“A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time”*

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The Taj Mahal, 1638-1648, Mughal dynasty (Shah Jahan).
Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

When the Mughal Empire is spoken of, I am willing to bet that the majority of people will not be overly familiar with this particular dynasty. It is true, that I am (or was) guilty of being ignorant of what this Empire was, in fact, even where it was. However, I am not so remiss as to be unacquainted with the Taj Mahal! This inspiring and beautiful World Wonder is perhaps the best-known monument to arise out of the golden age of the Mughal Empire. There have been many architectural triumphs throughout the ages which have been acknowledged as truly great, but perhaps only a handful with a personal and moving history.

The Taj Mahal is one such. As possibly one of the greatest displays of heartbreak and sorrow that the world has ever seen, the monument stands tall; displaying Emperor Shah Jahan’s everlasting love for his departed wife.

Today, most everybody (I believe) would be familiar with the spectacular mausoleum that is located in Agra, former capital of the Mughal Empire. It is possibly even more iconic now for those who are familiar with a certain Slumdog Millionaire (thanks Dev Patel!). Over 2 million people every year visit this historic site; they may not go with the intention of honouring the dead Empress, but by the end of their visit they will surely have learnt about the power of one man’s love for his wife.

The Taj Mahal, for me, is truly a testament to the existence of true love. Whilst theirs may initially have been an arranged marriage, it ended up as a union of soul-mates. How can I justify saying this? The fact that Shah Jahan had two other wives… but it was only his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who had such a spectacular labour of love constructed in her memory; this speaks volumes!

“The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.”

–       Emperor Shah Jahan, 17th Century

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Raja Ravi Varma
Paravur Kayal (Lake), 1897
Oil on canvas, 43.18 x 58.42 cm
Sri Chitra Art Gallery
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

However, as incredible an achievement as the Taj Mahal is, it perhaps should serve only as an indication that we ought to actively search out the culture, legend, and history of the Empire that it was born from. With a span of over 350 years, surely the Mughal Empire has some secrets yet to be discovered?

* Description made famous by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

With the help of the British Library, you yourself can search out and discover the mysteries and treasures of this once-great Indian Empire! Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire is currently being exhibited in London until the 2nd April. Be sure not to miss such a fascinating opportunity! If, however, you can’t make it to the British Library quite yet, why not get hold of a copy of Vincent Arthur Smith’s Art of India?

-Fiona Torsch