Thursday, June 17, 2010

True Love Never Dies

Magnet # 271: The Taj Mahal

Material: Resin

Purchased By: The Spinks Family

Mumtaz Mahal passed away on this day in 1631, leaving her husband, Emperor Shah Jahan I distraught over her loss. Although her name may not be familiar to many today, the monument he would create in her memory certainly is - the Taj Mahal.

The girl who was to become Mumtaz Mahal was born Arjumand Bano Begum in Agra, India in 1593 to a family of Persian nobles that were related to Emperess Nur Jahan. By age 14, Begum had been betrothed to Prince Khurram, the Emperor's third son, but the two were not able to marry until she was 21, for the royal astronomers predicted the best day for them to wed in order to have a happy marriage was a long way off. Although he had taken wives before her, Begum quickly became her husband's favorite. After his father died and he had taken the throne by force, he assumed the title of Shah Jahan and gave her the new name of Mumtaz Mahal, or the Jewel of the Palace. She was devoted to her husband and would not leave his side, regardless of whether he was in the palace or in a tent at a war camp. And he loved her so much that he pretty much ignored his other wives, although he had children with them, as was expected. But Mumtaz Mahal was his closest confidant and most trusted companion. She died at age 39 during childbirth when she was traveling with her husband to the battlefield. All in all, she bore him 14 children, only seven of which survived past childhood. Shah Jahan buried her body temporarily but within a year, he had begun construction on the only mausoleum he considered to be fit to hold her remains. The Taj Mahal would become the pinnacle of Muhgal architecture, combining influences from Persian, Islamic, and Indian design styles. Shah Jahan had already created great architectural works, but this would be his greatest and he would bring in thousands of the greatest artisans from around the continent to create this grand structure with intricate detail. Jewels were embedded into its walls and passages from the Qu'ran were used to decorate in many areas. And in the very center of the structure, an inner chamber was created with tombs for Shah Jahan and his beloved wife. Per Muslim law, this area is not as intricately decorated as the rest of the Taj Mahal, but it is striking nonetheless. Over twenty years went into the creation of the monument and Mumtaz Mahal was laid to rest in the most striking mausoleum ever created. Soon after, her husband fell ill and he was deposed by one of their sons. He spent the last years of his life in house arrest at the Agra Fort within view of his grand accomplishment. Their eldest daughter, Jahanara Begum Sahib, attended to him during his final years, continuing to help him as she had ever since her mother had died and he fell into a deep depression. When he finally passed away, he was laid to rest beside Mumtaz Mahal. It's almost hard to believe that such a majestic structure only serves as a home to their two graves.

Ever since its creation, the Taj Mahal has captured audiences with its splendor. After the Mughal dynasty ended, it fell into disrepair and when the British came to the area, many dug the gems out of its walls. But a British viceroy, Lord Curzon, realized its importance and oversaw a great restoration project that allowed the Taj Mahal to go on. And there are still threats to it, including acid rain that has given it a yellow tint. Nowadays, as many as 4 million tourists visit it each year, making it India's most important destinations. And to protect the building, everyone must either wear shoe covers or go barefoot. There has even been concern about the future of this stunning place, as it is located in such a polluted place. I certainly hope it will stay around for many years to come - this testament of the bond between Shah Jahan and Muntaz Mahal should last forever, as their love for one another will.

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