The Story of Mumtaz Mahal: The Inspiration Behind Taj Mahal 

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Mumtaz Mahal

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Mumtaz Mahal, the name means “Jewel of the Palace”. We know Mumtaz as the Muse behind the Taj Mahal which is a heritage site in India and one of the seven wonders of the world. The history of India also weaves amorous tales of Mumtaz Mahal with her endeared husband, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The story of Mumtaz Mahal is truly fascinating as it has a lot to offer.

In this article, we will discuss the life story of Mumtaz Mahal and her love story with Shah Jahan. We will also talk about the white ivory-built monument that continues to stand as testimony of their undying love and devotion for each other. So, without any further delay, let us start with our reading adventure!

Who Was Mumtaz Mahal?

Mumtaz Mahal (27 April 1593- 17 June 1631) was the Empress and chief consort of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who ruled India from 1628 to 1658. She had a disposition of both straightforwardness and bemusing self-possessiveness. The Malika-uz-Zamani (Queen of the Age) served as the chief reason behind the construction of the Taj Mahal which is one of the greatest wonders of the world. Mumtaz was the second wife of Shah Jahan amongst two other wives which were more of a political alliance thus making her the most endeared one. The pair was a true embodiment of marital devotion and intense love. 

Mumtaz Mahal’s family and early life 

  • Mumtaz Mahal was born as Anjumand Banu on April 1593 to Asaf Khan and Diwanji Begum. Her father was a grand vizier (or wazir) to Mughal emperor Akbar. She was also the niece of the de facto ruler of the Mughal empire, Nur Jahan. Thus, she belonged to a family of Persian nobles.
  • Her family rose to prominence after Mughal emperor Akbar initiated Mumtaz’s grandfather Mirza Ghias Beg (I’timad-ud-Daulah) into service. Before that, the family was left impoverished in Iran by a sudden turn of events which made them migrate to India.

    Mumtaz Mahal was proficient in Arabic and Persian languages. She was well-educated and a refined lady. She even composed poems in Persian.
  • Mumtaz Mahal was betrothed to Prince Khurram at the age of 14 in 1607. Prince Khurram later assumed the regnal name Shah Jahan. It is claimed that Jahangir must have heard about her as he consented to the marriage of his son Shah Jahan with Mumtaz Mahal. 

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan 

  • There are claims that state Shah Jahan first saw Mumtaz Mahal at the Meena Bazaar while he had some fawning courtiers surround him. Mumtaz was hawking beads of glass and silk while he caught a glimpse of her. Shah Jahan instantly fell in love with her and declared to his father Jahangir that he intended to marry her. As a result, they were both engaged in 1607.
  • Five years after Mumtaz Mahal’s betrothal to Shah Jahan, the couple got married in 1612. The time of the marriage was considered conducive by the court astrologers for the marriage to be a happy one.
  • Upon marriage, Shah Jahan conferred Anjumand Banu with the title “Mumtaz Mahal” which meant “Exalted one of the Palace”. She even held the position of Padshah Begum (First Lady or Empress) in the Mughal empire. Mumtaz inherited this chief position from her paternal aunt and stepmother-in-law, Nur Jahan who was the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s consort.
  • After Mumtaz’s death, this position was transferred to her eldest and Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter Jahanara Begum. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan even honoured her as “Hazrat” which is usually referred to a wife bearing the heir to the throne. 
  • Shah Jahan loved Mumtaz with considerable depth and devotion. Mumtaz was described as a lady with grace, beauty and compassion. She was a combination of modesty and candour. Despite her frequent conceptions, Mumtaz accompanied Shah Jahan on his military campaigns. With her request, Shah Jahan even forgave enemies and commuted death commands. Mumtaz was his trusted confidant and the object of his immense passion. Shah Jahan lavished her with extravagant gifts and magnanimous luxuries. 

Mumtaz Mahal- the Padshah Begum 

  • Mumtaz Mahal was conferred the title of Padshah Begum after Shah Jahan acceded the throne in 1628. She also received other designations like the Malika-i-Jahan’ (“Queen of the World”), Malika-i-Hindustan (“Queen of the Hindustan”) etc.
  • Mumtaz Mahal as a Padshah Begum contributed a lot to the destitute or the unfortunate. She provided pensions and made great donations for the daughters of poor scholars or pious men. She even patronized several literary and talented men.
  • Mumtaz was given Shah Jahan’s imperial seal, Mehr Uzaz for issuing royal decrees. Granting seals comes with the attainment of immense honour and authority. Clearly, Shah Jahan’s granting of the imperial seal speaks volumes about the infallible trust he harboured for her. 
  • She commissioned the construction of a riverside garden located in Agra. It came to be called the Zahara Bagh. Mumtaz Mahal was not interested in political affairs unlike her aunt, Nur Jahan. However, her advice was often sought by Shah Jahan in private as well as in public affairs. Her tenure as the Padshah Begum was cut short by her untimely death in 1631. Therefore, she exercised her power as a Padshah Begum for three years only from 1628 to 1631. 

