Taj Mahal5 mins 272 5 mins 272
Shah Jahan took Arjumand Banu Begum as his second wife. Soon, smitten by her beauty and her accomplishments in the field of arts, he bestowed upon her the title of Mumtaz Mahal (The Exalted One of the Palace). He had two other wives but those marriages had only been for political purposes. Mumtaz was the one he lavished his love, his time, and his riches on.
Shah Jahan was so enthralled with Mumtaz, that he did not realise when she slowly started to take control of his actions. He owned the Kohinoor, the biggest diamond in the world, which made him one of the richest Mughal Emperors. Mumtaz, with her sweet wiles, made Shah Jahan bestow upon her luxuries which no empress had enjoyed before her. Her residence Khas Mahal was decorated with pure gold and precious stones and she received a wifely allowance of one million rupees a year, which was the highest paid to any Mughal wife.
She made sure that he considered her, his trusted confidant and adviser. She accompanied his entourage to all the wars that he waged and it was only with her command that he forgave enemies or had them executed to death. Such was the power she wielded upon him.
She kept him happy in their marriage bed and the poets of the time went into raptures, writing about the intimate and loving relationship that they shared. They had fourteen children among them, seven of them who died at birth or at a very young age.
She was pregnant with her fourteenth child, when she accompanied her husband as he fought in the Deccan Plateau. The labor was long and hard as she delivered her last daughter Gauhar Ara Begum. She died screaming for Shah Jahan as he was away fighting at the battlefield. The subjects at the camp who heard her screaming, prayed for her soul to rest, as they felt she had died with severe pain and with the unfulfilled wish of seeing her husband for the last time.
Shah Jahan on his return was inconsolable with grief. He wanted to complete his mourning in peace and so went into seclusion, with only his eldest daughter Jahannara Begum, attending to him. One night, soon after Mumtaz’s demise, as Shah Jahan lay prone on his bed, he felt her presence beside him. Her sweet scent filled the room and an apparition appeared next to him. Initially overjoyed by the fact that his beloved had come back to him, Shah Jahan was horrified to see the face of the person next to him. Though the voice was Mumtaz Mahal’s, the face that he saw was dark and disfigured, her eyes filled with menace and her mouth twisted into a sneer.
This being, which looked like it belonged to the depths of the netherworld, started speaking to him sweetly, recalling their loving moments together. But soon the tone changed as it saw the continued revulsion of the face of Shah Jahan. The room was filled with hysterical laughter as the being reminded him about the power she had wielded over him. She reminded him about all the liberties that he had granted her and cursed him for being responsible for her death with his insatiable lust. She scratched at his face, tore his clothes, and threw things around. She seemed to want him to suffer for all that she had lost with her untimely death and his death would not appease her thirsty soul.
Finally, Shah Jahan saw the being for what it was. It was Mumtaz Mahal’s true face. The face which reflected her soul and which had been hidden behind a veneer of incomparable beauty. Shah Jahan berated himself for his blindness in not recognizing her for what she was and considered this haunting as a repentance for his sins. The torture continued for the months that he was in seclusion till his hair grew white, his back bent and he became a pale shadow of what he once was.
During the day when the ghost did not haunt him, he confided in Jahannara, who ignored it to be the ramblings of a man rendered senile with grief. But after a few months and again and again witnessing the destruction that the ghost wrought, she believed in him and went out to seek the help of the Mullas in freeing Shah Jahan.
The mullahs proposed many solutions but only one seemed to appease the ghost. The promise of being interred in a tomb of unrivaled beauty, a white marble edifice that would stand the test of time and generations would extol its vibrance and that of the queen buried in its depths.
Thus began the journey of building the Taj Mahal. By day, Shah Jahan had his chief architect describe to him the idea for its construction and dutifully at night, he repeated it to the ghost by his side. He described to her the expensive marble that he would bring, the numerous labourers that he would employ and the mother of pearl and inlay works that would decorate this monument to their love. The hysterical laughter and the ramblings had stopped as the ghost seemed to be pleased with this vision of beauty and grandeur.
When the time came for Mumtaz's body to be interred at the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan had also ensured one more thing. With the recommendation of the Mullas he covered the body with sacred herbs and spices, which would not allow the soul to leave the body again. He then sealed it with a marble stone which to this day takes centre place in the heart of the Taj Mahal.
Shah Jahan knew that this monument would be a testament to his architectural prowess and he continued constructing the outbuildings and the gardens for another 22 years. When he was imprisoned by his son at the Agra Fort, he looked upon his Taj Mahal, not as a testament to love, but a place that had deceit and duplicity buried deep inside. Just like Mumtaz Mahal, the external facade of the Taj Mahal shrouded the decay within it.
His only wish on his deathbed was to be buried as far away from the Taj as possible. But his son Aurangazeb, unheeding his father’s requests after death as he had during his life, had him buried next to Mumtaz Mahal at the Taj, where the two tombs lie, side by side, even to this day.