I often see people looking at history using today's prejudices and lenses. History can not be seen in the light of our current preferences and current philosophies. History has to be evaluated in the context of the prevalent norms and challenges of that day.
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A case in point is viewing Shah Jehan's love for Mumtaz Mahal, her queen, in whose memory he built Taj Mahal, using today's prisms and using today's norms. I have seen posts ridiculing Taj Mahal as a symbol of love because:
- Mumtaz Mahal was his 4th wife.
- Shah Jehan killed husband of Mumtaz Mahal and then married her.
- Mumtaz Mahal died during her 14th pregnancy
- Shah Jehan married Mumtaz Mahal's sister after her death.
The above four points when seen through today's lenses appear to be abhorrence because they are challenging today's sensibilities. However, one needs to appreciate the history of an age in the light of the prevalent norms of that day:
- According to today's preferences, Shah Jehan had to be monogomous. The mere fact that Mumtaz Mahal was the fourth wife is enough of a verdict against the pretension of love when viewed from today's sensibilities. However, Kings of that time used to have multiple wives and even a large entourage of consorts. From that period's point of view it would not have been normal to be monogamous.
- Marrying the wives and daughters of enemies after slaying them was customary in international history. It used to be one of the surest ways to eliminate the chances of enmity and warfare that can potentially continue for generation after generation for centuries. However, marrying of enemy's wife was not a social barrier. In fact, that was quite a noble thing to do, because it was a tradition of that time to take the wives and daughters as slave girls. Today's sensibilities are predicated on the existence of international institutions to take care of inter-generational warfare. But, these mechanisms were not present during those days.
- Having 10+ children for women was commonplace and a sign of virility and healthy potency even in West till late 19th century. Dying in childbirth was just a natural hazard in the absence of sophisticated medical facilities. In fact, having large number of children was an insurance policy against the many chances of death through accidents and illnesses during those times. Having 2 children as a norm is only a 20th century phenomenon, and that too related to the philosophy of freedom from responsibilities in which an individual is expected to enjoy the life unencumbered by the responsibilities of too many children. The decrease in the population of White-Anglo-Saxons in the West and the fear of immigrants from other races overrunning their continent are already changing the dynamics. Racism and immigration related violence in Europe may still change this sensibility, and may start a competition of who can bear more children than others, which used to be another reason for having more children in earlier ages.
- Marriage in history was an insurance policy for safeguarding the interests of loved ones especially in Muslim countries, where marriage would assure inheritance shares to wife and all her children. This can not be understood by people in the West where only the eldest son would typically get the inheritance. In Muslim cultures, inheritance laws are still followed till today will protect the right of the immediate blood relative to inherit.
An interesting analogy would be that of moon. Moon in history has been a symbol of love and feelings. Poetry and literature is replete with references to its beauty. Our 20th century pictures of the hideous craters on surface do not and should not bring into question the perceptions of beauty associated with it in history.
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