100 Days in India Project

A far-away view of the Taj Mahal, seen from the Red Fort in Agra where Shah Jahan lived his final days.

24/ 100 Shah Jahan

Can you see the building in the far distance, next to the massively polluted Yamuna River on the left, that’s the Taj Mahal. This view is important because this is as close as the person who built it was ever able to get to his creation for the last 8 years of his life.

The Taj Mahal in Agra was built by the great Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, as the last resting place of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. However he got a bit carried away, costs soared and one of his own sons, Aurangzeb, decided his father had lost the plot and so imprisoned him in the Red fort (which Shah Jahan also built). We visited the fort and saw where he was kept and, to be fair, he was incarcerated in a pretty large and comfortable space. If I was going to imprisoned for a few years I think I could cope with living there. Whether it was accidental, or perhaps Aurangzeb was particularly mean (he killed a few of his family, so he probably was), they housed him on the east side of the fort with clear views of his wife’s tomb, and life-long building project, just about one mile away.

I doubt there was anywhere near as much pollution, back then in 1658, so the view would have been better but, even so, it must have been a bit of a bummer to be so far from something you could only look at and not visit. Sitting in his room 350 years later, looking out over this hazy view of Agra, I did feel sorry for him. Like the prisoners held in the Santa Maria Maggiore prison on the island of Venice (who I think about whenever we walk past), I can’t imagine being able to see and hear such beauty each day whilst being prevented from actually experiencing it in person.

When he died in 1666 he did eventually get to return when they laid his body to rest next to his wife inside the Taj Mahal. You can only hope that his spirit was happy with the quality of the final construction. Imagine spending the rest of eternity being irritated by the poor finish on the windowsills.