The Taj Mahal, symbol of absolute love


Superlatives abound in travel literature to describe the magnificence and incomparable beauty of the Taj Mahal. And these praises are not usurped. The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the jewel of Indo – Islamic funerary art. It was erected in the 17th century in Agra , the capital of the time, by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who wanted an unparalleled mausoleum for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal , who died prematurely by giving birth to her 14th child.

The Taj Mahal is not only an icon of India. He is also the universal symbol of love. This universality explains its reputation never equaled by another monument.

Yet, a question arises: is the Taj Mahal really an ode to love sung by an emperor crying his dead wife?

Contemporary historians are questioning and must unravel centuries of legend to try to distinguish myth and history.


Shah Jahan is the 5th Mughal emperor, coming after Babur, Humayun, Akbar, and Jahangir, his father.

After intrigues and court struggles, he ascended to the throne in 1628 after having his brothers executed.

Son of Emperor Jahangir and a Hindu princess, he could, like his grandfather Akbar, embody if not the union, at least tolerance, between Islam and Hinduism. Yet, Shah Jahan advocates Islamic orthodoxy and multiplies measures against Muslims.

He does not deny the legacy of Akbar and is well versed in politics, aesthetic art and great builder.

Shah Jahan has erected many splendid monuments, the most famous of which is, of course, the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The Pearl Mosque in Agra, the palace and the Great Mosque in Delhi or the Peacock Throne, which is said to be worth millions of dollars, according to modern estimates, are all constructions of Shah Jahan. He was the founder of Shahjahanabad, now known as “Old Delhi”. There were also other buildings, initiated by this creative emperor: the Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-Khas, in the Red Fort of Delhi, for example.

Shah Jahan was dismissed by Aurangzeb, his son, who placed him in Agra Fort where he died after eight years of imprisonment at the age of seventy-two on January 22, 1666.


Yet, what history holds back is the indefectible love of Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Every Mughal emperor possessed in the zenana of the palace a number of wives and concubines whose role was limited to giving birth to a male offspring.

Shah Jahan is content to take three wives including, in 1612, Arjumand Banu Begam, better known by the name of Mumtaz Mahal, “the elected of the palace”. The chronicles of the court show a passionate love relationship – did not they have fourteen children? – Which is quite unusual for a Muslim ruler of that time?

When Mumtaz Mahal died, official chroniclers reported that Shah Jahan’s beard was whitening in one glow and that he renounced the pleasures of the court for two years.

The inconsolable emperor then decided to erect a mausoleum, the grandest of all time, in memory of his favorite disappeared. The yard will employ 20,000 workers and last more than twelve years.


The monument stands on the inner bank of a bend of the Yamuna River.

Its brick structure is entirely covered with white marble encrusted with precious stones representing verses of the Koran and floral motifs, inspired by the “pietra dura” of the Italian Renaissance. About twenty-eight types of gems are composed: Burma yellow amber, Afghanistan lapis lazuli, Chinese Turkistan nephrite, carnelian, onyx and coral from Indian regions…

In the master bedroom, protected by a remarkable octagonal marble balustrade, are the memorial cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. As was customary among the Mughal emperors, the burials are in a crypt under the burial chamber.

The mausoleum, the adjoining mosque, the monumental gates, the water reservoirs of the ponds and the gardens occupy an area of seventeen hectares.

The ensemble is conceived on the model of the Persian gardens supposed to be the terrestrial image of the gardens of the Islamic paradise, that is to say two long channels delimiting four parts, themselves subdivided in four, or sixteen gardens.

Originally, many species of fruit trees and flowers adorned the flowerbeds as it should be in a paradise. But the English have a different vision and, during the restoration of the nineteenth century, they preferred lawns shave way “green” orchards celestial.


Painful to believe that such a grandiose monument could have been erected by a woman, historians wonder.

Beyond a simple mausoleum, would the Taj Mahal not be a monument to the glory of Islam likely to subjugate Hindu subjects? Or was it not intended to show the world, and especially Western visitors, the power of the Mughal Empire?

To date, no one can say with certainty what the motivations of Shah Jahan were: ode to love? Religious proselytism? Political instrument?

And why not all this?

The symbolism of Taj Mahal thought by the emperor remains a mystery but, anyway, three hundred and seventy years later, the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal embodies India.

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