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Unforgettable Love

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Read about the circumstances under which the Taj Mahal was built, refresh your knowledge of history and gain an understanding of an unforgettable love story.

Love at First Sight

Arjumand Banu Begam, or Mumtaz Mahal, was a Persian Muslim. When 15-year-old Prince Kurram made his way to the Meena Bazaar, he spotted her sitting amongst what he presumed to be glass beads. The Prince, enraptured by her beauty, asked her the price of a large glass bead. She looked at him and stated haughtily that it was diamond, not glass, and that he would not be able to afford it. Shah Jehan placed the exorbitant amount she quoted in her hands, picked up his diamond, and left behind his heart. Upon reaching home he spoke with his father of his desire to wed Arjumand Banu. Jehangir, who had also fallen similarly in love with NoorJehan, agreed to the union, but it was another five years before they could wed. In the meantime the Prince was wed to the Persian princess, Quandari Begum, for political reasons. Thus, although Mumtaz was Prince Khurrams second wife, she was incomparably his greatest love, and together they had fourteen children.

After the marriage Arjumand Banu was renamed Mumtaz Mahal, and when Prince Khurram succeeded his father to the throne, he was renamed Shah Jehan.

Mumtaz Mahal inspired her husband to be a good, wise leader. She accompanied her husband on his battles, was kind to her subjects, and under their rule the kingdom prospered. As a result, she earned the devotion of her subjects.

The Four Promises

Mumtaz died in the year 1630, after 19 years of marriage, while giving birth to her fourteenth child. She was at the time in Burhanpur, in the Deccan. On her deathbed, Mumtaz Mahal extracted four promises from the emperor: first, that he build a monument to commemorate their eternal love; second, that he should remarry; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary.

The Construction

Her death left the emperor devastated, and within a few months his jet-black hair and beard turned snow white! He started the construction of the Taj Mahal in 1631, and it was completed twenty-two years later with the help of his subjects, who volunteered their efforts as a tribute to their love for their queen. It took the combined effort of over 20,000 artisans and craftsmen to complete this masterpiece. The Taj is built entirely of white marble, and is encrusted with precious stones. Material for the construction was called for from all over the country, and 1000 elephants were used to transport the material to the site!

The principal architect was Istad Usa, an Iranian. Although rumour has it that Geronimo Veroneo, an Italian jeweller, was the principal architect, this rumour is largely unsubstantiated. It is however, possible that the pietra dura work was coordinated by him.

Aurangzebs Betrayal

Shah Jehans tragedy was not to end with the death of his beloved. His rogue son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him in Agra Fort and seized his empire. The fort overlooked the Taj Mahal, so Shah Jehan spent the last years of his life caged in the Fort, staring out at the Taj Mahal and pining for Mumtaz. When he died, he was buried in the Taj Mahal, next to her. This was not accounted for in the architecture, and so Shah Jehans burial spot remains the sole point of asymmetry in the mausoleum.


Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire, during the 16th and 18th centuries. As Shah Jehan lived and ruled from Agra, it was only befitting that he build a monument to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal in this town. The waters of the Yamuna behind the Taj reflect light on the marble walls, with the result that the Taj seems to change colour according to the time of the day and the season. Agra is around a 1.5 hour train journey from New Delhi.

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