Mumtaz Muhal was born Arjumand Banu Begum in April 1593. Her father was a Persian noble and brother of the wife of the Emperor Jahangir. At the age of fourteen she was betrothed to marry Prince Khurram Shihab-ud-din Muhammad, but the court astrologers delayed their marriage for five years until the most conducive date for a happy marriage in 1612.
Whether by craft or coincidence the astrologers were proven right: the couple were inseparable. Arjumand – now renamed Mumtaz Muhal (‘Chosen One of the Palace’) – accompanied Khurram on his travels across the Mughal Empire even travelling with his entourage on some of his military campaigns. After ascending to the Peacock Throne in 1628, Prince Khurram – now Shah Jahan (‘King of the World’) – gave Mumtaz his imperial seal, because he loved and trusted her so.
Three years later, while accompanying her husband on a campaign in the Deccan Plateau, Mumtaz went into labour in the town of Burhanpur but died during the birth of their fourteenth child, a daughter called Gauhara Behum. According to contemporary accounts Shah Jahan was heartbroken: he mourned in solitude for a year after which he emerged a broken man. He set about having a tomb built that would be a suitable memorial to their love. The result was the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The plinth and tomb took twelve years to build, and further buildings were added over the next ten years. Following the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan’s third son by Mumtaz, Aurangzeb, seized power and confined him to the nearby Agra Fort. When Jahan died, eight years later he was interred alongside his beloved Mumtaz.