Thursday, July 5, 2012

Consort Profile: Empress Mumtaz Mahal of India

Empress Mumtaz Mahal is one of the great romantic royal figures of history and while many people have probably never heard of her, absolutely everyone recognizes her final resting place, possibly the most famous monument to royal love in the world. But, more than just a pretty face, she was also one of the two great Mughal women who drove a number of reforms in the empire. She was born in Agra in April of 1593 as Arjumand Banu Begum, the daughter of Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan and a Persian princess. Her beauty and charm were legendary and when she first met the future Mughal Emperor, then Prince Khurram, it was a case of love at first sight. Struck by the stunning princess, the prince would have no other and the two were betrothed in 1607 when she was fourteen. Shah Jahan was so enamored with her that he swore he would have no other woman but her and that none could compare to her perfection. Given that, the only surprise is that it took five years before they were formally married in 1612. Romance aside, in keeping with tradition, Shah Jahan had two other wives as well but one can only feel sorry for the other two as there was never any doubt that Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite. Shah Jahan gave her that name, Mumtaz Mahal, which means “Jewel of the Palace” as a mark of his favor as well as entrusting her with the royal seal, Mehr Uzaz.

As with many royal marriages of the time, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal were related. Her aunt Nurjahan was the wife of Shah Jahan’s father Jahangir but, after an initial period of favor, Nurjahan became prejudiced against her niece when one of her daughters from a previous marriage married Shah Jahan’s brother. With Shah Jahan, however, she was his greatest happiness on the world and traveled with him throughout the Mughal empire. Poets and songwriters wrote glowing, flowery tributes to her charm, beauty, grace and compassion. The other wives of Shah Jahan were treated correctly but were more like friends than anything else as it was always only Mumtaz Mahal who held his heart. From the days when he was a prince, chased about as a rebel, to the days when he ruled the Mughal Empire, Mumtaz Mahal was his constant companion, closest advisor, refuge and comfort. A compassionate woman, she influenced her husband toward justice and mercy and through her new rights and privileges for women became the law of the land in the Mughal Empire. Everyone adored her, none more than her husband, who lavished every devotion on her that it was in his power to give.

During their marriage, Mumtaz Mahal was gave birth to fourteen children, though half of them died in infancy. Whether it was watching elephant fights in the arena or going on military campaigns, the Empress never wished to leave the side of her husband and it pained him deeply to ever have her out of his sight. Their devotion to each other reached legendary proportions, it was truly a romance for the ages and one unsullied by suspicious, jealously or intrigues for political power as were all too common. It helped that the reign of Shah Jahan was known, even then, as a “Golden Age” for Mughal India, of power, prosperity and artistic masterpieces and at the center of it all was the devoted Emperor and Empress. Also noteworthy is the fact that, unlike at least one or two other notable consorts, Mumtaz Mahal never tried to influence her husband on political issues and certainly never attempted to consolidate any political power for herself. Rather, she used her influence only in the area of social issues to help those in need and she was always supportive of her husband, his decisions and his policies.

Mumtaz Mahal accompanied the Emperor whenever possible, despite being almost constantly pregnant. It was on one such occasion that her life was cut tragically short, journeying with Shah Jahan while he was waging war on the Deccan Plateau of central India. The Empress was at Burhanpur when she went into labor to give birth to her fourteenth child. Complications set in and she died on June 17, 1631. To say that Shah Jahan was grief-stricken would be an immense understatement. The Emperor was positively unhinged with sorrow at the loss of his most beloved wife. No one could comfort him, no one could calm him and for a year he cut himself off from the world as he mourned his wife who had been his greatest happiness in the world. His hair reportedly turned white, he seemed to age rapidly and forever after had the appearance of a bent and sorrowful old man.

When finally he regained his composure, with the help of his eldest daughter, the Emperor determined to build a monumental tomb for his beloved wife that would stand as a testament to her glory and his great affection for her. The result was the magnificent and world famous Taj Mahal at Agra which took thousands of Mughal artisans 22 years to complete and which covers some 1,003 acres. To this day it is considered perhaps the most spectacular achievement of Mughal architecture in India, the centerpiece of which is the massive, white marble tomb beneath which rest the bodies of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. It is all set in the midst of vast and magnificent gardens and it is all a tribute to one of the most beloved royal consorts in world history and a monument to one of the greatest royal romances of all time.


  1. It is a remarkable story, one I wasn't familiar with. I wonder though, does India have one clear Royal Family? A restoration of an Indian Monarchy is as likely as the restoration of the Raj. But one can hope!

    1. I would say the Mughals were the closest thing to 'one clear' royal family (imperial in this case) as they were the only ones to ever rule all of the subcontinent (save the very south). However, even if India were more well disposed toward monarchy and reviving the empire there might be a problem with the Mughals being Muslims and most of the other royals being Hindus. Still, it could be done if there is a will to do it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. 'tis a shame that will seems to be lacking these days. At least England remains a shining example of what a monarch can do for their people's happiness. I hope some may, with luck, follow her example. In these fast changing times it is comforting to look to time-tested leadership even as we look forward.

  2. Wow nice site thank you for sharing............

  3. Now I know the true meaning behind my favorite perfume shalimar <3


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