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Let us travel back in time to seventeenth century India.
The Mughal Emperors ruled India between mid sixteenth century and the early eighteenth century. For understanding the story of this masterpiece, the readers ought to know that the Mughals devoted themselves to Islam which allowed them to have more than one wife. Most of the marriages were for political reasons to allow two kingdoms to merge peacefully.
The Royal Meena Bazaar was a private market place attached to the palace harem. During the Mughal era Meena bazaars were exclusively held for the women of the Royal court. On this particular day, regardless of their status everyone was welcome royalty and common folks. The ordinary wives and concubines became noisy shopkeepers and were found selling trinkets, bargaining and flirting with courtiers. The courtiers freed themselves for one day of the tedious court routine and even used Persian verses to ask the price of a trinket.
On this particular afternoon in 1607, Arjumand Banu Begum was hawking and admiring her silk and glass beads. She was fifteen years old and was the daughter of the Prime minister Asaf Khan. Most people were afraid to go to “this hawker” because they feared her father who was a powerful and formidable statesman.
Shahjahan or Prince Khurram was the son of Emperor Jehangir and grandson of Emperor Akbar. He was also visiting the festival at the Royal Meena Bazaar. Prince Khurram asked Arjumand Banu Begum the price of a glass bead in the shape of a diamond and she saucily replied to him, “The price is extremely high, ten thousand rupees and I don’t think even a prince of your reputation can pay the price for this indeed is a diamond.” The prince was speechless. Without any hesitation, he drew ten thousand rupees from his sleeve, took the piece of glass, turned and disappeared into the crowd taking with him the glass bead and Arjumand’s heart.
Thus began the real life fairy tale between the future Emperor and his Queen and the devotion he felt for her which is reflected in the world’s most beautiful building “The TajMahal”. The next day Prince Khurram made a bold request to his father that he would like to marry Arjumand Banu. The King gave his permission. Though betrothed to Shah Jahan in 1607, Arjumand Banu ultimately became his second wife, in 1612, and was his favorite. Mind you in those days members of the royal family were not allowed to pick their wedding day and were indeed fortunate if they picked their wives. After a long engagement of five years on May 10 1612, Arjumand Banu Begum and Prince Khurram got married. Arjumand Banu Begum was married at the age of 19 and was given the title “Mumtaz Mahal” meaning the chosen one for the palace.
In 1627, Emperor Jehangir passed away. Prince Khurram fought battles with his stepbrothers, cousins and nephews and ascended the Moghul throne on February 4th 1628. Prince Khurram became Shahjahan or “King of the world”.
Mumtaz Mahal was beautiful and demure. The royal poets wrote that her beauty made the moon hide its face in shame. She was very intelligent and soon became a political adviser to her husband. Everyday Shahjahan consulted Mumtaz Mahal on matters of the empire. The Emperor placed so much faith in his wife’s judgment that he gave her the “Muhr-e -Uzak” or the emperor’s seal of authority, a mark that once made on a document even the emperor could not reverse. Shahjahan spoiled her with fragrant roses, diamonds and majestic suites in her palace. She was not an ordinary queen. She traveled to different places when Shahjahan was fighting battles. She lived in tented war camps that were portable yet magnificent models of their permanent court.
The couple was married for nineteen years and together they had fourteen children out of which only seven survived. In 1630, Shahjahan was fighting a battle and Mumtaz Mahal gave birth to their fourteenth child. The Emperor received the news of a healthy baby girl, but nothing about his wife’s condition. After midnight he received a word that she was tired, resting comfortably and wished to be alone. Shahjahan went to sleep but was soon awakened by an attendant with the news that the queen needed him. He quickly joined her at bedside only to realize that the baby’s delivery had been very difficult. By dawn, Mumtaz Mahal was dead.
Consumed with grief, Shahjahan locked himself for eight days. On the ninth day the doors opened. Shahjahan had exchanged his royal cape for white robes. His subjects followed his example and before long the entire country was dressed in white. Shahjahan ordered the entire empire in mourning for 2 years, prohibiting all music, feasting and celebrations.
In 1631, Shahjahan undertook the task of erecting the most beautiful building in the memory of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years and 22,000 laborers to construct the monument. When Shahjahan died in 1666 his body was placed in a tomb next to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. This is the story of a monument that has represented love like no other – the incredible Taj Mahal. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Author’s note: I would like to acknowledge and thank Wikipedia TajMahal for supplying valuable information that I have used to research this post. I am also thankful and would like to acknowledge all the sites that come up when I typed the word Taj Mahal to do a ‘google’ search. I heard this story for the first time from my tour guide when I visited the Taj Mahal in 2003. These pictures are prints from my trip in 2003 using my non-digital camera. I had to scan and upload them for this post.
Historians disagree with this story claiming that it is a romantic fiction. They claim that the key player in this marriage was Mehrunissa or Noor Jahan, the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir. Noor Jahan used her powers and got Emperor Jahangir to cast special favors on her family, including arranging marriage between her niece Arjumand (later known as Mumtaz Mahal) and Jahangir’s oldest son Khurram, (later known as Shah Jahan).
I believe the story my guide told us. Which story would you like to believe? Boy sees girl and love at first sight or an arranged marriage after which the Emperor falls in love with his second wife? I would like to quote Pi Patel in the Life of Pi by Yann Martel : Well, that’s up to you. The story’s yours now.
Don’t hesitate to write in the comments which story you believe. I would love to hear from you.
Either way there is no dispute that the monument was build in the name of love: A true Masterpiece.