Which Mughal emperor preferred the Sikhs
The Taj Mahal and the love of Shah Jahan
Part 1: The Mughal Emperors and the Fatehpur Sikri Palace
Shah Jahan, now brotherless, directs the fortunes of the mighty Mughal empire from now on. He is married to his great love Mumtaz Mahal, a daughter of his accomplice Asaf Khan. From the day of their wedding, both of them only walk together. Mumtaz Mahal is considered the most important confidante of Shah Jahan. He doesn’t refuse her any wish. Courtly poets extol the beauty of the young woman, her compassion for the needy, for the poor and disenfranchised.
Just like Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan is also considered sensitive. The new emperor is an esthete. At a young age, he especially impressed his grandfather Akbar with his high level of education and the diversity of his interests. Shah Jahan is not only dedicated to music and literature, he is also a respected fighter in the ring. Like Akbar, he promotes the artful architecture of the time with great passion. Persian influence grew under Jahan and assumed a leading role in Mughal architecture. Jahan's magnificent buildings are less avant-garde than Akbars, but the construction industry flourished during his reign.
In Agra, Shah Jahan has the Red Fort built by his grandfather Akbar converted from a fortification into an elegant palace area. Much white marble, Shah Jahan's preferred building material, still stands in stark contrast to the sandstone-red double fortification walls erected by his grandfather, which rise up to 20 meters over a length of 2.5 kilometers in the shape of a half moon.
The Red Fort in Agra
The two towers of the Amar Singh Gate in the south of the fortress rise up mighty and intimidating. Today's main entrance to the Red Fort was once reserved for Emperor Akbar and his entourage.
It is through this massive gate that we enter the former palace. Rhesus monkeys sit high up on the defensive walls, watching all newcomers in the fort. Among them are the aviator glasses from the city. Young men posing with sweeping movements for cell phone photos that remind me of music videos from the 90s.
With cool gestures they stroke their hair again and again, tap with their fingers on the gold-rimmed glasses of their aviator glasses. Her poses are rehearsed automatisms - sometimes gangster, sometimes sunny boy, but always flawlessly staged. We too will soon get on the radar of the young men and grin together into the cameras of their smartphones.
These sudden photo sessions are nothing new to us anymore. "Sir, selfie, sir!" Is more of a request than a request. Often enough, they don't even ask. Total strangers stand next to us, hold their oversized smartphones in our faces and snap dozens of pictures without a single word. We often only have to shrug our shoulders. "Acha, Thike" - "Ok, I agree". We then quickly run away before the crowd of photo enthusiasts gets bigger.
Behind the monumentally powerful fortification walls of Akbar appears what is probably the most beautiful Mogul fortress in India. Aesthetic forms lead the gaze lively through the complex. White marble and decorations with glass and semi-precious stones characterize the palace buildings. Gardens and pavilions decorate the grounds. The assembly halls impress with colorful arabesques. Mosques serve religious duty.
Shah Jahan welcomes guests and supplicants in airy walls that let the view wander far over the imperial court and takes care of government affairs. In a private meeting hall, the Diwan-i-Khas, the emperor greets special guests of state from his famous peacock throne adorned with gold leaf and thousands of precious stones. The Koh-i-noor, one of the largest diamonds in the world, is said to have been on it.
With his lover Mumtaz Mahal by his side, he strolls through the imperial gardens in silk robes, telling her love stories. Then Mumtaz Mahal becomes pregnant, the 14th time in 11 years of marriage. But the birth of their eighth daughter ends tragically. The child survives, but the birth robs Mumtaz Mahal of all strength. She dies a short time later. Shah Jahan's heart breaks it. It is said that his previously thick, black hair will turn gray in a few days. The world around him is sinking. Days and nights are equally black, joyless, full of sadness and sorrow. Shah Jahan, the proud emperor, falls into a painful void.
The Taj Mahal, a tomb of eternal love
A promise to his dying wife frees him from lethargy: The most beautiful of all tombs should be hers, an example of perfect harmony. Unmatched in its perfection for all eternity. So begins the construction of the Taj Mahal, which will become a masterpiece of Mughal architecture.
Shah Jahan was in mourning for two years. He renounced exclusive clothing, jewelry and perfume, turned away from music, from then on ate ascetic and left the business of government to his sons.
