381 years ago this June

On June 17th 1631, in the central Indian town of Burhanpur, a royal wife died in childbirth at the age of 38, after delivering her fourteenth child. She was Arjumand Bano, better known as Mumtaz Mahal, one of the many wives of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Six hundred and fifty kilometres away in Agra, the bereft emperor began the building of a mausoleum to the dead woman’s memory, on the banks of the river Yamuna. Its name, ‘Taj Mahal’ is probably a corruption of Mumtaz’s own, and literally means ‘Palace of the Crown’. It was completed in 1643.

As Sam Miller tells us in Blue Guide India:

“We know that Shah Jahan had a close relationship with Mumtaz, that he favoured her above his other wives, and openly declared the strength of his attachment to her. This was unusual but not unprecedented. She came from a very powerful family, where women played an important role. Her aunt Nur Jahan was married to Shah Jahan’s father, Emperor Jehangir, and in Jehangir’s final years took many key decisions. Mumtaz’s grandfather, Itimad ud-Daula, was, under Jehangir, probably the most influential person in the Mughal Empire. He lies buried in another exquisite tomb in Agra, which in its use of minarets, white marble and stone inlay, prefigures, on a much smaller scale, the Taj Mahal.”

“For the Mughal poet Kalim, the Taj Mahal was a cloud, and for the Nobel Prize-winning polymath Rabindranath Tagore it was ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time’. The Taj Mahal has been admired since it was created, and although it was undoubtedly a memorial to the undying love of Shah Jahan for his wife, it was also a demonstration of the power, wealth and aesthetic values of the Mughal Empire. In the prescient words of Shah Jahan’s court historian, Qazwini, the Taj Mahal would be a masterpiece for ages to come, and provide for ‘the amazement of all humanity’. It was built to be visited. As one of its most recent historians, Ebba Koch, explains, the Taj Mahal was constructed ‘with posterity in mind: we, the viewers, are part of its concept.’”

Text © Blue Guides/Sam Miller

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