The tragic love story behind the Taj Mahal

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Built in the 17th century, the Taj Mahal is a white-marble shrine erected by Mughul emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build. The Taj Mahal still astounds every visitor with its symmetry and structural beauty, its intricate calligraphy, inlaid flowers made of gemstones, and glorious gardens.

Shah Jahan met 15-year-old Mumtaz Mahal at the age of sixteen at a village fair. She was the daughter of the soon-to-be prime minister, and also favorite niece of his stepmother, and she stole his heart at first glance.

As was the custom in those days, Mughal emporers and their male offspring had many wives.  Akbar, Shah Jahan’s grandfather is said to have kept a harem of over a thousand women. These marriages were done mainly for political reasons, and less for love or lust. Shah Jahan, himself had to marry Kandhari Begum before marrying Mumtaz Mahal and take on multiple wives, even though his heart was already spoken for.

shutterstock_1255767301.jpgThey married five years later, Mumtaz Mahal was not only beautiful, she was also smart, tender-hearted and well-connected. 

The couple had 14 children together, many of whom did not live past infancy.  Tragically Mumtaz Mahal passed away during childbirth after delivering a healthy baby girl.  The news devastated Emporer Shah Jahan, who went into mourning and sorrow. Mumtaz Mahal was buried right away, according to Islamic tradition, near the encampment at Burbanpur. Her body, however, was not to stay there for long.

Shah Jahan, filled with grief, decided to pour that emotion into an elaborate, exquisite, expensive mausoleum that would rival all those that had come before it. Never before would the world have seen such a unique love shrine. The Mughal Empire was one of the richest in the world and Shah Jahan spared no expense on making this happen. An estimated 20,000 workers worked diligently to build this masterpiece.


Shah Jahan, deeply affected by the death of his wife had lost interest in governing the empire. As a consequence, his son Aurangzeb, succeeded in imprisoning him in a bloody coup, after killing his older brothers.

After 30 years as emperor, Shah Jahan was usurped and imprisoned in the luxurious Red Fort in Agra. Shah Jahan spent the last eight years of his life staring out a small window from his prison cell, looking at his beloved wife’s Taj Mahal.  When Shah Jahan died on January 22, 1666, Aurangzeb had his father buried with Mumtaz Mahal in the crypt beneath the Taj Mahal.

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