Thursday, July 5, 2012
Consort Profile: Empress Mumtaz Mahal of India
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.
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.