Taj Mahal

Agra, India | C.1653

Photo Credit: Liam Baldock

One of the most recognized landmarks in the world, the white-marbled onion dome of the Taj Mahal crowns a monument to an incredible love affair. Decorated with intricate patterns, jewels, inlays of flowers and script, the structure represents a passionate expression of admiration for a woman who captured the heart of a Mughal Emperor.

Legend tells of love at first sight. Shah Jahan, the future Emperor, met Arjumand Banu Begum at the age of 15 in the royal bazaar where she was selling silk and beads. Akin to Romeo and Juliet but without the warring families, the teens were enraptured with each other and married after five years of courtship.

Though Shah Jahan had other wives and children (as was expected of the Emperor), Arjumand was his most beloved companion. Arjumand accompanied Jahan everywhere he went-even battle. He appointed her as the Mumtaz Mahal, or “Jewel of the Palace.” Further, Arjumand was known as a shrewd and accomplished politician who was entrusted with the royal seal, a clear signifier of her uncommon abilities.

Beyond her political acumen, Mumtaz was remarkably strong as evidenced by her ability to give birth to 14 children. The physical stress took its toll and during the delivery of her final child when tragedy struck and she died in Jahan’s arms. During these final moments Shah Jahan assured Arjumand that he would build her the most extravagant tomb. He kept his word and built her tomb to become an international icon in the name of love.

Taking 22 years to build, and estimated to cost around $956 million to construct in today’s dollars, the Taj Mahal required around 22,000 laborers and possibly 1,000 elephants for its construction. Gleaming in the sunlight on the banks of the Yamuna river, Jahan made sure no expense was spared for the love of his life. Upon his death in 1666, Jahan was buried next to Mumtaz Mahal in her palatial tomb, finally together again for centuries to come.

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