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A Handbook to Agra and the Taj by E. B. Havell

Mumtaz Mahal the Crown of the Palace

style="text-align: justify;">The Taj

Arjumand Banu Begam the favourite wife of Shah Jahan, is better known by her other name, Mumtaz Mahal ("the Crown of the Palace"). Her father was Asaf Khan, who was brother of the Empress Nur Mahal, Jahangir's wife. She was thus the granddaughter of Itmad-ud-daulah, Jahangir's Prime Minister, whose tomb, on the opposite bank of the river, will be described hereafter.

In 1612, at the age of nineteen years she was married to Shah Jahan--then Prince Khurram--who, though hardly twenty-one, had already another wife. This second marriage, however, was a real love-match, and Mumtaz was her husband's inseparable companion on all his journeys and military expeditions. Shah Jahan, like his father, allowed his wife a large share in the responsibilities of government. Like Nur Mahal, she was famed as much for her charity as for her beauty. Her influence was especially exercised in obtaining clemency for criminals condemned to death. She bore him fourteen children, and died in childbed in 1630, or the second year after Shah Jahan's accession to the throne, at Burhanpur, whither she had accompanied her husband on a campaign against Khan Jahan Lodi. The Emperor was overpowered with grief. For a week he refused to see any of his ministers, or to transact any business of state. He even contemplated resigning the throne and dividing the empire among his sons. For two years the court observed

strict mourning. No music or festivities were allowed; the wearing of jewels, the use of perfumes and luxuries of all kinds were forbidden. The month of Zikad, in which she died, was observed as a month of mourning for many years afterwards. The body of Mumtaz was removed to Agra, and remained temporarily in the garden of the Taj while the foundations of the building were being laid. It was then placed in the vault where it now lies. A temporary dome covered the tomb while the great monument grew up over it.

The building of the Taj.

It was one of those intervals in history when the whole genius of a people is concentrated on great architectural works, and art becomes an epitome of the age. For the Taj was not a creation of a single master-mind, but the consummation of a great art epoch. Since the time of Akbar the best architects, artists, and art workmen of India, Persia, Arabia, and Central Asia had been attracted to the Mogul court. All the resources of a great empire were at their disposal, for Shah Jahan desired that this monument of his grief should be one of the wonders of the world. The sad circumstances which attended the early death of the devoted wife who had endeared herself to the people might well inspire all his subjects to join in the Emperor's pious intentions.

According to the old Tartar custom, a garden was chosen as a site for the tomb--a garden planted with flowers and flowering shrubs, the emblems of life, and solemn cypress, the emblem of death and eternity. Such a garden, in the Mogul days, was kept up as a pleasure-ground during the owner's lifetime, and used as his last resting-place after his death. The old tradition laid down that it must be acquired by fair means, and not by force or fraud. So Rajah Jey Singh, to whom the garden belonged, was compensated by the gift of another property from the Emperor's private estate. Shah Jahan next appointed a council of the best architects of his empire for preparing the design for the building. Drawings of many of the most celebrated buildings of the world were shown and discussed. It is even believed that one Geronimo Verroneo, an Italian who was then in the Mogul service, submitted designs for Shah Jahan's inspection, a fact which has led many writers into the error of supposing that the Taj, as completed, was actually designed by him. [8] The design eventually accepted was by Ustad Isa, who is stated in one account to have been a Byzantine Turk, and in another a native of Shiraz, in Persia.

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