INTRODUCTION: Alexandrina Victoria, aka Queen Victoria (born 1818), was the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and from 1 May 1876 she was the Empress of India of the British Raj until her death in 1902. Long before Queen Victoria, a very distinguished Iranian woman called as Arjumand Banu Begum (ABB) entitled as Mumtaz Mahal became the famous Empress of India in 1628 when his husband Shah Jahan (from Persian meaning King of the World) became the ruler of the Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent. In this article the life story of ABB as the First Iranian Woman who became the Famous Empress of India will be studied and discussed.
HER LIFE: Arjumand Banu Begum (ABB) was born to Iranian parents in Agra on 15 April 1593. Her father was the Iranian Abdul-hassan Aasaf Khan (AAK). AAK was the son of Mirza Ghiyas Shirazi (MGS) who was from a noble Iranian family. MGS and his family were among those Iranians who immigrated to India where Akbar the Great was in power between 1556 and 1605. It is documented by reliable researchers that MGS held some high-ranking positions in the court of Akbar the Great.
On 10 May 1612, ABB at the age of 19 married to Prince Khurram who would later ascend the Peacock Throne as Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. She was his third wife, and became his Favorite Wife (in Persian: So Goli) and later as the Empress of Mughal Empire in the Indian Subcontinent. After their wedding celebrations, Khurram “finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time”, gave her the title Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen One of the Palace). ABB was Shah Jahan’s trusted companion, traveling with him all over the Mughal Empire. He trusted her so much that he even gave her his imperial seal, the Muhr Uzah (in Persian: Muhr-e Shahi). She was a great influence on him, apparently often intervening on behalf of the poor, destitute, and needy people. But she also enjoyed watching elephant and combat fights performed for the court.
ABB became an inseparable companion of her husband till her death. She even accompanied him on his military endeavors and provided him with her counsel. In fact, she was a pillar of support, love and comfort to the emperor. In her nineteen years of marriage, she had given birth to 13 children, though seven of them died at birth or at a very young age.
HER END: In the presence of Shah Jahan, ABB died in Burhanpur on 17 June 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child. Her body was temporarily buried at Burhanpur in a walled pleasure garden known as Zainabad originally constructed by Shah Jahan’s uncle Daniyal on the bank of the Tapti River. Burhanpur was never intended by her husband as his wife’s final resting spot. As a result her body was disinterred in December 1631 and transported in a golden casket escorted by her son Shah Shuja and the head lady in waiting of the deceased Empress back to Agra. There it was interred in a small building on the banks of the Yumma River. Shah Jahan stayed behind in Burhanpur to conclude the military campaign that had originally bought him to the region. While there in 1632, he began planning the design and construction of a suitable mausoleum and funerary garden in Agra for his wife, a task that would take about 21 years to complete, the Taj Mahal.
HER MAUSOLEUM (TAJ MAHAL): The Taj Mahal, aka “the Taj”, is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Ottoman, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. It should be noted that the Gardens of Paradise at the Taj have some similarities with the avenue of Four Gardens (in Persian: Chahar Bagh) in Isfahan, Iran. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and on 7 July 2007, it was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.While the white domed marble mausoleum is its most familiar component, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. Building began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The Iranian architect, Ostad Ahmad Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer of the Taj Mahal.
EPILOGUE: The artistic construction and the elegant design together with the architectural beauties of the Taj are so attractive that some people refer to this white domed marble mausoleum of ABB as a loveliest architectural poem. In his article on the Story of the Taj Mahal, Daily Mail columnist Ned Denny wrote that, “In a time of increasing religious fundamentalism in India, it is well to remember that one of the country’s greatest dynasties was a rich fusion of traditions (indeed, Akbar, perhaps the wisest of all the Moghuls, founded his own all-embracing creed). Yet in a depressing premonition of things to come, Shah Jahan was eventually deposed and imprisoned by his hard-line son Aurangzeb. He (Shah Jahan) ended his days in captivity, gazing across the river towards the world’s loveliest architectural poem”.
Denny, N. (2007): Article on a Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal, Published in Daily Mail on 2 April 2007.
Koch, E. (2006): The Complete Taj Mahal: And the Riverfront Gardens of Agra, ed., Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Various Articles on Persian Culture and the History of Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Online Article on “My Iran, a Poem as a Road to Various Locations”, in reference to Four Gardens (Chahar Bagh). And Online Article on “My Exploration on January” in reference to Queen Victoria.
Preston, D. and Preston, M. (2007): A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal, ed., London.
TajmahalOrgUk Website (2009): Online Article on Mumtaz Mahal.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Articles on Queen Victoria, Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan, Taj Mahal, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
M. Saadat Noury, IRANIAN.COM