Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal?

Well, we made it to the Taj Mahal last weekend. Huge. Overwhelming. Magnificent. I wiped away a tear or two.


Shah Jahan built it in memory of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. That’s like the awesomest romantic gesture, ever.

But I was also reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi at the time. It’s a great book. And according to it, Shah Jahan wasn’t just a mad romantic. He was also the head of one seriously fucked-up family — a generation plagued by incest, murder, harems, fratricide, sororicide and even patricide. It’s less Shakespeare than it is Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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First, the hints of incest, which start with his eldest daughter managing his sex-slave pool…

After the death of [wife] Mumtaz Mahal, [hot daughter] Jahanara had been given charge of the Imperial harem. Bazaar rumour had it that her closeness to Shah Jehan went beyond merely normal filial affection; after all, as Bernier put it: ‘it would have been unjust to deny the King the privilege of gathering fruit from the tree he himself had planted.’

“Gathering fruit from the tree….” Now that’s a line to remember. But that’s just a treacherous rumor. Let’s get to the facts…

[Jealous Taj Mahal romancer] Shah Jehan soon came to hear of [his hot daughter] Jahanara’s orgies, and according to Bernier, resolved to surprise his daughter in flagrante with one of her secret paramours:

The intimation of Shah Jehan’s approach was too sudden to allow her [hot daughter Jahanara Begum] the choice of more than one place of concealment, so the affrighted gallant sought refuge in the capacious cauldron used for the baths. The King’s countenance denoted neither surprise or displeasure; he discoursed with his daughter on ordinary topics, but finished the conversation by observing that her skin indicated a neglect of her customary ablutions, and that it was proper she should bathe. He then commanded the eunuchs to light a fire under the cauldron, and did not retire until they gave him to understand that his wretched victim was no more.

Ouch. There are plenty of other great tidbits like this — flaying, quartered-by-elephants, scenes straight out of Two Thousand Maniacs — but my favorite features the Romantic Dad and his two sons, sweet Dara and psychotic Aurangzeb. To set the scene, both Dad and Dara have been imprisoned by Aurangzeb…

A few days later a group of nobles keen to impress [Psychotic Son #3] Aurangzeb broke into the quarters where [Sweet Son #1] Dara was being kept… Dara seized a kitchen knife and tried to defend himself, but the thugs overpowered him. They threw him to the ground and beheaded him in front of his son. The prince’s head was cleaned, wrapped in a turban and presented to Aurangzeb on a golden dish. The new Emperor called for lights, examined the face, then thrust at it three times with a sword. He said: ‘Behold the face of a would-be king and Emperor of all the Mughal realms. Take him out of my sight.’ No one was more pleased about Dara’s demise than [Dara’s own sister!] Roshanara Begum. She had begged Aurangzeb not to spare Dara, and now that she heard of his end she threw a great party in the Imperial harem. At this gathering she persuaded Aurangzeb that it would be an amusing joke to send the head to their father in his palace-prison in Agra. It was duly dispatched the following morning with Aurangzeb’s chief eunuch, I’tibar Khan. ‘[ The eunuch] waited until the hour Shah Jehan had sat down to dinner,’ wrote Manucci. When he had begun to eat, I’tibar Khan entered with the box and laid it before the unhappy father, saying: ‘King Aurangzeb, your son sends this plat to your majesty to let you see that he does not forget you.’

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The old Emperor said: ‘Blessed be God that my son still remembers me.’ The box having been placed upon the table, he ordered it with great eagerness to be opened. But on withdrawing the lid, he discovered the face of Prince Dara. Horrified, he uttered a cry and fell on his hands and face upon the table, and, striking against the golden vessels, broke some of his teeth and lay there apparently lifeless.

You know, reading this I think back to that photo of Diana at the Taj Mahal.


No wonder she looked so damn dour.

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10 Responses to Murder, Incest, and Fratricide led to The Taj Mahal?

  1. pRiyA says:

    It always takes me a few minutes to recover from reading a post at AsiaObscura. I’d learnt some Mughal history in school, but it was like learning from an editorial in Deccan Herald I guess or Time magazine. Reading your version of history here is like learning it from The Sun or Bangalore Mirror.
    You should have taught me history at school.
    I remember a reporter asking Diana about her experience to the Taj. She said it was ‘a very healing experience’.
    Ah well….

    • Andy Deemer says:

      I think an appropriate subtitle for the site would be, “History, culture and travel, usually taken out of context and always scandalized.” ;P (Just in case there’s any question, the book in Diana’s hand is *clearly* photoshopped.) But I was so struck with the fact that in all the stories of the Taj Mahal I’d read or heard, they always focused on the romance and grandeur of the structure. Which is lovely, but isn’t the scandal a little more fun?

  2. pRiyA says:

    Beheading, boiling, that fruit from the tree thing….it was all kept hidden from me. To hell with Hellomagazine and its prissy royals, I’ve just bought City of Djinns!

  3. blake says:

    Whoa, Princess Di picked the right day to go the Taj, totally empty there that day. I once heard a rumor that the royal family had hidden the plans for the Black Taj somewhere.

  4. Sam says:

    Islamic history in India was most brutal than elsewhere. Still somehow Hindu civilization holding its ground unlike Persia , Iran etc.. Leftists terribly distorted facts in their sadism to oppose Hindus & glorified Islamic past. Great Tejomahalaja temple & subsequent destruction by shah jahan to build Taj mahal should bleed every Indian heart. Enough of these distortions

  5. Rohit says:

    What does his family history has to do with the Taj? The writer behaved like a fly, who, instead of being in the beautiful garden, gets attracted towards the filth only. A foreign visitor can never truly understand, or better, can never accept that anything in asia, or more particularly India, can be as famous as The Taj.

  6. Sija Rose says:

    Taj Mahal is a amzing building.Thanks to share story about Taj Mahal.

  7. Sneha Mohan says:

    Taj Mahal is a wonderful place to visit.One year around one million people visit there.I dont know more about Tajmahal. But you wrote story behind Tajmahal. That helped me to understand more about Tajmahal.

  8. mr,mani ;;india ;;;;;; says:

    i was thrilled and exited to see the lofty taz at agra in 1977 and prior to that in 1953 i donot remember when i was less than three ;; but a littlr later it was found that 16 crores was spent 450 years ago and INHUMAN effort along with it ;;it is believed that the archtects hands and toungue were cut off since the emperor did not want the know how to be spread ;;;;it was also true that 1000 s of hindu daily wage earners a few pies were employed to drag or carry 3x4x2 marble slabs from jaisalmer to agra ;;and many died on the way ;;who were illtreated by the muslim rulers ;;and further they had also emplyed elephants and camelsto meet the same fate ;;; we not all pay enterance fee for this monument built on humans suffering and sweat ;;there are better lovers of wives than shajehan who practiced polygamy and harem ery ;;;; iwill never admire taz the engg wonder of 17 th century ”””””””’

  9. Kamal says:

    The feeling are mutual but I would say that we should appreciate those who sacrificed their life to built the Taj and not a monument for love. A mouselum for the unsung heroes who died in the course of building the Taj. The moment when I knew that Shah jahan had many wifes and concubines his love for Arjumand Banu Begum(Mumtaz Begum) is more of a fairy tale then truth. Through out history sex is very common among the rich and famous and it still is.

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