Burhanpur and the story of Taj Mahal
I am sure that many of you have never heard of Burhanpur but this city in Madhya Pradesh has a special significance in history. It was in this city that an incident took place hundreds of years back that led to the creation of the magnificent Taj Mahal. Burhanpur was founded in 1388 at by Malik Nasir Khan, the Faruqi dynasty’s Sultan of Khandesh who named it after the medieval sufi saint, Burhan-ud-Din, and made it the capital of the Khandesh Sultanate. Annexed by Akbar in 1601, Burhanpur became the capital of Khandesh Subah of the Mughal Empire.
Burhanpur is dotted with many historical monuments dating back to the Mughal era, specifically to the time of Shah Jahan who was a regular visitor and made several additions to the Shahi Qila, the magnificent palace located on the eastern flank of the Tapti river. Although most of the palace is in ruins, the surviving structures still display exquisite carvings, sculptures and intricate paintings on the ceilings. Interestingly, one of these paintings depicts a monument which is said to be the inspiration for the glorious Taj Mahal.
The hamam or the royal bath was built specially for Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, also known as Mumtaz Mahal, who is said to have died here while giving birth to her 14th child. On the hot, flat plains outside Burhanpur, Shah Jahan had been waging a prolonged war against Khan Jahan Lodi which was almost at a close and it was only a matter of time before the traitor’s head would be displayed on a pike high above the city gates. But the prospect of victory was of no interest to the king because Mumtaz Mahal lay dead and Shah Jahan was completely shattered.
The throne was empty and Shah Jahan neither displayed himself in his finely embroidered robes at the royal window as was customary nor did he grace the Jasmine Pavilion, enjoying the spectacle of an elephant fight in the riverbed. He locked himself in his room for eight days, refusing to have any food or wine and the only sound audible to his ministers was a low, continuous moan.
On the ninth day, the emperor emerged and to everyone’s shock, his raven black hair had turned snow white. He began to talk of the futility of material wants, the impermanence of life and his desire to become a fakir. The whole kingdom was ordered into mourning. All popular music and public amusements as well as perfumes, cosmetics, jewellery and brightly coloured garments were forbidden. Offenders, whatever their age or rank, were tried before a court tribunal and if their behaviour was deemed disrespectful to the memory of the queen, they were executed.
Shah Jahan exchanged his royal cape for white robes and his courtiers and subjects had no choice but to follow his example. Soon the entire country was dressed in white. Half a year following the death of the queen, her corpse was brought to the city of Agra where, less than a league from the emperor’s palace, a quiet garden on the banks of a shallow river was selected as the site for the queen’s mausoleum.