The tomb of the Empress Nur Jahan

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The tomb of the Empress Nur Jehan, wife of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, lies in Shahdara Bagh, on the north-west suburbs of Lahore, near the mausoleum of her husband. Although there are no reliable figures as to when the tomb was constructed, historians suggest that she commissioned and oversaw the construction herself around the same time as Jehangir’s tomb circa 1627.

Nur Jehan was born Mehr-un-Nisaa, the daughter of Jehangir’s prime minister in 1577 AD. At the age of 17 she married a Mughal courtier, Sher Afghan. On his death in 1607, she entered Jehangir’s harem who, when spotting her one day, became infatuated with her, immediately proposing. She was to become his 20th wife in May 1611 and given the title Nur Jehan, ‘Light of the World’. As Jehangir became increasingly reliant on opium and alcohol, Nur Jehan’s role came to greater prominence, acting as the ruler behind the throne for several years, even having coins minted in her name, an honour usually bestowed on rulers alone. After the death of Jehangir, Nur Jehan lost favour and was confined to house arrest. She died in 1645 AD at the age of 68.

Stylistally, the tomb of Nur Jehan is similar to Jehangir’s, but smaller in size and lacking the corner minarets. Once again there is a charbagh (quartered) garden with water channels, tanks, fountains and wooded avenues. The tomb itself is elevated with octagonal towers on each corner, with red sandstone and white marble arched hallways. Two graves are to be found within the tomb; the first, of the Empress herself, and the second, of her daughter, Ladli Begum.

The tomb has suffered at the hands of subsequent rulers of the region. The Sikhs stripped the tomb for marble and other decorative items and used for the golden temple in Amritsar and the British, uncomprehendingly, laid a railway line through the gardens of the tomb and used one part of it as a coal dump in the late 19th century.  As such, many of the original marble cenotaphs have disappeared and existing cenotaphs are replacements from the 20th century. Recent restorations, although improving the overall condition of the tomb, have resulted in the loss of subtle traces of floral and geometric flourishes Nur Jehan so loved.

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