08 February 2012

Great Loves in History: Shah Jahan & Mumtaz Mahal

By Lisa J. Yarde

In 1632, the Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan commanded the construction of a fabulous, white marble mausoleum, inlaid with gemstones. The Taj Mahal is considered a tribute built in loving memory of Shah Jahan's favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal was born Arjuman Banu Begum, a member of the Persian nobility. In 1607, while at a marketplace, the 14-year old's beauty caught the attention of a vain, young Mughal Prince Khurram, who was a grandson of Emperor Akbar the Great. Khurram declared his intentions to marry the girl, but they would have to wait for an auspicious date from the court's astrologers. There was a year's difference in age between Mumtaz and her eventual husband. After their wedding took place in 1612, the young prince bestowed the title Mumtaz Mahal, "Ornament of the Palace" on his wife and they shared 19 years of marriage, despite the intrigues of his stepmother Nur Jahan (incidentally, a paternal aunt of Mumtaz Mahal).  Mughal succession did not always favor the eldest son. For a time, Prince Khurram was his father Jahangir's favorite and earned the title Shah Jahan for his prowess in battle against his father's enemies.

Shah Jahan
Although Khurram married two other women and dutifully sired children with him, he showed great devotion to Mumtaz Mahal. She remained at his side as the court traveled through India, on his military campaigns and hunting expeditions. Mumtaz Mahal might have also been forewarned of her husband's intention to murder his younger brother and rival claimant, Khusrau, and rebel against Jahangir in 1622. The rebellion ended in defeat for Khurram four years later. He had to send two of his sons, including the eight year-old child of he and Mumtaz, Aurangzeb, as hostages to their grandfather's court. Mumtaz Mahal would not see her sons for another two years. When Jahangir died and Khurram ascended to the throne of the Mughals in 1627 as Emperor Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal gained further prominence as a trusted adviser to her husband . She gave birth to fourteen children, but only half of them survived to adulthood.

Taj Mahal
In June 1631, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied Shah Jahan on a military campaign to the Deccan Penninsula, despite being heavily pregnant. She died at the city of Burhanput after giving birth to their daughter. Official accounts describe Shah Jahan's grief-stricken state upon the loss of Mumtaz Mahal. Heartbreak "crumbled his mountain-like endurance." At first Shah Jahan interred his beloved wife's body at the site of her death for six months before he had her escorted to Agra six months later. He retreated from public appearances and when he finally emerged, the hair on his head had turned from black to completely white. Within several months, the construction on the Taj Mahal began. Another 22 years passed before it ended. Centuries later, the Taj Mahal still stands, its four minarets piercing the sky at Agra. It houses the remains of Shah Jahan and his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by real-life events. She is the author of On Falcon's Wings, a medieval novel chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. She has also written the medieval novels Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy, both set during a turbulent period of thirteenth century Spain.