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.
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.’
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.