taj mahal 001

IS THE TAJ MAHAL A SYMBOL OF ETERNAL LOVE?

Originally posted on 2 Oct 2010 :

A CRITIQUE OF THE TAJ MAHAL AND SHAH JEHAN

 

I first visited Agra with my cousins Amarjit and Bir in 1956. An older cousin, (the late) Capt SS Chawla was posted there and he took us around all the monuments. The two which I remember the most are the Fort and, of course the Taj Mahal. I was then 15 years old and very impressionable. The story related with the construction of the “TAJ” was narrated by the guide in a very touching manner. As I recollect, what we were told can be summarized in the following paragraph:

 

“Shah Jehan was a great Mughal emperor who loved his wife, Mumtaz Mahal very much. Unfortunately the fabulously charming Queen died early in life. Devastated by his loss, he decided to build a magnificent mausoleum to serve as her final resting place. He devoted most of his time and energy in creating this marvelous structure, but his austere son, Aurangzeb did not approve of the project. The rebellious son killed all his three brothers, put his father in the prison and ascended to the throne. Shah Jehan died in the Agra Fort located close to the Taj, with only one satisfaction: he could see the Taj from the window of the room in which he was interned”

The picture of the character of Aurangzeb  as painted by the guide was ghastly. As an adolescent, I thought he was very cruel to his father, and I asked my friends to tell me how the Lord had punished him for his sins.  I was rather keen to know how he was treated by his sons during his old age. To my surprise, no one seemed to know the name of the heir to his throne. Our history teacher said that the Mughal empire ended when he died. When I persisted with the question, a learned person told me that his son, Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed and deported to Burma where he died a pauper, in exile. And that is where the story ended then. In my youthful manner, I said to myself, ‘Serves him jolly well right!’

 

The Taj was talked about, and any one who came to Delhi, went all the way to Agra to see this glorious piece of architecture. During those days, Guru Dutt’s movie, “Pyasa” was released and with that Sahir Ludhianvi became famous. In his book, “Talkhiyaan” (which means bitternesses) there was a poem called, “Taj Mahal” which was much talked about. A couplet which became an instant hit is,

 

Yeh chamanzaar, yeh jamna ka kinara yeh mahal

Manaqqash, dar-o-diwar, mehraab yeh taaq

Eik shahansha neiN apni daulat ka sahara le kar

Ham ghariboN ki muhabbat ka udaya hai mazaaq

 

By a quirk of fate, I got posted to Agra and served two tenures there, and so I got to know a lot about the Taj and the Mughal emperors, particularly Shah Jehan. I will just give a few salient facts in bullet form: Mumtaz Mahal was the third of the ten wives of Shah Jehan. This stunningly beautiful lady was married at the age 19 in 1612 AD During the next 18 years, she gave birth to FOURTEEN children, of whom seven survived. Despite being perennially pregnant she accompanied the emperor on all his tours and even wars. Aurangzeb was the fifth of the seven surviving siblings and the third amongst the four brothers. Mumtaz died during the birth of a daughter in 1631 and the construction of the Taj began the next year. Nothing is known about the other NINE wives of Shah Jehan or their offspring. The historians are generally agreed that the period of Shah Jehan was one of political stability and the people were prosperous. Therefore, he seems to have been a worthy monarch. However, I am unable to understand his psyche, and have some questions: If he loved Mumtaaz so much, why did he travel around with her when she was forever pregnant? As a Muslim, he was entitled to four wives. But the holy Quran lays down a condition, “All four wives must be treated justly” In the instant case he was totally besotted by one of them. What did he do to perpetuate the memory of his other wives?  It is pretty evident that the Emperor had gone berserk when he was overthrown by his son. I also discovered that “Zafar” was not the son of Aurangzeb In fact many Indians are ignorant of the fact that there were THIRTEEN Moghul kings between Aurangzeb and Zafar. Just to put things in perspective, it must be remembered that Aurangzeb died in 1707, while Zafar lost his empire 151 years later in 1858. The intervening period belongs to the Marathas, the Sikhs and the East India Company. But its story is so complex that most of the history teachers tend to gloss over it.

(Can you recognize me in the above picture?)

Be that as it may, it is clear to me that Shah Jehan was rightly deposed in the interest of the people whom he ruled. He had a mad vision to build one more Taj in black stone for himself on the other side of the Jamuna and the exchequer could just not afford it. Aurnagzeb was  duly punished in the Divine way in a different manner. With very strong views on religion, he alienated himself from the masses, and so he had to fight  with Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh ji. He won the battles but lost the empire. His successors could do nothing to live up to the traditions of Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jehan. Soon after his demise, the Empire was “Gone With the Wind” And, of course the biggest punishment awarded to him was that he was denied the pleasure of having a sip of wine all through his 89 year long life!

 

As for the Taj, I agree more with the Sahir Ludhianvi than those who have glorified it. I now know many wealthy men who have lost youthful wives. But they have not gone about building mausoleums. I also do not believe that there is anything ROMANTIC about the Taj and its precincts. Personally, if I were to re-live my life and ‘fall in love’ I would prefer to take my girl friend somewhere  else. I would join the army and take her to the officers’ mess. Because, I sincerely believe that there is a lot of merit in “Meri mahboob, kahiN aur mila kar mujh se!”

 

Brig VS Randhawa did just that for us last week. He called us to the FON mess, and that is a better monument of eternal love than the Taj Mahal.

