In a time when women were mere accessories to the men they loved, and wives of rulers were even less significant, one woman wasn’t satisfied with that role.
Her name was Arjumand Banu Begum and she was born in Agra, India in 1593. She was the daughter of Persian nobleman Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan. When Arjumand was betrothed to Prince Khurram, he found her beauty and poise to be so admirable he gave her the name Mumtaz Mahal Begum (Chosen One of the Palace) and his relationship with her would inspire him to build one of the world’s most recognizable buildings – the Taj Mahal - as her final resting place.
When Khurram met Arjumand, she was 14. They had to wait 5 years to marry, and for the court astrologers to find a suitable date for their union. During those five years, Khurram took two other wives, but once he married Arjumand he stopped visiting the others and favored her company exclusively. When Khurram became emperor, he took the title Shah Jahan. He and Arjumand had fourteen children together and had a relationship which was the envy of many.
Arjumand took the name Mumtaz Mahal and often used her influence on Shah Jahan to intervene for the poor people of India. Although most pregnant women in this time were secluded because of their condition, she chose instead to be the Shah’s constant companion and travel with him across India – even during combat missions. She was his confidant in all things and has been thought to have influenced many of his royal decisions. When they were at home in Agra, she spent her time designing and maintaining a lush garden that has inspired many future gardeners and landscapers.
While Mumtaz was giving birth to their fourteenth child – who would be called Gauhara Begum – she had a difficult labor and knew she would not survive. She begged the Shah to build a monument to their love. When she died, he first buried her in a nearby garden, but she was later disinterred and brought to a small building on the Yumma River. Her body stayed there until 22 years later, when Shah Jahan’s directions to build a suitable mausoleum for Mumtaz were realized, in the building we now know as the Taj Mahal.
Mumtaz’ tomb is the focus of this building, but its exterior decorations are also remarkable. Their markings tell of the teachings of the Muslim faith (which both Jahan and Mumtaz shared). The interior walls are laden with precious gems. On the sides of Mumtaz’ tomb are inscribed ninety names of the Muslim god, and praise for Mumtaz’s beauty and virtue. By contrast, the Shah’s tomb bears only this inscription: "He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri."*
Because of Mumtaz’ love of gardens, there is also an impressive garden at the Taj Mahal. It features a pool where the reflection of the famous onion-shaped dome of the monument can clearly be seen. Walkways frame two other reflective pools and trees surround its paths.
This monument to a king’s love for his queen attracts 2 to 4 million visitors per year, and its distinctive shape has been inspiration to many other architects. It is listed as one of the seven wonders of the modern world and open for night viewing on the day of the full moon.
Shah Jahan believed that a journey to this building would ensure forgiveness of sin to any traveler, and inscribed his memorial to his beloved wife with these words:
“Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.”*
And to think: I get excited when my husband remembers my birthday with a card.
* source: Wikipedia
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