Better Than The Taj Mahal is a story of a monument that has been forgotten by many. Historians say that this monument was clearly worthy of being one of the seven wonders of the World.
The beautiful Begum Mehjabeen bano was a very distant relative of the Royal Mughal family. Generations of brave men from her family had served the Emperors family faithfully. Even her marriage to the lesser known and comparatively poor King of five villages Raja Hari Singh Rana of Mehrgarh was a part of a strategic alliance to maintain peace. Though not entirely a royalty, she had briefly indulged in the comfort and luxurious life of the Mughals. Married at 16, her husband’s palace was no bigger than the servants quarters at Delhi. The army was a group of old, weary and untrained men that could be crushed by a single platoon of the Royal army. Plague, famine and drought were as frequent as the festivals in the bylanes of the Mughal Capital.
As she grew old, she realised that even a queen had to accept frugal living. Small sacrifices had to be made as a part of good governance. Meat was not cooked daily. Her heavy Gold and diamond Jewelry was kept on lease to secure the Kingdoms Monthly ration. She even had to give up her beloved pet elephant Babr , the one she got in dowry, as the poor animals diet was far more than the hungry families. At age 22, she was a bitter shrewd young lady that was in love with money, ease and luxury, something even her Husband, The King,could never fulfill. She was always indifferent and distant to her five children and relied on the caretakers to raise the royal heirs.
More than her bitterness towards her Husband, she had developed a strong hatred towards her distant relative: The Emperor Shahjahan. She held the emperor responsible for her miseries. If not for his political ambitions and his advisors, she could have married someone far more better. If only he had not traded her to the King of farmers and weavers, she could have been famous for her beauty. In return for her supreme sacrifice for the Mughal cause, all she got was an uninspiring unadventurous life. Added to it was the burden of being the Queen of the damned. As she could never hurt the emperor even if she tried, her hatred slowly manifested into a strong jealousy towards his Wife, Queen Mumtaz. Mumtaz Mahal was very much like Mehajabeen Bano. Not entirely royalty, just nobility. Not magnificently breathtaking, just beautiful. Yet they lived lives that were so different. And as all jealousies go, Begum Mehjabeen left no stone unturned.
It had now become Queen Mehajabeen’s daily pleasure and Obsession to always be better than the famed Mughal Queen of Delhi. More than half of the treasury was spent on spies planted in the royal court. These spies regularly reported about the intricate details of the court happenings and the documented the love affair of Shahjahan and Mumtaz. Centuries later these same documents would serve as a testimony to what most historians have collaborated. But for all those years, these accounts served as heartburn for Begum Mehjabeen. She would get details of the clothes being wore by the Queen Mumtaz and ordered even more lavish dresses to be sewed for her. She named the small unkempt garden lanes in her own name. She would award the harshest punishments to the gardener if the flowers did not bloom like those in the Shahi Gardens in Delhi. Even as she saw thousands of her subjects hungry and plagued with death, her mind was far away scheming and plotting against the love struck couple.
Nothing brought her more happiness than the news of a third marriage of the Emperor Shahjahan even while Mumtaz was alive. It was customary for Kings to have more than one wife. But her own husband remained faithful to her. She often said that the King could not afford any other Queen beside her. She would not have believed otherwise even if Gods from various faiths came down to convince her. Yet she also kept the harem well staffed.
Then came the happiest day of her life. Queen Mumtaz mahal had died during childbirth. Her spies said that Shahjahan sobbed like a child and was heartbroken. The mirth, though short-lived, was celebrated by Begum Mehajabeen by announcing a week of festivities for her poor subjects. By the end of the grand week, the treasury was nearly empty. The poor villagers whose palette consisted of simple and scarce meals were bedridden by the excess consumption of lavish delicacies. And then the most devastating news came. Emperor Shahjahan had ordered Artisans from around the large Empire to build a grand memorial to honor Queen Mumtaz Mahal. Even in her death, Queen Mumtaz had managed to become more popular than anyone else. The marvel was to be constructed from best quality white marble brought from Rajasthan, Afghanistan, Tibet and China. There were rumors that more than 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones, including the striking lapis lazuli, were to be inlaid into the marble. Best Persian and Indian Architects were called upon to construct the monument. The Grandeur of the Taj Mahal was a major talking point even before a single brick was laid.
Ever since the announcement of the Taj Mahal was made, Queen Mehajabeen had become miserable. Each day she sat in her lowly royal chambers living in the fear of being forgotten even by her own people. Her appearances in public diminished. . With no muse to derive her obsessive jealousy from, she found it difficult to face her grief. Her spies continued to bring her the sad news of the magnificence of the Marvel built as a testament of love. Her beautiful well lit face that was once a talk of the town was now pale, blemished and wrinkled. Her deteriorating bony structure could no longer bear the weight of her heavy dresses. Yet determined to regain both control and self-worth, she announced to build a monument much extravagant than the Taj Mahal.
