The Taj Mahal: A History

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The Taj Mahal: A History

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Everyone has seen photographs of the Taj Mahal. The massive, bulbous central dome, the four slender minarets, the shimmering marble, the long reflecting pool, the manicured gardens - all seem too striking for adequate description and proper appreciation. But there is more to the Taj than its beauty.

The world's best-known mausoleum celebrates the love story of the seventeenth-century Moghul emperor Shah Jahan and his queen, Mumtaz Mahal. They fell in love at first sight and were married for nineteen years. She ruled at his side as almost an equal, but her death in childbirth in 1631 left him wild with grief and determined to build a monument to their devotion.

Behind this romantic tale is the saga of the Moghul emperors who swept into North India only a century earlier. By the time of Shah Jahan, they had established an absolute monarchy comparable to Louis XIV's. The Moghul court was rich, cruel, and omnipotent. As descendants of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, they relished bloody combat, savage sports, and hideous torture of their victims. In the absence of primogeniture, brother fought brother for the throne - it was the law of the “throne or coffin.” But less than a century after Shah Jahan was deposed by his ruthless son, the dynasty was in decline and ripe for conquest by Great Britain.

For a time, it seemed like the Taj - like the Moghuls - would vanish. Only in the twentieth century was the Taj restored to something of its former glory.

Here is the dramatic and often tragic story of the Taj and the men and women of the dynasty that created it.