...the young lovers
On that night, the light of stars and the illuminations of torches and lanterns shone... a night brighter than the day of youth, adding to fulfillment of desire...

Prince Khurram, who would become Shah Jahan, was born in India in the same month as the Prophet Mohammed in the auspicious year 1,000 of the Islamic calendar (January 15, 1592). He was named Khurram, which means "joyous," by his doting grandfather Akbar, who said the birth made the world glad. "He was born during the height of Akbar's power," says art historian Shobita Punja, "when most of India came under Mughal rule. He was very well educated, had brilliant teachers, and was quite an aesthete. He really was a very cultured human being."

According to one of the youth's companions at court, Prince Khurram was a handsome youth, "possessed of a sharp wit, a wonderful memory, a love for details and the capacity to master them." Legend has it that the young prince charmed Arjumand Banu Begum (later named Mumtaz Mahal) at the Royal Meena Bazaar during the Moslem New Year festival, where merchants brought fine cloth, precious jewels and other goods for the harem and nobles of the court.

painting of "Mumtaz Mahal" painting of Shah Jahan

Though court poets celebrated the young girl's beauty, no contemporary likenesses of her are known to exist. According to author and art historian Milo Beach, "There are paintings that are labeled 'Mumtaz Mahal,' but they are simply generalized depictions of a Mughal beauty. There's virtually no contemporary account of her, because none of the historians would have had contact with her." Under Mohammed's law of "purdah," the law of the veil, women were obliged to hide their faces from public view. The only women depicted in paintings were court dancers and entertainers; it was taboo to paint royal women.

"Royal women were kept in seclusion, but that has nothing to do with the power they held," adds Beach. "They clearly were extremely powerful. Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir, married a woman named Nur Jahan who was really the person who ran the empire for the second half of Jahangir's reign, when he became addicted to opium and alcohol. He barely functioned as an emperor, and she ran the country."

"We know very little about Mumtaz Mahal except that she was the daughter of Asaf Khan, who was the Prime Minister for Shah Jahan and son of the Prime Minister for Jahangir whose sister, Nur Jahan, married Jahangir. You cannot be more closely related to the Imperial family than that. Many of Asaf Khan's cousins and other relatives were also placed in positions of enormous power in the Mughal court. So Mumtaz Mahal probably had a very important and influential role in her husband's life."

Before marriage to Mumtaz Mahal, the Emperor Jahangir had arranged two other marriages for his son for political purposes. But although Shah Jahan had three regular wives, Mumtaz Mahal became his favorite and bore his only children. The Prince would not part with her even on his numerous military campaigns. In his suffering, she sustained him; in his glory, she inspired him to acts of charity and benevolence. Both comrade and counselor, she was beloved by him for her unswerving loyalty and by his people for her wise and compassionate guidance.


young lovers | the Mughal dynasty | Shah Jahan | architectural antecedents
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