Taj Mahal and Shah Jahan – Symbols of Love


Taj tere liye ik mazhar-e-ulfat hi sahii
Tujh ko is vaadi-e-rangee’n se aqeedat hii sahii

Meri mehboob kahin aur milaa kar mujh se!

The Taj may be a symbol of love for you

You may have faith in this beautiful monument

My Beloved, please meet me elsewhere


Even Sahir Ludhianvi when denouncing the Taj Mahal, was very clear in his mind that he was rejecting it, not because it was not a symbol of love, but because it was not the symbol of a common man’s love. It symbolized the love of an Emperor only.

No one has ever questioned the emotions of Shah Jahan or his love for Mumtaz Mahal.

Khurram (the title Shah Jahan was given to him in 1617 by Jahangir) was the son of Jahangir and Jagat Gosain from the royal house of Jodhpur, also known as Jodh Bai. He inherited his mother’s Rajput features. He was fluent in Turki , the court language Persian and Hindavi which was spoken in North India.

Prince Khurram was betrothed to Arjumand Banu, daughter of Asaf Khan a Persian noble in 1607 and married to her in 1612.

Khurram gave her the title of Mumtaz Mahal Begum ( the Chosen One of the Palace) as in the words of Qazwini the writer of Padshahnama, a contemporary chronicle, he was so delighted with his new wife and found her in character and appearance Mumtaz amongst all the women of the time. .

Mohamamed Amin Qazwini further writes in his Padshahnama that the

“The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence [another title of Mumtaz] exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other. And always that Lady of the Age was the companion, close confidante, associate and intimate friend of that successful ruler, in hardship and comfort, joy and grief, when travelling or in residence…. The mutual affection and harmony between the two had reached a degree never seen between a husband and wife among the classes of rulers (sultans), or among the other people. And this was not merely out of sexual passion (hawa-yi-nafs): the excellent qualities, pleasing habits, outward and inward virtues, and physical and spiritual compatibility on both sides caused great love and affection, and extreme affinity and familiarity.”(Translation Ebba Koch, The Complete Taj Mahal)

She accompanied him everywhere and it was in Burhanpur during the birth of her fourteenth child that she died in 1631.

The Emperor’s grief knew no bounds. I am indebted to Prof Yunus Jaffery from whom I am learning Persian for pointing out contemporary references to this extreme state of mourning that Shah Jahan had fallen into.

The Emperor wore white clothes while mourning for his wife and the rest of the court had to too.

His court historians record his passionate love for his wife and his inconsolable state after her death. Qazwini even records that he even considered abdicating his throne and becoming a religious recluse such was his sense of loss after Mumtaz Mahal Mahal.

He gave up wearing coloured clothes, jewelry hearing music or using perfume. His hair turned white, he wept so much he needed spectacles. (Prof Jaffery told me he was probably one of the first to wear spectacles, which had just been introduced in India by the Portugese). The day Wednesday and month of Zil Qada in which she died was observed as a month of mourning for years.


Prof Jaffery also told me of a letter which he found and reference to that is given by Ebba Koch in which, Qasim Khan ‘Manija’, husband of Mumtaz Mahal’s aunt, remonstrated with him. Manija said that if Shah Jahan mourned with this intensity, Mumtaz Mahal may have to give up the joy of Heaven to come back to earth, the place of misery. He added that Shah jahan should also remember the children she had left in his care.

Shah Jahan had already resolved to make the most perfect memorial to his dead wife inspired by words of Bilbadal Khan, “May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be Paradise.”

Her body was taken out of its temporary grave in Burhanpur in Dec, 1631 itself and brought to Agra.

The foundation of the masoleum is on logs of sal wood sunk in wells fed by the waters of the Yamuna and all the chronicles record that the land found most suitable for this heavy and magnificent masoleum was found to be the palce of Man Singh, which was in the possession of his grandson, Jai Singh. It was called Aali Haveli (Lofty Mansion). Though Jai Singh was willing to give it as a present the Emperor bought it in lieu of 4 other havelis in Agra. (The translation of the farman of transfer of possession is given in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Mughal and European Documentary Sources by W. E. Begley, Z. A. Desai 1989, pp 168-71.)

An Emperor so passionately mourning his wife would not build the Rauza e Munawwara (illuminated Tomb) or Rauza e Mutahhara (The Pure Tomb) as the mausoleum was officially called, on confiscated land as namaz is forbidden on it. That’s why his insistence on not accepting the land as a present and giving 4 havelis in exchange.

Bernier called it Tage Mahal and the British used the Term Taj Mahal as an acronym for Mumtaz Mahal.

There is great emphasis on Shah Jahan’s personal involvement in the building of the masoleum. The identitiy of the architect are not mentioned according to Ebba Koch that led to ‘fanciful speculation’. She adds that that ‘In the 19th century, local informants of the British fabricated the story of an architect from Turkey named, “Ustad Isa’. So obviously it follows that all the tales of cutting off his hands etc were more tales of the fertile British informants and recievers of the information!

The two names mentioned in conenction are Ustad Ahmed Lahauri and Makramat Khan.

It was officially completed in 1643 and was meant for eternity.

Upon her grave-may it be illumined until the Day of Judgement

The King of Kings constructed such an edifice

That since Destiny drew the plan of Creation

It has not seen such an exalted building

Abu Talib Kalim, Padshahnama 1630-40

(tr Ebba Koch)

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