The death of Mumtaz Mahal, the chief consort of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, prompted her husband to construct the Taj Mahal.
Mumtaz Mahal, whose name means ‘the Exalted One of the palace’, was originally known as Arjumand Banu Begum. Born into a prominent Persian noble family, she married the future Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1612. She is widely recorded as being the favourite of his three wives with whom he shared a genuine love, and who was a valued confidant and trusted advisor.
The birth of couple’s fourteenth child resulted in Mumtaz Mahal’s death on 17 June 1631 from postpartum haemorrhage as a result of excessive blood-loss during a thirty hour labour. The couple were supervising a military campaign in the Deccan Plateau, and so the empress’ remains were temporarily buried at Burhanpur. Her husband entered a long period of mourning, after which he commissioned the construction of the magnificent Taj Mahal as a mausoleum.
Work on the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and, although the majority of the mausoleum’s construction was completed by 1643, the rest of the elaborate complex was not finished for another decade. The mausoleum itself is built of white marble that is inlaid with 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones brought from all over India and Asia.
In 1658 Shah Jahan was deposed by his third son, Aurangzeb, who put him under house arrest in Agra Fort from where he could see the Taj Mahal in the distance. When he died eight years later, Shah Jahan’s body was taken there by river and laid to rest next to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.