On a Fitting Resting Place

Some of my earliest memories are of going with my mother to the cemeteries that dotted the western panhandle of Florida where my ancestors are buried. She’d stop at the graves of those she especially loved and tell a story about that person. For my mother, to have all these loved ones surrounded by their families and friends was fitting and right and proper. These weren’t places of sadness to her; they were places of love and family. This is another such story of a fitting final place for a loved one.

With the advances in medicine in most of the western world, we take for granted that childbirth will be relatively safe compared to what it has been historically. Yet, 400 years ago, childbirth was fraught with danger (We’ve looked at the development of the Cesarean section before). In 1631, a woman named Mumtaz died in childbirth in what is now north central India. She was only 38. Her husband, a rich man named Jahan, was devastated by the loss. Mumtaz was his life. In a time when women were often seen as property or worse, Jahan looked to Mumtaz as a true life-partner. Not only was she incredibly beautiful, but she also was wise, and she acted as one of Jahan’s closest advisors. She was clearly the light of his life.

For an entire year, Jahan remained in seclusion. He forbade anyone to see him. Servants would bring his meals and leave them outside his door and return later to collect the dishes and half-eaten food. When he emerged after the year of mourning, reports say that Jahan’s hair had turned white in his extreme grief. He emerged from his seclusion only when one of his daughters–one that favored Mumtaz to an incredible degree–begged him through the closed door to come out and continue to live, to love on the family that remained. Jahan reluctantly agreed, but that’s when he announced plans for the fitting resting place for his beloved light of his life.

And Jahan vowed that Mumtaz resting place would reflect that fact. And even though we think of graves or cemeteries as being places of sadness, Jahan conceived of a grave for Mumtaz that would evoke her beauty, her grace, her elegance. In short, he wanted people to see the grave and not think of death, but, rather, to think of love. Therefore, Jahan ordered that no expense be spared in preparing her grave. You see, Jahan was wealthy and powerful. He had the money and the ability to build a fitting monument to his bride. And so, he did so–a the cost of $1 billion dollars in today’s money.

Jahan would live another 30 years without his beloved by his side. And he grieved for her every day. He longed for sleep, he said, because it was there and only there that his Mumtaz would be able to visit him, to touch him, to be with him again. When he died, he was entombed with her, their mortal remains lying side by side in the great, illustrious, and fitting final resting place.

His shrine to her, still shines today.

In fact, over 6,000,000 people a year visit Jahan’s shining monument, a place that’s not a monument to death, but, rather, a testimony to love.

The Taj Mahal.

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