It is one of the great romances in history – and you’ve probably heard a little about it. The young Indian prince who married his beautiful teenage bride – a great true love partnership that produced 14 children. Sadly, she died in childbirth with the last child. So, in deep mourning, he set about creating what is now the world’s most famous and beautiful tomb for her – the Taj Mahal.
But did you know Shah Jahan positioned the Taj so that he could see it from his home – the Agra Fort/Red Fort? And after being overthrown by one of his sons and imprisoned within the Fort, he spent the last years of his life in a tower with a marble balcony where he still had a view of the Taj Mahal.
In the mid 1970’s I visited both the Taj and the the Agra Fort/Red Fort, and saw the view he had of his wife’s now famous tomb.
In death, the Shah and his wife Mumtaz Mahal – also known as Arjumand Banu Begum – were united – both buried at the Taj. So it ended up being his tomb too.
There seems to be a few stories about how the couple met. One has him spotting her selling silks and beads in an Agra bazaar. The other has their parents arranging the marriage when they were young teenagers. Given that he was a Prince and future Shah, I would have thought it would have been unlikely he’d be able to marry a bazaar pedler and make her his most favoured and prominent wife. So I’m going with the arranged marriage version.
He had other wives – the norm for those times. But Mumtaz Mahal was always his favourite – an intelligent woman who he entrusted with the Royal Seal. When she died, he was inconsolable – plunged into deep mourning.
Agra is several hours drive from New Delhi. There are train services, but I went on a day trip on a tour bus.
I found the Taj Mahal breathtaking. It exceeded all my expectations. In today’s terms it’s esimtated to have cost a billion American dollars to build. It was commissioned in 1632, with 20 thousand artisans involved in its design and construction over many years.
It doesn’t matter how many photos you’ve seen of it, nothing really prepares you for how stunning it is. You really can’t appreciate its beauty until you are up close to it. Each marble tile is so exquisite, with beautiful designs and inlaid with lapis lazuli, turquoise and malachite.
I bought two silk bedspreads in Agra during my 1970’s visit – each with Taj designs and made at a nearby prison! Were they really made by gaol prisoners? I can only tell you what I was told at the time.
My memory of how I got them back to Australia is hazy. I think they must have offered a postal service. I doubt very much that I stuffed them in my backpack!
I gave my parents a pink double sized one, and they used it for years. I kept a single size one in green. It’s never been used. Both are now stored away, along with my memories.