Taj Mahal: European influence on design discussed by expert
India’s most iconic structure, the Taj Mahal, has stood strong for almost 400 years. Construction began in 1632 under the orders of the Great Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan. When his favourite wife and closest adviser Mumtaz Mahal died after childbirth complications, the Emperor was severely affected.
He and Mumtaz are said to have had a “European romance” – love that was real and raw, despite their arranged marriage.
Thus when she passed away in 1631, Shah Jahan felt the best way to preserve her memory was to enshrine her in the grandest of tombs for the next life.
He is said to have been one of the greatest rulers of the Mogul Empire.
His father, Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim, or Jahangir, carved out a strong political footing for his family in becoming the fourth Mogul Emperor.
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Unlike elsewhere, primogeniture did not determine who would inherit the power and wealth in the Mogul Empire.
Instead, the princely sons were expected to prove their worth through military success.
By 1621 the Mogul Empire was at a turning point: Jahangir was desperately ill, and his sons began to prepare for their chance to secure the throne, a privilege that would bring with it absolute power over the vast empire.
While Shah Jahan had already proved his worth in several military campaigns, this alone was often not enough to ensure his coming to power.
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During the ‘Secrets of the Taj Mahal’ documentary, National Geographic described the chaos that ensued as the brothers fought it out to secure their father’s riches.
Explaining how hellbent Shah Jahan became in his desire to become Emperor, it said: “Nothing will stop him in his lust for absolute power.
“No means are ruled out – not even poison.”
When Jahangir eventually died in 1627, Shah Jahan took his opportunity to have “his rivals eliminated”.
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Familial relations were, therefore, tossed aside in the race for power.
As Professor Najaf Haider, an historian at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, explained during the documentary: “There was a notion of family, and there was a notion of affection.
“But this feeling recedes into the background.
“And then that particular vision of acquiring power for yourself, and to rule your country and empire as you see fit, becomes the rationale behind all the violence that is perpetrated.”
With his rivals gone, Shah Jahan seized the throne and was crowned Emperor in 1628 at the Red Fort in Agra.
He quickly proved himself a wise ruler, slowly guiding the Empire to even greater prosperity.
In building the Taj Mahal, however, Shah Jahan brought the empire to the point of collapse, funnelling considerable resources into the mausoleum’s construction. away from other regions.
He went on to rule for 30 years.
In 1658, the Shah fell ill, and his third son, Aurangzeb, declared him too incompetent to rule and placed him under house arrest in Agra Fort.
He lived out the rest of his life in solitary confinement, with a view of the Taj through a small window, eventually passing away in 1666.
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