THE WOMAN BEHIND LOVE'S GREATEST MONUMENT
India’s Juliet was born Arjumand Banu Begum, in Agra, northern India, the niece of the Empress Nur Jehan, wife of the Emperor Jehangir. She was fourteen years old when she was engaged to Prince Khurram - later to become the Shah Jahan. But she had to wait five years for the marriage, for a date chosen by court astrologers as propitious for a happy marriage.
For once, the court astrologers got it exactly right.
In the intervening years the Shah had already taken two other wives; but after he married Arjumand he was so taken with her that he surrendered his polygamous rights to other women in order to be only with her. He later conferred upon her the title ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ - the chosen one of the palace.
According to the official court chronicler, Motamid Khan, the relationship with his other wives ‘had nothing more than the status of marriage. The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favour which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence (Mumtaz) exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.’
Of course, the affections of princes can be notoriously fickle; but not in the case of Shah Jahan.
Mumtaz became his trusted companion, and travelled with him everywhere, even on military campaigns, despite her frequent pregnancies. Court historians go to elaborate lengths to document the intense and erotic relationship the couple enjoyed. His trust in her was so profound that he even gave her his imperial seal, the Murh Uzah.
|Burhanpur: photograph Md iet|
The Shah was reportedly inconsolable. He went into secluded mourning for a year and when he appeared again, his hair had turned white.
The first half of his life had been dedicated to their marriage; the second half of it he dedicated to her memorial.
In 1631 he had her body disinterred and transported in a golden casket back to Agra. He then set to work planning the design and construction of a suitable mausoleum and funerary garden for the woman who was the love of his life. It was a task that would take more than 22 years to complete: he was still laboring over her tomb in his fifties.
|the Taj Mahal|
When it was finished it became one of the wonders of the world and remains the iconic emblem of India; the Taj Mahal.
But the construction bankrupted the Empire and soon after its completion, he was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort.
It is said that he could not see the Taj from his cell so he hung a crystal in the high window so he could see its reflection there. When he died, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife.
Theirs was one of the great love stories of history. And as the four million tourists who flock to Agra every year will attest, it was indeed a love that did not grow old.
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|From History and Women|