The (hi)story behind the Taj Mahal


A post by our guest blogger, Vandhana K., a sixteen-year-old who talks in puns and writes in poems, enjoys tasty food and tasteful books (both at once if she can get them). 

This is the story of how the Taj Mahal, the epitome of historic architectural finesse came into being in Agra, in the heart of northern India.

Our main characters in this tale are Arjumand Banu Begum and Prince Khurram. Arjumand Banu was from a family of Persian nobility, who had long-lasting close ties with the Mughal Emperors, having served them since the time of Akbar. Our dashing young hero is fifteen-year old Prince Khurram, who was one of the sons of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

A day in 1602 saw young Prince Khurram strolling along in the marketplace with a string of courtiers by his side. The Prince was looking around when, amidst colorful glass beads and silks, he saw the most beautiful girl he had ever laid his eyes on. At that very instant, Prince Khurram was in love. He knew that this girl was the one he wanted to marry, and he rushed back to the palace to proclaim his desire to his father.

The young girl, Arjumand Banu Begum, agreed to his proposal and they were engaged not long after, with full approval from the two families. Eager to tie the knot, the young couple, as per the day’s tradition, consulted court astrologers before choosing a date for their marriage. Much to their disappointment, the next date that was most conducive to a happy marriage between them was five years from then. This was an unusually long time to wait back in the day, but finally, in 1607, they were married with pomp and ceremony.

Although she was not his first wife, and Khurram did have other wives as per custom, Banu Begum was by far his favorite. When Prince Khurram became Emperor Shah Jahan of the Mughal Empire, he publicly displayed his love for her by conferring her with the title ‘Mumtaz Mahal’, or the ‘Chosen One of the Palace’. He showered her with luxuries that none of the other queens received and made sure that hers was the most elaborately and expensively decorated residence in the palace, complete with gold and semi-precious stones adorning the walls. The palace writers and poets wrote of her beauty and grace, and Shah Jahan trusted her with everything – even his imperial seal, the Muhr Uzah. Wherever they went, they went together, even during Mumtaz Mahal’s multiple pregnancies. Shah Jahan even took her with him on military campaigns.

It was on one such campaign in the Deccan Plateau that Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. After nineteen years of a happy marriage, Shah Jahan was heartbroken and devastated. It is said that he went into mourning for a year, in seclusion, and came back looking older and more worn out than ever. He then channelized his grief and pain into building the most beautiful monument the world had ever seen in the memory of Mumtaz Mahal.

He hired the finest artisans in the country and more than 20,000 workers to work on this masterpiece. Every inch was made to be perfectly symmetrical, built out of pure white marble. Shah Jahan spent more than 32 million rupees on the construction of the structure. It was carved with intricate detail featuring delicate engravings from the Quran. Twenty-two years later, Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb was placed in the middle of the most magnificent mausoleum in history – the Taj Mahal or the Crown of Palaces. When Shah Jahan died, his tomb found its rightful place by his wife’s in the central chamber of the Taj Mahal; his grave being the only visible asymmetrical element in the entire complex.

Shah Jahan built one of the greatest symbols of love for his wife that the world stands in awe of to this day, nearly 400 years later.

-Vandhana K.


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