz Mahal to be a woman who nurtured no political ambition, a sharp contrast to her aunt and mother-in-law, Empress Nur Jehan who had controlled the previous reign strongly. A gentle and compassionate person, Mumtaz Mahal took up the cause of the poor and helpless. She requested her husband Shah Jahan to provide aid to his poorer subjects. Mumtaz Mahal was fond of architecture and used to spend a lot of time tending to a riverside garden in Agra, she also enjoyed watching combat fights in court.
Mumtaz Mahal bore Shah Jahan fourteen children, including popular (and, at times, controversial) historical figures such as Dara Shikoh, Shah Shuja, Roshnara Begum, Jahanara Begum and Aurangzeb, among others.
Mumtaz died in Burhanpur (in present day Madhya Pradesh), on June 17th 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child, a daughter, Gauhara Begum. Legend has it that while on her deathbed, Mumtaz asked Shah Jahan to build her the most beautiful tomb the world has ever seen. Mumtaz’s body was initially buried in a walled garden in Burhanpur, known as Zainabad and situated on the banks of the River Tapti.
Shah Jahan was visibly devastated at the death of his beloved wife and was inconsolable. It is believed that Shah Jahan went into isolated mourning for a year and when he returned, all his hair had turned white and his face was ravaged with sadness. The emperor’s eldest and most favourite daughter, Jahanara Begum helped her father though this difficult phase of grief and gradually brought him out of this period of mourning. Following this, Jahanara Begum took the place of her mother Mumtaz Mahal in the royal court.
Since Shah Jahan had never intended for Mumtaz to be buried at Burhanpur, he had her body exhumed in the December of 1631 and transported back to Agra in a golden coffin which was escorted by the Emperor’s son, Shah Shuja. Back in Agra, Mumtaz Mahal’s body was buried in a small building on the banks of the River Yamuna and Shah Jahan began planning the royal mausoleum which he would build for his deceased wife, the Taj Mahal.
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 AD and was completed in 1648 AD. Located in Agra (Uttar Pradesh), on the right bank of the River Yamuna, this enormous and beautiful tomb made out of white marble is a gem of Mughal architecture in India and was supposed to be Shah Jahan’s vision of Mumtaz’s home in paradise. The architecture of the Taj Mahal combines elements of Islamic, Indian, Persian, Ottoman and Turkish styles of art. The principal architect of the Taj Mahal was Ahmed Shah Lahauri and thousands of artisans and craftsmen were employed during the construction of this monument.
Materials from all over India and Asia were used to construct the Taj Mahal and over 1000 elephants were used to carry building material. The white marble used to construct the monument was sourced from Makrana in Rajasthan. Turquoise was sourced from Tibet, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, Jade and Crystal from China and Sapphire from Sri Lanka and Arabia.
The white marble of the Taj Mahal, in contrast with the green of the surrounding gardens and the blue of the sky, provides a beautiful hue to the monument. It is believed that the Taj Mahal was constructed in a manner that the white marble would reflect the sky and hence the monument changes its colours during the day. In the early hours of the morning the Taj appears pinkish, milky white at noon, a sparkling golden at sunset and shimmering silver in the moonlight.
The Taj Mahal has been a source of inspiration to poets and writers over the years. One of the most moving descriptions of the Taj was by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who described the Taj Mahal as “a teardrop on the cheek of Time”. A fitting tribute to a building as beautiful and meaningful as the Taj Mahal, which speaks volumes of a man’s deep and unending love for his wife. It has very appropriately come to be known as “the monument of love”.
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