Often described as one of the wonders of the world, the stunning 17th Century white marble Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.
Everyone knows it as a monument to love, but could it in fact have been built for historical fact.
Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s third and favorite wife and their love story is legendary.
It is generally believed that she was a beautiful and devoted wife who was content to have lots of children with her husband-she died giving birth on their 14th child.
“But there was another side to her that’s not well known-that she was not at all the beautiful dutiful wife. She was a very good chess player, for better than Shah Jahan, and that she was ambitious and ruthless,” says director M Sayeed Alam of the Delhi-based theatre group Pierrot’s Troupe.
“Mumtaz wielded considerable political power and influence and there are plenty of historical documents confirming her involvement in administrative matters and government orders,” Delhi University Professor Farhat Hasan says.
The play recreates 17th Century Delhi, buzzing with political intrigue where the fight for political power was often ugly and bloody.
It opens with the rivalry for the imperial throne between Shah Jahan and his brother Prince Pervez, and Mumtaz plays a crucial role in her husband’s victory by poisoning his rival.
As the play progresses, different shades of Mumtaz’s personality come to the fore-a devoted wife who is a guide and advisor to her husband, but at the same time with a mind of her own.
“She’s a far-sighted political thinker, an astute strategist and schemer, and the women behind as well as ahead of her man,” Mr. Alam says.
The play’s great surprise centers on a high-stakes game of chess played one evening, when a pregnant Mumtaz nudges the emperor to bet his throne, giving free rein to her ruthlessness and ambition.
The emperor then realizes that his beloved queen must be stopped. A tussle over the royal seal ends with her fall from the throne, and soon Mumtaz died in childbirth.
But was it a mere accident or was she pushed?
Th play is open-ended-it and doesn’t say in so many words that Mumtaz was killed. But it does leave one with a lingering suspicion, that perhaps the emperor did have a role in her death.
“The play focused on the political in Mumtaz rather than the lover boy in Shah Jahan,” The Hindu said, describing it as a “great idea”. The Deccan Herald welcomed the fact that “what has been etched in our memories” had been questioned and the audience was challenged to look at events from a female perspective.
So, as some critics are asking-is the Taj Mahal truly “a monument to murder”?
Well, it really is a work of fiction there is no suggestion in history that she could have been murdered. Mr. Hiro says it is actually “faction”-where “fiction” blends ingeniously with facts” to create interesting drama.
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