You likely already know that the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most stunning pieces of architecture. However, what many don’t realize is that it’s also among the most famous graves and memorials in the world — much like the pyramids of Giza.
Jump ahead to these sections:
Who is buried in the Taj Mahal? Despite its size, it’s a mausoleum in Agra, India, for only two people: Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan.
Emperor Shah Jahan actually commissioned its construction for this very purpose. This guide describes who they are and why they’re important from a historical perspective. It also provides an overview of the reason Shah Jahan commissioned such a massive project in the first place.
Why Was the Taj Mahal Built?
Shah Jahan reigned from 1628 to 1658 C.E. Prior to becoming emperor, he married Mumtaz Mahal in 1612, who died during childbirth in 1631.
It was this loss that inspired the emperor to commission the Taj Mahal. He wanted to create a grand mausoleum in his wife’s honor. In short, it’s one of the greatest symbols of romantic love in history.
Anyone familiar with the Taj Mahal would probably (and accurately!) guess that building it was by no means a minor undertaking. Although some information about its construction remains unconfirmed due to the loss of historical records, in general, most historians believe the construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and didn’t end until at least 1647. The emperor employed up to 20,000 workers to assist in its construction. They came not only from India, but also from Europe, Persia, and parts of the Ottoman Empire.
There’s also some evidence to suggest that the Taj Mahal would have been one of two such structures in the same region. Some historians believe Shah Jahan also had plans for a second mausoleum across the river from the Taj Mahal. This would have served as a separate home for his remains.
However, if he did have such plans, he never had the opportunity to execute them. His son, Aurangzeb, deposed him in 1658. Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life in prison. That said, the Taj Mahal stands as a monument to the devotion he felt for his wife even decades after her passing.
A myth worth mentioning
A monument as striking as the Taj Mahal inspires some people to share rumors about its creation, even if those rumors don’t have any factual basis. After all, there are plenty of people who still insist Egyptians built the pyramids with the help of aliens.
A somewhat less fanciful (but probably no less false) story surrounds the Taj Mahal’s construction. It’s clear that Shah Jahan wanted this structure he’d commissioned in loving memory of his wife to be uniquely beautiful. He didn’t want any other mausoleum in the world to rival it.
Some have claimed that after craftsmen completed their work on the project, he would sever their heads and gouge out their eyes. This was to ensure they wouldn’t be able to create another such structure in the future. However, researchers have never been able to track down any evidence indicating this very morbid story is true.
Who’s Currently Buried in the Taj Mahal?
This gigantic mausoleum only houses two people’s remains: Mumtaz Mahal’s and Shah Jahan’s.
Although many simply admire the Taj Mahal as a masterwork of construction and architecture, it’s still a monument to Mumtaz Mahal. Visitors can find cenotaphs for her and Shah Jahan inside it.
These beautiful cenotaphs are actually false tombs. They don’t hold the remains of either Shah Jahan or Mumtaz Mahal. The actual sarcophagi are beneath the tombs, at the garden level.
Mumtaz Mahal was almost always a member of India's upper class during her life. In 1611, her aunt married Shah Jahan’s father. This ensured her family would be high status. Her grandfather, who’d already been a member of the royal court, became grand vizier of the empire after the marriage. Her father would also later become grand vizier when Shah Jahan took power.
Shah Jahan gave his wife the title “Chosen One of the Palace” when he took the throne in 1628. Although he didn’t grant her the same amount of power that his father had granted her aunt, he did let her use her influence to some degree.
Mumtaz Mahal focused on promoting humanitarian programs for the less fortunate. Unfortunately, she would not have the opportunity to do so for very long, as she died only a few years later while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. After a temporary burial in Burhanpur, Shah Jahan had her body transferred to Agra in early 1632.
Although Shah Jahan’s alleged plans to build his own mausoleum across from the Taj Mahal never came to fruition, he does now lie in rest alongside his wife. Once more, though, the cenotaph in his honor doesn’t genuinely hold his body — it’s a symbolic tomb.
Shah Jahan was born in Pakistan in 1592. His birth name was Prince Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram. His father, Jahangir, was already emperor at the time.
It didn’t take long for Shah Jahan to make a strong impression on his father. In combat against such enemies as the Mewar and Kangra, he displayed remarkable military prowess at a young age.
However, his talents extended beyond military skill. Shah Jahan was also a strong architect and builder. He proved this much by redesigning several buildings in the Agra Fort. This skill earned him the title “The Builder of Marvels.”.
Shah Jahan was first betrothed to Mumtaz Mahal in 1607 when he was 15 and she was 14. They were finally married in 1612. From that moment on, Shah Jahan remained deeply in love with his wife.
It’s worth noting that Mumtaz Mahal wasn’t Shah Jahan’s only wife. As was customary for a man of his status at the time, he had several others. However, none seemed to receive nearly as much devotion as Mumtaz Mahal. As court chronicler Qazwini explained, “The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence (Mumtaz) exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.”
It appears that Mumtaz Mahal matched his devotion in the form of companionship. Shah Jahan frequently confided in her on a range of matters, and she would even accompany him when he traveled on military journeys.
Shah Jahan’s reign wouldn’t last his entire life. His downfall began in 1657 when he fell ill. Because he was no longer able to fulfill his duties, Dara, the eldest son of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, took the throne.
This displeased another son, Aurangzeb. He and his younger brothers, Shuja and Murad, led a march upon Agra, intent on taking the power they believed they deserved. Agra’s armies were unable to fend them off.
After defeating the armies, they asserted that Shah Jahan could no longer be a competent ruler. They placed him under house arrest. This meant he essentially remained a prisoner in Agra Fort until his death in 1666.
That said, numerous buildings aside from the Taj Mahal embody his legacy. Although the Taj Mahal may be the most famous structure he commissioned, other sites, such as the Red Fort of Delhi, the Wazir Khan Mosque, and the Jama Masjid of Delhi also serve as reminders of his appreciation for impressive architecture.
Who is Buried in the Taj Mahal? The Answer Tells a Story
Many who learn of the Taj Mahal’s history look at the structure with new eyes from that moment on. While its architecture alone makes it one of the top places to see before you die, its history also makes it a tragic love story in the form of one of the world’s most recognizable sites.
- Cheng, Lisa. “Eight Secrets of the Taj Mahal.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 February 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/eight-secrets-taj-mahal-180962168/
- “Mumtaz Mahal.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Mumtaz-Mahal
- “Shah Jahan.” Taj Mahal, Tajmahal.org.uk, www.tajmahal.org.uk/shah-jahan.html
- “Taj Mahal.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/topic/Taj-Mahal