Monday, September 17, 2012

Shahjahan, Mumtaz and Taj Mahal


I just happened to see an interesting discussion. The thread starter made a post which made following four points:

1. Mumtaj was Shahajahan's 4th wife
2. Shahajahan killed Mumtaj's husband to marry her
3. Mumtaj died in her 14th delivery
4. He then married to Mumtaj's sister.

Specifically, the post was asking if Shahjahan really loved Mumtaz Mahal and if Taj Mahal is a much hyped symbol of love?

Someone replied that nothing in the original post was true and quoted some Wikipedia articles. I take interest in historical stuff and thought to do some search. I won’t quote Wikipedia because it is too unreliable for the short term. Anyone can write and save anything there and it remains there till moderator deletes/cleans-up. So I searched only in books as available on Google books and here is what I find:

For the four pieces mentioned in the original post:

1. Mumtaj was Shahajahan's 4th wife

Most easily found resources say that Shahjahan had only 3 wives. But the below book clearly names his three “other” wives. Therefore, it looks that indeed Shahjahan had at least four wives. I have highlighted the portion in red:

Book “Royal Mughal Ladies and Their Contributions”, By Soma Mukherjee, Page 43 mentions, “Three of Shahjahan’s secondary wives, Akbarabadi Mahal, Fatehpuri Mahal and Sarhindi Mahal built mosques in Delhi.” [Ref]

 
The number of four also looks more logical because since Islam allows 4 wives, the king won’t have left this ‘opportunity’ gone by. Anyways, the book clearly mentions that he had at least four legal wives.


2. Shahajahan killed Mumtaj's husband to marry her

In my small research I couldn’t find references for this but it is a historical fact that Shahjahan had killed all his brothers and their families in order to become king himself. This fact itself is enough to tell us how bloodthirsty he was and in case he killed Mumtaj’s (original name Arjumand Banu Begum) family too, it won’t come as a surprise to me.


Book “The Story of the World: Early modern times from…” By Susan Wise Bauer, Page 68 mentions this point in Q&A: [Ref]

Q: How did Shah Jahan protect his claim to the throne?
A: He put all his rivals to death – including his own brothers!


 
It is mentioned everywhere that Shahjahan and Mumtaz (Arjumand Banu Begum) were in love for 5 years after which only they got married. Also it is written that Mumtaz was the niece of the famous queen of Jehangir - Nur Mahal. Jehangir was Shahjahan’s father  and hence Nur Jahan was Shahjahan’s step-mother. As soon as Shahjahan had become ruler after Jahangir’s death, he had imprisoned his step-mother Nur Jahan also. So will it be a surprise that he did excesses to Nurjahan’s family? (all these facts are mentioned everywhere including in Wikipedia)

3. Mumtaj died in her 14th delivery

This is true and mentioned everywhere. Bearing 14 babies may not be uncommon in those days, I guess?

4. He then married to Mumtaj's sister.

I am not sure about this and it looks that he didn’t marry another girl after Mumtaz’s death. He had at least two other wives alive including Akbarabadi Mahal after Mumtaj’s death. But the reason can be more curious than simply his unconditional love.

Mumtaj Mahal died in 1631, and then Shahjahan got busy building Taj Mahal during 1632-1653. By the time Taj Mahal was built, Shahjahan was 60 years old (he was born in 1592). We don't expect him to remarry at the age of 60; do we? Of course he couldn’t marry more women before Taj Mahal was complete otherwise the building would be a ridicule. Anyways he had his other wives alive for him. Now just 5 years after Taj Mahal was built (1658), one of his sons Aurangzeb entered Agra, imprisoned him, and his life was at constant threat. We don't expect Shahjahan to marry inside the prison; do we?

I am not sure if he married Mumtaj’s sister but there is a disturbing account of references available which tell that he had an illicit relationship with his own daughter Jahanara Begum. I got this text: The European traveler Francois Bernier wrote, "Begum Sahib, the elder daughter of Shah Jahan was very beautiful... Rumor has it that his attachment reached a point which it is difficult to believe, the justification of which he rested on the decision of the Mullas, or doctors of their law. According to them it would have been unjust to deny the king the privilege of gathering fruit from the tree he himself had planted." Joannes de Laet was the first European to write about this rumor. Peter Mundy and Jean Baptiste Tavernier wrote about the same allegations.


May be the author wrote sister instead of actually writing “daughter”? 

The same is mentioned in numerous books:

  1. Travels in the Mogul Empire - Page 11, Francois Bernier [Ref]
  2. The Peacock Throne: the drama of Mogul India - Page 118, Waldemar Hansen [Ref]
  3. Royal Mughal ladies and their contributions - Page 58. Soma Mukherjee [Ref]
  4. Domesticity and power in the early Mughal world - Page 43, Ruby Lal [Ref]
  5. The Taj Mahal is a temple palace, Purushottam Nagesh Oak [Ref]
  6. Taj Mahal: passion and genius at the heart of the Moghul empire, Diana Preston, Michael Preston [Ref]

Though the fact remains that even after marrying Mumtaj Mahal, Shahjahan had gone on marrying other women. (His other marriages had also happened after his marriage to Mumtaj Mahal.) But then kings and rulers marry also for political reasons and at their whims, so I would give him a benefit of doubt…

In my opinion Taj Mahal may still be a good example of “love” but not of a good “lover”. Shahjahan’s character seems too dark and ugly. But who says murderers and corrupt people can’t love their wife truly? I see it this way…

I see Taj Mahal as a symbol of love, but not a symbol of love belonging to any particular lovers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization associated with the author. The portions of the book quoted have been taken from openly available Google books. There is no attempt to hurt the feelings of readers and any unintended ones are regretted. You are welcome to share your own personal opinion on this article in the comments section.

7 comments:

Manish Nasa said...

That is quite some research and hard work Rahul :) It is a pleasure to be on your blog...

KrRahul said...

Thanks a lot Manish bhai... Very nice to know that you read and liked it...

ABTC said...

nice post
thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

thanks for share.

Swetha said...

I was myself trying 2 do such research n urs proved really helpful

u can also look at p.n.oak's account...quite useful :D

KrRahul said...

Thanks Swetha...

Naveena Kothamasu said...

it was very worthful research ...thnk u @rahul