Everybody goes to Agra for one thing: to glimpse the dreamlike magnificence of the Taj Mahal. And I can’t blame them. If you check out my blog from yesterday you’ll see that the Taj had quite an effect on me!
But delve a little deeper into Agra’s streets, and you’ll discover the kind of glamorous and shocking family history that would put even the most flamboyant of Bollywood movies to shame.
I am, of course, talking about the Moghul dynasty. Now, bear with me because it’s quite a complicated history…
First up, we have the fifth Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan. He was the romantic devil who built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He was a colorful character by all accounts, so stay tuned, because he pops up in this story again later.
Mumtaz Mahal is an integral part of the story too. She was a beauty of course—she’d have to have been to inspire the creation of a building like the Taj Mahal!—but she was also the niece of Nur Jahan.
Nur Jahan was married to the fourth Mughal Emperor, Jahangir. She enjoyed nothing more than a nice relaxing bubble bath. So much so, in fact, that her husband had a beautiful bathtub handcrafted for her out of a single block of granite in 1611. This monolithic tub was such a big hit with Nur Jahan that she would have it transported by elephants whenever she traveled. You can see this mammoth bathtub outside Jahangir’s Palace at Agra Fort.
When she wasn’t busy having her bathtub transported around the countryside by elephants, Nur Jahan was building the Itimad-ud-Daulah, which is also known as the ‘Baby Taj’. Built as a tomb for her father, Mizra Ghiyas Beg (who was also Mumtaz Mahal’s grandfather!), between the years 1622 and 1628, the delicate Baby Taj was the first Mughal structure built completely from marble. It also inspired Shah Jahan (see, I told you he would come back into the story) to build the Taj Mahal in honor of Mumtaz Mahal.
Are you keeping up? Good. Because the family’s story is about to get even more complicated!
Shah Jahan was the grandson of Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor, who made Agra his capital in 1558. Akbar built the mighty Agra Fort between 1565 and 1572, but little did he realize that his grandson would die imprisoned there—locked up by his own son, Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb declared his father incompetent to rule and placed him under house arrest in Agra Fort. There are mixed stories about Shah Jahan’s death in 1666, with some saying he died gazing longingly at his beloved’s tomb from his marble balcony at Agra Fort, while others say he died from an overindulgence in aphrodisiacs.
See, I told you: Agra’s Moghul history is better than any Bollywood movie!