I am writing about the Taj Mahal today. The reason is because, even though it is already famous and iconic, I don’t think it is possible to give this building too much attention. Although I personally have never been to see it, you only have to look at the pictures of the Taj Mahal to see what a masterpiece of architecture it is. Not only that, but the story behind the mausoleum is almost as beautiful as the building itself.
It all began several centuries and a few decades ago. Shah Jahan (at first named Prince Khurram) was born in January 1592, the son of Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor of India and the grandson of Akbar the great. When Shah Jahan was 15, he met Arjumand Banu Begum, a princess from the Persian nobility. Shah Jahan fell in love with her at first sight, and returned to his father, saying he wanted to marry her. Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu were betrothed to each other in 1607 and married five years later, in 1612.
In 1628, Shah Jahan became emperor. He gave Arjumand Banu the name Mumtaz Mahal, meaning “Jewel of the Palace”, and the highest honour of the kingdom – Mehr Uzaz, the royal seal. Although Shah Jahan had more than one wife, it is an undisputed fact that Mumtaz Mahal was the love of his life. She accompanied him everywhere, including on military campaigns, and was his most trusted confidante. The two had a very loving marriage, which the palace’s official chroniclers went to great lengths to describe. One such chronicler said that Shah Jahan’s other marriages “had nothing more than the status of marriage.” and said of the emperor and Mumtaz Mahal’s relationship: “The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence (Mumtaz) exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other”.
Sadly, in 1631, Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Shah Jahan was devastated. His hair turned grey overnight, and he ordered the entire court into mourning for two years. Some time after, Shah Jahan set to work on creating the world’s most beautiful monument, in honour of his late wife. It was made almost entirely of white marble, brought from all over India and Asia. Architects, calligraphers, masons, inlayers, stone-cutters, and other artisans were brought from all over the globe to help with its construction. Exotic and expensive jewels were used for the inside of the monument, so they would look like bright flowers. The rose had been Mumtaz Mahal’s favourite flower, and it is said that it was used in the designs for the floor plan. It took 22 years, 22,000 labourers, and 1,000 elephants to construct the mausoleum. It was completed in 1653, and Shah Jahan named it the Taj Mahal, after his beloved wife. Today, both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are entombed side-by-side in the Taj Mahal.
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.
– Shah Jahan, on the Taj Mahal