The Taj Mahal becomes his obsession. More than 20,000 workers have been building the system for more than twenty years. Architects and builders come from all over the oriental world to dedicate their service to the tomb. Their goal is nothing less than perfect symmetry. Using white marble, they erect a square central hall with a towering onion dome on a platform. The building rises a proud 74 meters. Four smaller halls, each with one large and four smaller ivans, border the central hall in each of the four directions.
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The facades are adorned with semi-precious stone mosaics, Quranic verses and detailed flower reliefs. The corner points of the platform are adorned with free-standing, 40-meter-high minarets. They are inclined slightly outwards so that they do not fall on the tomb in the event of an earthquake. The symmetry of the complex also includes the two red sandstone mosques that flank the Taj Mahal. Only one of the buildings is actually used religiously. His counterpart only serves the purpose of harmony.
The elevated position on the platform makes the Taj Mahal appear against the backdrop of a pristine sky. Nothing should detract from the beauty of the mausoleum. To the north of the platform, the Jamuna flows slowly past the Taj Mahal. On the opposite bank is the Mehtab Bagh, a garden laid out by the first Mughal emperor Babur, which was also perfectly integrated into the symmetry of the Taj Mahal on an extended axis.
Even today, the connection between Mehtab Bagh and Taj Mahal is still visible. Although the garden no longer looks quite so stately, it is still adorned with trimmed hedges and clean flowerbeds. We like to stroll around the Mehtab Bagh, especially in the late afternoon. Then, in the warm light, brightly colored dots flutter along the walls of the Taj Mahal. It is the locals dressed in saris and shalwar kamiz who visit the tomb. In our eyes they fly past the cool marble like lovely flags, giving the already unique building an atmosphere that can only become a reality in India.
With the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan is convinced that the tomb of his favorite wife will move the sun and moon to tears. Since then, the Taj Mahal has been treated with bewitching enthusiasm again and again. Let it be a sign of all purity, a tear on the cheek for eternity. Of course, the Taj Mahal is now a World Heritage Site and of course thousands of visitors flock here every day to take a look at the architectural wonder.
They put their feet in white cellulose sacks so that the system and, above all, the noble marble are not damaged. Everything is subordinated to the protection of the Taj Mahal. Internal combustion engines are banned on the streets around the Taj Mahal. No cars, no rickshaws, not even mopeds are allowed near the facility. The fear that the exhaust gases could discolor the pure white marble is too great.
Instead, cycle rickshaws and a dozen camel carriages take visitors to their destination. Indians in particular enjoy the swaying ride in the self-made trailers. With up to 12 passengers they roll in such a relaxed atmosphere in front of the venerable monument.
The Taj Mahal is driven over and over again. Hour after hour, six days a week. The best time to visit is just after sunrise, before tour operators unload their coaches here. Foreign travelers in particular stroll around the Taj Mahal between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Since the tour groups only arrive around 8:30 a.m., with a little luck there will be half an hour in which the magic of the Taj Mahal begins to work almost without visitors.
Admittedly, we were skeptical. Does a building that you have seen hundreds of pictures of still have any charm? Hasn't the special shine long since given way to inflationary permanent reception? Apparently not, because the Taj Mahal is actually even more fantastic in reality. Much nicer than any image that can convey a facade but no feeling. Pictures are clinical, touching the original.
Like a dream, it rises elegant, white and clean from what we commonly know as India. An artificially created, central watercourse cuts through the Persian-style garden in front of the mausoleum. It forms the mirror axis for trees and beds that were planted on both sides at identical distances. In this impressive symmetrical park we approach the splendid building step by step.
The interior of the Taj Mahal is surprisingly unadorned. The marble cenotaph of the Mumtaz Mahal, a simple mock grave, is located directly under the central onion dome in the middle of the airy hall. Her actual grave is locked in the platform a few meters below.
During the construction of the Taj Mahal, the affairs of government of the powerful Mughal empire initially passed by Shah Jahan. Dara Shikoh, Jahan's eldest son, seizes his political opportunity. A free spirit like his great-grandfather Akbar and endowed with his grandfather Jahangir's penchant for luxury, he temporarily fills the void at the top of the system of rule. Dara loves court life, exquisite clothing and literature. He is a follower of Sufism, a mystical current of Islam that propagates universal love, and is given preferential treatment by his father Shah Jahan.
Aurangzeb and the decline
But the team of Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh displeases the other three sons of the emperor. Especially Aurangzeb, the third son of Shah Jahan, a belligerent, Orthodox Muslim, does not want to deal with the more liberal Dara as the future ruler.
