The Reign of Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan is best remembered for his contribution to the world of architecture, the Taj Mahal – one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which he built for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in Agra.
Even though he was the fifth child of Jahangir, Shah Jahan made his presence felt with his superior fighting skills and training. His father often sent him on military campaigns, even as a young child.
Shah Jahan won a number of battles for his father and was conferred the title of Shah Jahan or ‘King of the World’.
While walking through the bazaar, Shah Jahan who was only 15 then, spotted a beautiful young girl who went by the name, Arjumand Banu. Shah Jahan was captivated by her beauty and begged his father to allow him to marry her. Jahangir refused, and married him off to a Persian Princess.
Shah Jahan never gave up on his first love. He courted Arjumand Banu for five long years until his father gave in. The two finally got married and had fourteen children together, one of them being Aurangzeb, the future King.
A few years later, Jahangir’s health deteriorated. His sons fought over the throne, until Shah Jahan took over. On ascending the throne, he gave his wife a new title – Mumtaz Mahal or ‘The Chosen One of the Palace.’
Shah Jahan’s reign was a happy and prosperous one. It was an era of riches and the most precious of stones were mined from India’s soil which could fill up trunks with emeralds, sapphires, rubies, diamonds and all sorts of other treasures.
Shah Jahan was very wealthy and with it he built a number of palaces and mosques spread across the country. An inscription in gold on his throne reads ‘If there be a paradise on Earth, it is here.’
Why did Shah Jahan build the Taj Mahal?
In the fourth year of his reign, tragedy struck his kingdom. While away in Burhanpur to quell a rebellion, Mumtaz who was pregnant with their fourteenth child, died after giving birth to a baby girl.
This left Shah Jahan devastated. His grief and sorrow knew no bounds. He returned home, put aside all his royal belongings and shut himself up in his chambers. He refused to appear in public or take care of any state affairs.
This lasted for two years. Architecture and art were the only two things that brought him solace.
Then suddenly, one day he decided that he would build a beautiful monument in the memory of his wife, a structure that had never been built before and would never be built again.
Thus, began his dream of building the Taj Mahal, the jewel of India. The Taj Mahal’s foundation was laid on the banks of the Yamuna., near his palace in Agra. It is said that three architects from Persia, Italy and France designed it. Skilled artisans were brought from Baghdad, Constantinople and other Islamic centers.
The Taj Mahal took almost 20 years to build. Around 20,000 workers worked hard day and night. The whole structure was made from marble brought from Jaipur along with other precious metals and stones. The Taj stood on a platform and was flanked by beautiful mosques and minarets on either side and a huge spired dome for a roof. Lush gardens with fountains spread almost to the foot of the Taj and a pool was placed strategically in front of the monument which reflected its shimmering beauty. Dazzling gems were inlaid in white marble with quotations from the Quran inscribed on the main entrance.
And within the Taj Mahal, lay the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. Delicate screens surrounded the tomb, where light filtered through, giving the room a day as well as night light effect.
His next plan was to build a black Taj Mahal across the river with a bridge connecting the two monuments. He wished to be laid to rest here but the plan never materialized.
Years passed, and his peaceful life came to an end. Shah Jahan fell ill and his four sons started quarrelling over the throne. There were bitter fights, and Aurangzeb emerged victorious.
Aurangzeb overthrew his father and placed him under house arrest at the Agra fort. His only desire was to see the Taj Mahal everyday and so, he was given a chamber that offered a view of it.
He lived there for nine years along with his daughter Jahanara who swore to look after her father.
Old age and sickness overcame him. Shah Jahan breathed his last. According to his wishes, he was buried alongside his wife Mumtaz at the Taj. Their love became immortal and still lives on in the stones of the Taj Mahal even today.