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Mumtaz Mahal, the queen with a wonder of the world built in her honour

There is surprisingly little known of Mumtaz Mahal, arguably among the most prominent of the Mughal queens whose death anniversary falls today, 17 June.

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New Delhi: One of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, was built in her honour, making it the symbol of undying love. But how much do we really know about Mumtaz Mahal?

Born Arjumand Banu Begum into Persian nobility in 1593, there is little known of Mumtaz’s early life before she became one of the most celebrated queens in Indian history.   

Her father was Abu’l-Hasan Asaf Khan, a wealthy Persian noble who held high office in the Mughal Empire, and her aunt was Empress Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir. But even with an architecturally perfect tomb made for her, historians have found it difficult to find much about Mumtaz Mahal, the person.

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The story of Mumtaz meeting a young prince Khurram (later to be given the title of Shah Jahan), is well-known and has been widely dramatised as well. They met and were engaged when Mumtaz was only 14 and Shah Jahan 15. Young as they were, they got married only five years later. According to records made by the court historian, Qazwini, their relationship was a rare one — one of real love and admiration, in the times of marriages made for convenience and transfer of power. 

Of their relationship, he wrote: “The friendship and concord between them had reached such an extent, the like of which has never been known between a husband and wife…and this was not merely out of carnal desire…physical and spiritual compatibility on both sides had been the cause of great love and affection, and abundant affinity and familiarity.”

‘The jewel of the court’

Shah Jahan had given Arjumand Banu Begum the name Mumtaz Mahal, which translates as the ‘jewel of the court’. She was said to have had his utmost attention and respect, and historians have traced an admirable amount of influence she wielded over her husband.

She was entrusted with the Mehr Uzaz, the royal seal and the highest honour in the empire. According to some surviving historical records she even passed royal decrees and took an interest in the administration of the land. Mumtaz also accompanied Shah Jahan everywhere in India, be it for battle or diplomatic negotiations.

The two had 14 children, half of whom died at birth or in infancy. The ones that did survive, it is said, grew up to wield equal influence as the mother. Mumtaz, was, however, bestowed with titles and riches few others have had. She was named  ‘Malika-i-Jahan’ or “Queen of the World”. Her palace, Khas Mahal, was said to have been decorated in pure gold and precious stones.

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Mumtaz, however, passed away while giving birth to her 14th child, Gauhar Ara Begum, on 17 June, 1631. She had accompanied Shah Jahan on a campaign at the Deccan Plateau, when she breathed her last. It was a year after her death, that Shah Jahan, who was chronicled to have been in such grief that he aged overnight, started the construction of the Taj Mahal.

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