The Taj Mahal of Agra- Labor of Love
The Taj Mahal has become a symbol of India, and most tourist know it as a beautiful building. However, there is a love story behind its construction that is famous. Sir Edwin Arnold best describes the Taj Mahal as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”
Shah Jahan was the son of Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor of India, and was born in 1592. He was raised by his grandfather Akbar the Great and his wife Ruqaiya Sultan Begum. There was a prophesy that the prince was going to be a great emperor, which was why he was not raised by his parents. He was doted on by his grandparents especially his grandmother, who loved him “a thousand times more than if he had been her own son”. He stayed with them until he was 13, the returned to his father’s household.
Legend says in 1607, when Shah Jahan was 15, he was in the Meena Bazaar and saw a girl selling silk and glass beads. He was struck by her beauty and declared he would marry her. This was Arjumand Banu Begum. She was a muslim Persian Princess, so I’m not sure why she would have been selling in the market place. At any rate, he was smitten, but the pair could not marry until the date selected by the court astrologers to guarantee a happy marriage, five years later in 1612. Whether it was the date or not, something worked because she was unquestioningly the love of Shah Jahan’s life. He gave her the title “Mumtaz Mahal” Begum, which means chosen one of the palace. He had two other wives previous to her, but once they were married he paid them no attention. His first two wives bore him one child each. Mumtaz bore him fourteen children.
In 1628, Shah Jahan became the next Mongul Emperor. Mumtaz was given the royal seal, and accompanied her husband everywhere, including on campaign. They had a happy life and Shah Jahan was quickly becoming one of the most powerful emperors. Then tragedy struck. In 1631, Mumtaz was giving birth to their 14th child and there were complications. Despite everything the doctors could do, Mumtaz died. On her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised he would never remarry and build her the finest mausoleum in the world. Heartbroken, Shah Jahan plunged the court into to years of mourning.
However, true to his word, he began work on the Taj Mahal. It took 22 years, 22,000 workers and 1,000 elephants to finish the monument. Masons, stonecutters and all kinds of artisans were requisitioned from all over the empire as well as Central Asia and Iran. The beautiful building is made entirely out of white marble, imported as far away as Central Asia. The final cost of the project was 32 million rupees.
There was to be a matching mausoleum in black marble across from the magnificient Taj Mahal, but it was not completed. Soon after the Taj Mahal was completed in 1653, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest. His daughter Jahanara Begum Sahib went into house arrest with him and nursed him through the eight year imprisonment. In 1666 at the age of 74, Shah Jahan joined his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. Instead of an adjoining mausoleum, his body was placed next to his wife.
Damaged in the Indian rebellion of 1857, a restoration project was undertaken by British Viceroy Lord Curzon, which was completed in 1908. At that time, British style lawns were added. The Taj Mahal stands as one of the grandest structures of his reign and a monument to the love he had for his wife.
Sources available on request