Inspiration for the Taj Mahal
Hijri 1001–1040 (AH); Common Era 1593–1631 (CE)
Forever immortalized by the Taj Mahal, Mumtaz Mahal, born Arjumand Banu Begum, was the third and uncontested favorite wife of Emperor Shah Jahan of the Mughal Empire. As the niece of Empress Nur Jahan, her marriage to Shah Jahan further coalesced the power of her aunt. During her lifetime, poets extolled her beauty and compassioned, and she shared a deep and trusting relationship with Shah Jahan. Even when Shah Jahan was on the losing end of a rebellion, she fastidiously stood at Shah Jahan’s side, sending away two of her sons to be hostages and traveling with him on all of his military campaigns. Their devotion to each other was remarkable, even before the creation of the Taj Mahal, and Mumtaz gave birth to thirteen children by Shah Jahan. She was named the Malika-i-Zaman and was the head of the ladies of the harem. Although she allegedly had no political ambitions, Shah Jahan trusted her with his imperial seal, the Muhr Uza, as he would later trust their daughter Jahanara. Every imperial edict came to her to have the imperial seal fixed to them. Yet, despite her apparent lack of political clout, she swayed her husband to pardon Saif Khan, a relative of hers, whom she saved from torture through her intervention. Her humanitarian efforts were also notable. Granted a substantial allowance from Shah Jahan, Mumtaz used the money to help the destitute. A sympathetic listener, she would convey the problems of his subjects to the Emperor. With the help of Jahanara’s tutor, Sati-un-Nisa, Mumtaz was able to make land, jewelry, money, and pensions available to the impoverished. Like other Mughal women of the time, Mumtaz Mahal composed verses and was known for the wittiness of her poetry which often acted in tandem with her husband’s own works. She was also a great patron to scholars and artists alike.