Shalimar means ‘Abode of Love’ in Sanskrit.

When I think ‘Shalimar’, I immediately think of two things in particular.

1. Guerlain Shalimar.

Shalimar is a women’s fragrance originally created by Jacques Guerlain in 1921 as a classic soft amber oriental perfume and currently produced by Guerlain.

I’m proud to say that Shalimar by Guerlain is part of my perfume collection and one of my absolute favourites. I’m attracted to fragrances with a bit of bitter, powder or floral scents compared to the citrus or sweet sugary scents that are more popular amongst our local women. Shalimar in particular has an exotic tinge to it and is not readily available here in our sunny shores. I’m also intrigued by perfumes with a history behind it and Shalimar is a classic dating back to 1921. Known as the perfume with a ‘bad reputation’, it was adopted by some of the 1920s bad girls (think flappers). In fact, they use to say back then…

“There are 3 things a lady never does. Smoke, dance the Tango and wear Shalimar”.

Of course you rebels are gonna wanna try ’em after hearing that.

The fragrance can be described as vanilla, powdery, and sweet. The fragrance contains Bergamot, Lemon, Jasmine, Rose, Iris, Incense, Opopanax, Tonka Bean, and Vanilla. It is considered to be an Oriental perfume which was popular during its conception. The top note of the fragrance is Bergamot. The middle notes are Iris and Opopanax. The base note is vanilla.

Jacques Guerlain was inspired by Mumtaz-Mahal, the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built.

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz-Mahal, his favourite wife, was so great that he built her the Garden of Shalimar in Lahore (and of course, the Taj Mahal).

2. Shalimar Gardens.

The Shalimar Gardens (Punjabi, Urdu: شالیمار باغ) is a Persian garden and it was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in Lahore, modern day Pakistan.

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal Empire’s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child. He built the Taj Mahal in Agra, India in memory of her.

I have always been captivated by the love story behind the Taj Mahal and the Shalimar Gardens.

Arjumand Banu Begum was married on 10 May 1612 to Prince Khurram, also known as Shah Jahan. She was just 14 years old at the time of their engagement and would have to wait five years before they were married on a date selected by the court astrologers as most conducive to ensuring a happy marriage. She would become the unquestioned love of his life. After their wedding celebrations, Khurram “finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time”, gave her the title ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ Begum (Chosen One of the Palace).

She was his third wife but his favourite. Khurram was so taken with Mumtaz, that he showed little interest in exercising his polygamous rights with the two earlier wives other than dutifully siring a child with each. According to the official court chronicler, the relationship with his other wives had nothing more than the status of marriage. The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favour which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence (Mumtaz) exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.

Mumtaz Mahal had a very deep and loving marriage with Shah Jahan. Even during her lifetime, poets would extol her beauty, grace and compassion. Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s trusted companion, travelling with him all over the Mughal Empire. His trust in her was so great that he even gave her his imperial seal, the Muhr Uzah.

Despite her frequent pregnancies, Mumtaz travelled with Shah Jahan’s entourage throughout his earlier military campaigns and the subsequent rebellion against his father. She was his constant companion and trusted confidante, and their relationship was intense. Indeed, the court historians go to unheard lengths to document the intimate and erotic relationship the couple enjoyed. In their nineteen years of marriage, they had fourteen children together, seven of whom died at birth or at a very young age.

Mumtaz died in Burhanpur in 1631 AD, while giving birth to their fourteenth child. She had been accompanying her husband while he was fighting a campaign in the Deccan Plateau. The court chroniclers paid an unusual amount of attention to Mumtaz Mahal’s death and Shah Jahan’s grief at her demise. In the immediate aftermath of his bereavement, the emperor was reportedly inconsolable. Apparently after her death, Shah Jahan went into secluded mourning for a year. When he appeared again, his hair had turned white, his back was bent, and his face worn.  Then he began planning the design and construction of a suitable mausoleum and funerary garden in Agra for his wife. It was a task that would take more than 22 years to complete.

Shah Jahan left behind a grand legacy of structures constructed during his reign. His most famous building was the Taj Mahal, now a wonder of the world, which he built out of love for Mumtaz Mahal. The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631. Masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran. An epitome of love, it made use of the services of 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants. The monument was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia. After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees (approx US $68000), Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653.

It has been said that upon the completion of Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan ordered the hands of the workers to be cut-off and blinded so that the masterpiece could  never be recreated.

Upon his death, his son Aurangazeb had him interred in it next to her. The inscriptions in Persian on the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal were “O Noble, O Magnificent, O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious… “.

The lengths the emperor had gone through to show his love for his beloved wife seems surreal, like it came out from Shakespear but indeed, it is a true story. Despite everything that has happened in my past, I would like to believe that love and devotion such as this can still exist. And we have the Taj Mahal to remind us that it did.

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