Winter of 1999, Full Moon night, 6:30 PM. Four of us were still lost in the beauty of the sunset over the most amazing thing we have ever seen in our entire lives, Taj Mahal. Silence has been our way of communication for past 15 minutes. Either we lost words enjoying the serene beauty or we were afraid we might spoil the mood by saying something.
Finally I said “….with all the hype of its beauty and talk about the pollution around it, I still can’t believe what I am seeing. This is absolutely wonderful”. Uppen nodded in agreement. “…pictures and videos don’t do justice. I have seen 100s of Taj Mahal pictures, but nothing looked like this…”
Two more minutes, Aparna broke her silence “…needless to say Shah Jahan gave the greatest gift a man could give to his love”. She noticed Rajesh is still drowned in his thoughts. “What do you say Rajesh, would you build something like this for the love of your life?” He looked at her deeply and kept his silence.
We were a group of 25 graduate students from Chennai, touring New Delhi as part of our science tour. Four of us decided to ditch the rest of the group to visit Taj Mahal.
Rajesh is an expert in making his friends laugh with silly jokes. That day he was quiet all day. Aparna determined to bring him back to this world. “Shah Jahan and Mumtaz are the greatest lovers of all time, aren’t they?” Rajesh with a low voice.. “why can’t we just enjoy the scene and not talk about the history?” I looked at Rajesh with a surprise…”because without the King’s love, this building would have never existed.”
Like he needed to get something out of his chest, “Shah Jahan is not a great lover. I don’t think he loved anyone else but himself. He did not even care for Mumtaz”. All three of us were shocked. We knew Rajesh was serious, and he wouldn’t say something like that with out some background. But we were determined to prove him wrong.
I said, “what are you talking about? Shah Jahan was depressed with the death of his only love, and he built this incredible mausoleum for her”. Uppen and Aparna were staring at Rajesh without a blink. “only love? At the age of 15, Shah Jahan was to marry Mumtaz. They would however had to wait 5 years before getting married.” We were looking at him not knowing where he was going with this. “Shah Jahan married two other girls within those 5 years”.
“So Mumtaz was the 3rd wife of the King, and certainly she wasn’t the last”. Uppen had a point..”but that was the culture back then. He probably just followed his predecessors who had multiple wives. That still doesn’t take anything way from the efforts he put into building this monument”. “I agree, he built a great monument, but at what cost? At that time, his kingdom was suffering with poverty, and he raised taxes on people to fund the construction. He chopped hands of the architects and other skilled workers of Taj Mahal, so they could never build anything like that again”. I did not know these things. “His grandfather, Akbar the great, was a great ruler. He was tolerant to all religions and he loved everyone. But Shah Jahan was not tolerant to other religions, and people suffered under him. For someone who didn’t love his own people, how could he ever love anyone?” I wish Rajesh was wrong. But this is not the first time I heard about how cruel and bloody emperors were. Most of the human history was written in blood.
Aparna looked upset, “So why was he not a great lover?” I can feel her getting emotional. “He loved Mumtaz, and built Taj Mahal for her. This is a fact. What do you have to say for that” I was afraid to listen to Rajesh. I wished he would agree with Aparna.
We were still sitting in the Mughal Garden. Taj Mahal dome was shining in the full moon light. Its reflection in the waters of the River Yamuna was a view for a life time, but we were more focused on what Rajesh had to say.
“As I said, Mumtaz was one of many wives Shah Jahan had. But she was his greatest passion. He took her every where he went.” So Rajesh agreed with Aparna? “Did you know how many children Shah Jahan had with Mumtaz?” Silence was the answer. “14. Mumtaz health deteriorated with every child she had. Doctors warned Shah Jahan not to have any more children from her. He did not listen to them. She died right after giving birth to her 14th one. Do you call this love?”
Distinctly we saw the security guard asking people to leave. Just the way moon filled the sky with brightness; our hearts were filled with thoughts of Mumtaz. Feeling heavy, we started walking back towards the exit. Aparna was saddened for Mumtaz. Looking at the teardrop on Aparna’s cheek reminded me what the noble prize-winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore once called Taj Mahal – “a teardrop on the cheek of time”.
Does this change your view on Taj Mahal? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Hopefully everything you know about Taj Mahal is true. This post is from a different point of view, touching some of the not so popular facts and theories of Shah Jahan and Taj Mahal. For the record, let me end by saying that Taj Mahal is a proud possession of India, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World (depends on which list you follow). I have visited Taj Mahal, and the sight of it was priceless.