For the next few years, life in the small kingdom of Mehrgarh would never be the same. What started only as a petty contribution to support the Kingdom during the war, was made mandatory as heavy taxes. Even the travellers had to pay regular exorbitant taxes for the tomb of the still alive Queen. Defaulters were jailed and their lands were seized. Schools and colleges were forced to include passages of their Queen’s greatness. Women, children and old men were made to work on the construction site that spanned an entire village. Architects, artisans and religious men were given patronage despite the dire conditions. The Queen’s dream of constructing a Monument better than Taj Mahal resonated through each of her loyal subjects Heart. When the tomb was almost complete, Historians , travelers, Peers and pundits who travelled to Mehrgarh would not stop raving about it. They said that the Taj mahal looked like an old Library when compared to the amazing architecture at Mehrgarh. The Mughal Capital was already losing money by investing in the high maintenance Taj Mahal. But now businesses, tourism and commerce too were being lost to the small kingdom of Mehrgarh. Though the locals could not fathom out the reason for their newfound prosperity, they attributed it all to their Queen. Yet as fate goes ever as fate must, Queen Mehajabeen died unexpectedly on a peaceful July night .
While the royal family struggled to cope with their sudden loss, there was something far more serious brewing.
“Maharaj, I know its a difficult time. But there is a pressing matter that needs to be discussed.” said the Senapati.
“Can’t it wait ?” Maharaj Hari Singh asked grimly.
“I am afraid it can’t, Maharaj. Its has to be decided now. Its about the tomb for the queen.”
” I know. We will have to perform the rites tomorrow. You know, She never saw how magnificent the monument has turned out to be.”
“Forgive us, Maharaj. But now that the Queen is no more, our spies have told us that the Mughals have already sent their troops to attack us.” informed the Senapati.
” What? We have such cordial relationships for all these years, this can’t be. Its just a few hours that Queen has passed away. Even the rest of the Kingdom does not know about it. How is this possible.” said the shocked King of Mehrgarh.
” Maharaj, It all started when Queen Mehjabeen had announced to build a monument. A monument better than the Taj Mahal itself. Emperor Shahjahan had not taken this lightly. You know how dedicated was he towards his wife. He could not stand the disrespect. We tried to reason with our Queen., but…” The Senapati took a long pause.”Our spies say that he was to attack us much earlier. But the Mughals had much bigger wars to fight. Now given the circumstances, the Emperor will not wait for sunrise to raze our villages.”
” This is preposterous. Call someone to pen down a letter. I am sure the Emperor will understand my words. He is a reasonable man. I am sure he will call off the attack.”
” I believe there is no time for us to send the letter to the Emperor. The Mughal troops of 10000 men have been spotted just a few miles away at the North border. If we stall taking a desicion now, we might not be able to defend the palace in the morning… ”
” Decision? What option do we have? Our Army will not last an hour. Thousands of innocents villagers will die…” said the dejected King.
” We have managed to find a different approach. If you would be kind enough to consider it, we might be able to save our kingdom in time.” This was the first time the Chief advisor spoke.
” So tell me…what are you waiting for?” Asked the desperate King.
With the first ray of sunlight, the Maharaja of Mehrgarh greeted the Mughal Army Generals at the borders of his Kingdom. The entire party was informed about the sad news of the Queens Demise. Having travelled thousand of miles to destroy the monument, the generals wanted to see the magnificent marvel first hand. They had heard great stories about it and would no longer believe mere words. Something more beautiful than the Taj Mahal itself deserved to be gazed upon at least once before being razed to the ground. Their curiosity paved way for courtesy as they stationed their armies at the borders and allowed the Queen to be cremated.
As they were invited to attend the funeral procession of the deceased Queen , they saw that the entire Kingdom was in mourning. Grown men cried and the busy women folk sat lifelessly in shock. The army placed the flags at half mast and the temples played sorrowful bhajans to relieve the sadness of the devotees. Life came to a complete standstill as the subjects tried to cope with the loss of the beloved Queen.
When the Generals reached the site of the famous Monument, they couldn’t believe their eyes. It was hard to accept that they had walked miles with an army of thousands to destroy this! Everywhere they looked they only saw dust and rubble. The famed monument was nowhere to be found. Yet the villagers surrounded the construction site, wept their hearts out and praised the Great monument. A few of the Mughal visitors almost gave out a laugh by the sight of the biggest hoax they had witnessed. There was no Monument that stood at the site ; let alone being better than Taj Mahal. They now knew why everyone in Delhi called Queen Mehjabeen, the Mad Queen. Maybe Mehrgarh was a kingdom of mad men. As they were leaving, the King Of Mehrgarh asked, ” Isn’t the Monument more beautiful than the Taj Mahal?.” To which they all nodded in unison.
With no motive to stay and fight the helpless Kingdom, the Generals and their armies soon dispersed as quickly as they marched on to Mehrgarh. Little did they know that the brave men of Mehrgarh had saved the day by destroying Twenty years of hard work and labour in mere hours. Each gem and diamond studded into the Marbles were carefully relocated to the treasury. The Local villagers helped the army to clear the debris. The King himself oversaw the operations throughout the night, as the entire Kingdom razed the Monument brick by brick. The priceless wonder of the world ,that was much better than the Taj Mahal, was lost forever.
But Mehrgarh did not forget to honour their Queen. By a simple gesture, they would keep her alive even after centuries. The same spot where the monument stood, a university was built honouring the Queen. A University that welcomed Islamists, Sufis, Hindus, Buddhist, Christians disciples. Portuguese, Dutch, English and Chinese travellers wrote about Mehrgarh. Books, philosophies and literature produced in Mehrgarh travelled the world. When the travelers went to Agra on an occasional one day visit to the beautiful Tomb, Knowledge seekers of all kinds stayed for years in the university . Even now the people who praise Taj mahal for its eternal glory, contemplate the beauty of Queen Mehajabeen’s Tomb.