  1. maj gen krishna says:

    Dear Gen Surjit, Still here, but am thinking of retiring next yr. Regards

  2. maj gen krishna says:

    Dear Gen Surjit, Very nice coverage. Did you know that max temples at Varanasi were destroyed by Shah Jehan. Vijay

  3. A Sharma says:

    have read forwarded trailing mailwith amusement. I was also amazed at the sheer naivete and brazenness ofShri Surjit for his preposterous, absurd, extravagant, ludicrous and outrageousbelow-quoted assumption :

    QUOTE
    UNQUOTE

    I am curious to know as to which school/collegeShri Surjit attended ? Who was Shri Surjit’s history teacher in school/collegeand what were this teacher’s qualifications. Shri Surjit was also singularlyunlucky to have company of “learned persons” who told him thatBahadur Shah Zafar was Aurangzeb’s son…(sic). I am keen to know the historymarks scored by the “many Indians” being referred to by ShriSurjit. I will be amazed if any of these “many Indians” passedtheir history exams.

    It is one thing to propound a theoryabout the magnificence or otherwise of Taj mahal and Shri Surjit is mostwelcome to profess his views and I have some agreement with him. I alsoconcur with him on the issue of over-romanticizing a tomb. What is puzzling,flabbergasting and flummoxing is that why Shri Surjit had to questionknowledge of history of his fellow ‘many Indians’ to express his opinion.It is a fact that some mughal emperors have been more notable that othersand it is also a fact that after Aurangzeb probably Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’was notable but there is a fair bit of notoriety and fame attached to MohammedShah “Rangila” (famous for being cheated of “Kohinoor’ diamondby Nadir Shah) and Furrukhsaiyyar (famous for brutal torture and slayingof Banda Bahadur and his sikh followers) to name a few.

    An interesting story about SahirLudhianvi. I have had the privilege of meeting him once as a teenager.This was on the sidelines of a ‘Mushaira’ in Chandigarh where many urdupoets including my dad were invitees. When I was introduced to Sahir Ludhianviby my father, another famous urdu poet ‘Sahir Hoshairpuri’ was with him.Sahir Ludhianvi after exchanging pleasantries with my dad spoke a few mundanewords to me. I then requested him for his autographs to which he readilyobliged and wrote following line before affixing his signatures :

    “Sahir (Ludhianvi) ko Sahir(Hoshiarpuri) mile, kar kar lambe haath”

  4. Maj Gen Manmohan, Singh says:

    Sir, tusi great ho!

  5. J Thomas says:

    U R sounding more and more like Khushwant Singh !

  6. GURPREET SINGH BRAR says:

    Dear Surjit, as always, this is one of the most enlightening mails that I have received from you. Well, one could’nt expect any thing

    less from a scholar like you..

  7. Dhruv Katoch says:

    A viewpoint on the Taj from one of our veteran soldiers, Gen Surjit Singh. Personally, while I can appreciate the architectural splendour of the Taj, it still remains a tomb for the dead. Perhaps the driving motivation was more a show of power than an abiding passion for a beautiful lady. Future generations always romanticise the past, burying the warts and ugliness which too are a part of every generation. Muslim rulers habitually built mausoleums to perpetuate their memory after death, much like the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids for similar reasons. Which is why so many tombs dot the landscape of Delhi. It remains a paradox that the structures built for the living have decayed but the structures built for the dead remain. a rather sobering thought…as also a comment on the priorities of the rulers of those times.
    Have a great day…despite the shame of the CWG.

  8. Hemi Bhagat says:

    Your description is quite illuminating. I suggest you read a book by Khushwant Singh titled “Delhi “. As far as literary efforts are concerned it is a zero ( He is my relative) ,but the historical part is not bad .

  9. prabal sen says:

    that was really good

    amount of effort you have taken is truly amazing especially in translating SH’s poem

    Taj is the timeless stuff in the photographs also the love and affection that is palpable ( besides innocence especially in the B/W photos).

  10. Neena Singh says:

    I can only say “Wow” – it is a beautiful piece and you should send it to Tribune as a middle. Great research and many facts unknown hereto are delineated. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the poem by Sahir again ( after very long). I love Urdu poetry and reading it delights me!

    Thanks for sharing and all the best always,

  11. Jagdeep Ishar says:

    So true and so very well written

  12. Ram Gulrajani says:

    Very fascinating critique of Taj Mahal. In fact it was a piece of history about which I was totally blank … that there were 13 kings between Aurangzeb and Zafar !! Other tid-bits too are very interesting.

    I guess you are on left in the old snap at TajMahal. But is that you and Mrs. Surjit Singh in the recent colour snap? If yes, then you make a very lovely couple !! God Bless.

  13. Young Victor Raju says:

    Very nice pictures.

  14. Sriram Jayasimha says:

    Dear General,

    I remember that when I was thirteen, I was asked to join an American couple on the tour of the Taj. I was very embarrassed by their romantic moves on a full-moon night – but got to peek at this enigma called love. I must confess that the intervening years haven’t added to my understanding.

    It seems that westerners find it very romantic. It is good to see you and Mrs. Singh with the Taj in the background. Musharraf and his wife were similarly pictured a few years ago – sitting on a marble bench holding hands. I think that the Taj certainly has a romantic air and I took my wife there too – along with the kids. Golconda has more romance and the stories are great! I take all my guests there and they have shining eyes by the time stories are over. I hope you took Mrs. Singh there when you were in Hyderabad!

    May romance never leave you!

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