The Taj Mahal is a monument to love. It is a building now rated as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. A monument to love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.
Taj Mahal, A Monument to Love
Born into Persian nobility in 1593, Mumtaz Mahal was the adored wife of Shah Jahan. Theirs is one of the greatest love stories of history.
Mumtaz Mahal loved his wife so much that on her untimely death, from a protracted childbirth at just 38, he built her a monument . She has lain inside for nearly 400 years, in this the most famous of monuments to love.
Mumtaz, A Most Loved Wife
Mumtaz was not her birth name. That was the much less memorable, Arjumand Banu Begum. Mumtaz was a title bestowed on her. It means ‘exalted one of the palace.’ Betrothed at 14, Mumtaz married Prince Khurram at 19. He already had married to forge a political alliance and would marry a third time for the same reason.
Though she was Prince Khurram’s second wife, he loved her the most of his three wives and she bore 14 children by him, eight sons and six daughters. He only fathered one child with each of the other wives. Mumtaz died in labour with her fourteenth child.
Exalted One of the Palace
Upon the Prince’s succession to the throne, he became known as Shah Jahan and was the fifth Mughal emperor. He bestowed upon Mumtaz, his favoured wife, not only jewels, land and privileges, but endearments. He referred to her as ‘First Lady’, ‘Queen of the World’ and ‘Exalted One of the Palace.’
Mumtaz was, it seems, a very talented woman, fluent in Arab and Persian. She wrote poetry and encouraged court poets, championed the poor and showed compassion and grace to all around her. She also was, despite her great beauty, a modest and compassionate woman.
Power through Love
As a powerful Mughal ruler, Shah Jahan consulted Mumtaz on both private and state matters. She interceded to commute death sentences of accused civilians, took pity on the poor and destitute and encouraged Shah to forgive enemies.
Mumtaz travelled extensively with him throughout the empire and though she had no political aspirations herself, wielded power through her husband, power for the good of her people. Together, they built a secure and thriving empire.
Many court documents bear witness to the strength of the marriage between Mumtaz and the Shah. They appeared to have shared great intimacy and were constant companions. They lived for each other and were ‘soul mates.’ He was inconsolable on her death and retreated from public life for a year.
On reappearing, his hair had grown white and his stature bent. His beloved wife’s body lay in waiting while he began the building of the mausoleum for her, the famous Taj Mahal. The word ‘Mahal’ means ‘palace and ‘Taj’ is believed to be a contraction of Mumtaz.
A Monument to Love
A monument to love was to be not just a building or a tomb, but his life’s passion to bear testament to his undying love for Mumtaz. It had to embody beauty and grace as Mumtaz had in life.
Usually Mughal architecture features the local red sandstone, but the Taj Mahal is made of white marble. Some say this was a choice to render the building feminine, airy, and beautiful, rather than solid and functional.
Certainly, anyone who visits this magnificent building would agree. The white marble inlaid with precious stones is unique and stunning, unlike any other architecture before or since its construction. Its style combines Islamic, Persian, Ottoman and Indian principles of architecture.
A Monument To Love Unique in its Beauty
Usually Sunni Muslims bury their dead simply within a day and under an open sky. However, some wealthy rulers built domed tombs, but none as magnificent as the Taj Mahal, nor with acres of gardens or such ornamentation.
Nor did any take as long, twenty years to build, or require the transport of white marble from 250km away in Rajasthan. Nor did they incorporate millions of twenty-eight types of precious stones such as sapphire, jade and jasper or require the work of 20.000 artisans.
The construction severely taxed the budget of the empire four centuries ago, but today the construction of the Taj would cost about 70 billion dollars, or a US billion.
A Symbol of Love
Built on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, North India, The Taj Mahal is surrounded on three sides by red sandstone walls representing the earthly world. The fourth side overlooks the river as part of the paradise, symbolised by the white marble complex within the outer walls.
As the exalted one, Mumtaz lies in a sarcophagus under the central vast dome and is surrounded by the beauty of the intricate inlaid patterns and carvings of the interior of the tomb. Calligraphy on the marble extols her character and beauty. Her husband became obsessed by perfecting her monument. It is an Ode to Mumtaz.
Symmetry and Beauty
The Taj Mahal is completely symmetrical when viewed from any side. It features a huge centrally placed dome within a dome to control the inside climate atmosphere and four minarets. These are tapered and angled, so if they collapse, they will fall away from the central part of the building.
Every pattern , every carving is identical in size and symmetrical. The patterns feature plants and flowers, not people. They create a paradise of beauty to surround his loved one. A long rectangular pool prefaces the entrance to the Taj Mahal, offering reflections of the magnificent building it complements.
A Symbol of Love
Take your shoes off at the entrance and walk softly in awe. Wander the beautiful gardens, sit on the marble seat by the pool. Wherever you walk or sit or look, the Taj Mahal is amazing, beautiful and symbolic of the love of a man for a woman.
The only anomaly in this perfected symmetry is the other tomb placed asymmetrically beside that of Mumtaz.
Together Forever in the Taj Mahal
For, in a twist to the tale, Shah Jahan is buried here too, though he never intended it that way. Legend has it he planned another tomb for himself across the river, a black Taj Mahal. But this never happened because his son, ironically born of his and Mumtaz’s love, deposed Shah and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort across the river. From there, he could only glimpse his beloved Taj.
Dying a broken man, his son buried him next to Mumtaz. They now forever lie together, under the luminous white dome under heaven, by the Yamuna River.
Threats To A Monument To Love
We only hope that they can lie there forever. There are modern day environmental threats to the Taj Mahal. The Yamuna River is sinking 1.5 metres a year, because of local damming upstream to provide the water supply to Agra.
This had led to subsidence, and cracks in the magnificent treasure built on its banks. Air pollution from nearby Agra and industry threatens to both blacken the marble and erode the carvings. Protection orders are now in place, involving restrictions on pollutants and emissions. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
Check out more posts at Whispering Encouragement