Aurangzeb has a problem with that. His father Shah Jahan orders him to the remote border province of Dekkan. Aurangzeb's position at court seems weakened, but the prince already maintains an extensive network of spies at court. Not a single word spoken in the imperial palace escapes him.
Aurangzeb sows distrust and discord in his own family, brings his brothers Murad Bakhsh and Shah Shuja against the eldest brother and designated heir to the throne Dara Shikoh. He openly rebels against the old order and is determined to overthrow his counterparts militarily. In 1658 the decisive battle took place at the gates of Agra.
Dara Shikoh's troops are in the majority, Aurangzeb's men are better trained. When the battle begins, the outcome is uncertain. From the back of his war elephant, Dara directs his soldiers, drives them forward, towards their own brother and enemy. But during the fighting Dara makes mistakes, allows himself to be badly advised by his generals, Aurangzeb's spies, and loses. Out of shame at the defeat, he does not dare to face his father and immediately flees to Delhi.
Aurangzeb, however, marches into Agra, takes over the Red Fort and puts his father Shah Jahan under house arrest. Trapped in a tower of the fortress with a view of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan lived in a golden cage for another eight years until his death. As then, the view from Agra's red fortress to the Taj Mahal is unobstructed today.
The recently successful general Aurangzeb has his brother Murad Bakhsh captured during the victory celebration in Agra and deported to Delhi, where he is driven into nonsense in a dungeon with daily doses of opium. A few days later, Aurangzeb and his army marched into Delhi, initially placing his brother Dara Shikoh and his family under house arrest and later having them executed.
He sends Dara's head, wrapped as a present, to his father Shah Jahan in Agra. The fourth brother, Shah Shuja, first escapes the unscrupulous Aurangzeb and flees into exile at the court of Mrauk U in what is now Myanmar. But soon after his arrival, which he bought with gold and precious stones from the king of Mrauk U, he was accused of rebellion and killed along with his family.
Finally, the unrestricted Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb ruled with a hard hand until his death in 1707. He does not trust anyone and breaks with the tolerant rule of his predecessors towards non-Muslims. Aurangzeb removes Hindus from high official positions, reintroduces the additional taxes for non-Muslims that had been abolished since Akbar, destroys Hindu temples and murdered the religious leader of the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur.
The religious wounds that Aurangzeb tears have not healed on the Indian subcontinent to this day. As an Orthodox Muslim, he also forbids music in his palaces and dismisses court painters. Unlike his predecessors, he is building just one important building, the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.
Instead, Aurangzeb wages war against the Persians under the Safavid Shah Abbas II and loses Kandahār. At the same time he succeeds in expanding the empire to the south, leading the Mughal empire to the greatest extent since it existed and at the same time to bankruptcy. The state coffers, no longer full under Shah Jahan, are drying up. The internal security of the Mughal Empire collapses. Revolts by the majority Hindu population and corruption in the administrative apparatus weaken Aurangzeb's position as a strong ruler. The Mughal Empire is approaching its downfall and with it Agra is also losing its luster.
The Mughals have been out of power for a long time. Aurangzeb has been dead for more than 300 years. Nevertheless, the era of the magnificent Mughal emperors is still visible. Its iconic buildings, especially the Taj Mahal, have stood the test of time. From a roof terrace over the dusty alleys of Ara we see the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal very close. The sun sets fire red in the west, making the marble walls of the building shine in a light pink.
Shah Jahan may have seen a similar picture of the Taj Mahal with a wailing heart during his imprisonment in the Red Fort. But the love story between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal ends in a conciliatory way. After his death, Shah Jahan is buried in the catacombs of the Taj Mahal next to the love of his life.
So history in Agra also leaves hopeful traces. Two lovers are forever united in the most beautiful building in the world. An immortal love that overcomes all obstacles in the shadow of the marble slabs. The story of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan will survive. Maybe forever.
Love and intrigue in Agra in two parts
Part 1: The Mughal Emperors and the Fatehpur Sikri Palace
Part 2: The Taj Mahal and the love of Shah Jahan
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From the far north of Germany out into the world: In 2011, Morten and Rochssare will be hitchhiking and couch surfing on the South American continent for two years. It goes on in exactly the same way. But now in the other direction. The two have been hitchhiking overland from Germany to India and on to Southeast Asia since 2014. There is still a lot to discover.
They tell of their adventures and encounters in their books "The Hitchhiker's Guide to South America" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to India", both published in the National Geographic series by Malik.
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