Issues of Mumtaz Mahal 

  • Mumtaz Mahal bore 14 children with Shah Jahan, out of which only 7 survived. Some of the children died during birth or in their early years. For example, their daughters Hur-ul-Nissa Begum and Surayya Banu Begum both died of smallpox as children. The names of her children are listed as follows: 

Hur-ul-Nisa Begum
Jahanara Begum
Dara Shikoh
Shah Shuja
Roshanara Begum
Aurangzeb
Izad Bakhsh
Surayya Banu Begum
Murad Bakhsh
Lutf Allah
Daulat Afza
Husn Ara Begum
Gauhar Ara Begum 

  • Jahanara Begum was the eldest daughter of the surviving issues of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. She was the most adored one out of all their children. After Mumtaz Mahal’s death, she received half of the total sum of 10 million rupees and the rest half was distributed amongst her other children. Moreover, she even brought his father, Shah Jahan out of his immense grief for her beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal’s death.
  • Dara Shikoh was the eldest son and apparent heir as favoured by his father Shah Jahan. He ascended the throne after him but ruled for a brief period. His reign was interrupted by Shah Jahan’s sixth son, Aurangzeb who deposed him from the throne. In the ensuing events, Dara Shikoh was defeated and killed by Aurangzeb who later became the most controversial king in Indian history. He is a popular name because of his ruthlessness and his oppressive regime against the Hindus. 

Mumtaz Mahal’s Death 

  • Cause of death
    The Padshah Begum died on 17 June 1631 while giving birth to her 14th daughter (Gauhar Ara Begum). She was bleeding profusely after childbirth and underwent labour for 30 hours which resulted in her death. She died while accompanying Shah Jahan on a military campaign in the Deccan Plateau. 

Burial ground 

  • For a temporary period, Mumtaz was buried at Burhanpur which was 900 km away from Agra (her original resting place). The burial ground was surrounded by a walled pleasure garden called Zainabad. Later, her body was interred and shifted to Agra where her corpse remained forever. With Shah Jahan’s death in 1666, Aurangzeb buried his father alongside the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. The shifting of her remains was carried out in a solemn procession, the description of which is elaborated by writers of the century. 

Impact on Shah Jahan 

  • Her demise was an immense loss for her family, particularly Shah Jahan who was inconsolable. He went into complete seclusion for a year and when he reappeared, there was a marked difference in his appearance caused by his grief for his adored wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is also said that constant weeping weakened his eyesight and made him wear glasses. 

 Taj Mahal

  • Following Mumtaz Mahal’s death in 1631, Shah Jahan chose to continue his military campaign in the Deccan. He was already planning about constructing the richest mausoleum for his beloved wife’s tomb during his stay there. After some time, the plan was executed and that was how the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, was born. It took a total of 22 years (1632-1653) and 22,000 skilled men to complete the marvel of white-ivory. 
  • The Taj Mahal was not simply a construction or a vague commemoration for the deceased one. It was a token of love by Shah Jahan for his Queen of the World (Malika-i-Jahan) or rather the Queen of his heart. 
  • In the British poet Sir Edwin Arnold’s words, the Taj Mahal is “the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones”. It is an exquisite model built for Mumtaz Mahal that continues to mesmerize people all over the world. 
  • While Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, the only concession he requested was to place him in a room with a view of the monument he built for his love. 

Important Dates 

  • April 1593- Mumtaz Mahal was born to Asaf Khan and Diwanji Begum 
  • 1607- Mumtaz betrothed Shah Jahan 
  • 10 May 1612- Mumtaz got married to Shah Jahan 
  • 1628- Shah Jahan was enthroned; Mumtaz Mahal assumed the role of Padshah Begum 
  • 1631- Mumtaz accompanied Shah Jahan in a campaign at Burhanpur 
  • 17 June 1631- Mumtaz Mahal delivered her last and 14th child Gauhar Ara Begum and died from post-partum haemorrhaging at Burhanpur (modern-day Madhya Pradesh)
  • January 1632- Body shifted to Agra; construction of Taj Mahal initiated
  • 1653- The construction of the Taj Mahal was completed 

The Final Thought

Although Mumtaz lived for 38 years and remains buried in her tomb, her spirit continues to be immortal in the architectural marvel built by Shah Jahan and also in the pages of history.

Indian history is a rich mine with plenty of precious tales that makes an interesting read.
Hopefully, you found the story of Mumtaz Mahal quite alluring. The history of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan will always be inclusive of each other just like the Taj Mahal continues to be inclusive of its immortal inhabitants.

 

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