In honour of Valentine’s Day this month, take a trip around the world with love stories that inspire, captivate and enthrall.
Words: Shantini Suntharajah Illustration: Tim Lai
Everyone likes a great love story. Across borders and throughout human history, we’ve been mesmerised by stories of love built on boundless sacrifice, profound honour and unbridled courage. These accounts of enduring adoration and devotion inspire hope that true love will overcome all obstacles and, prevail over overwhelming odds like vehement parental disapproval, ravages of time, uncertainty of war or even, the finality of death.
From India to Egypt, China to the United Kingdom, here are some of the most magnificent love stories in the world. Some are rooted in truth while others are based on legends and folklore but all of them have stirred hearts, captured imaginations and captivated souls through the centuries.
The United Kingdom
Prince Edward & Wallis Simpson
One of the most memorable and shocking romances of all time took place in 1930s Britain, during the short-lived reign of King Edward VIII.
As the eldest son, Prince Edward of Wales ascended the throne when his father, George V passed away in 1936. All would have been well if not for one glaring predicament – Edward was in love with American divorcé, Wallis Simpson.
The British royal family is nothing without its traditions and there is one that is upheld tenuously: No king shall have a divorced woman as his wife. This unbending custom placed Edward in a dilemma. He was caught between his love for Simpson and the regal heritage that he was born to uphold. Despite great efforts, Edward could not convince the royal family or the British government officials to accept Simpson as queen. In December 1936, Edward did something no other king in history had ever done before – he officially abdicated!
The crown passed to his younger brother, George VI, and Edward married Wallis Simpson the following year. The former king lived out his days with his wife, outside the United Kingdom. In a famed speech he delivered on the day of his abdication, Edward openly pronounced his love for Simpson: “I have found it impossible to carry on the burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Lady White Snake
The tale of Lady White Snake is one of the most popular love stories from the Orient. It is the story of prevailing love that crosses all borders – even the insurmountable boundary between species.
The story goes that Lady White Snake was an ancient snake with a pure, noble heart and the power to take human form. Lady White had a handmaid and disciple known as Green Maid. The two were very close and often transformed into lovely maidens.
One day, while in human form, Lady White met a mild-mannered scholar and fell deeply in love with him. The couple married and lived happily together until a powerful Buddhist monk named Fa Hai happened to visit their medicine shop. The monk informed Lady White’s husband that she was actually a snake and gave him a potion that would turn her back into a serpent.
The husband, at first disbelieving, decided to give his wife the drink. When he saw her true form, he collapsed and died from shock. In grief, Lady White and Green Maid battled with the mountain gods to procure a magical herb that would resurrect him. The herb worked and Lady White’s husband accepted her again. Eventually, they even had a son together.
In another well-known version of this tale, things don’t end as happily. Against her husband’s will, Fa Hai the monk imprisoned Lady White under a pagoda by a beautiful lake. Centuries go by before she is finally set free by Green Maid, who spent hundreds of years increasing her powers to liberate her beloved Lady White.
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
The stunning, white marble monument that is the Taj Mahal was named one of the seven wonders of the world and it is hard to imagine that it is, in reality, a tomb.
Shah Jahan, who lived in the 17th century, was a Mughal Emperor who built the Taj Mahal. He fell in love with Arjunand Banum Begum, a Persian princess, when he was just a boy of 14 and she, a 15-year-old girl. It is believed that it was a case of love at first sight as young Shah Jahan was enamoured the instant he laid eyes on Begum in a bazaar. He then marched straight home to the palace and announced to his father that he would marry the girl he saw at the marketplace.
True to his word, the prince married young Begum five years later. He gave her the title of ‘Mumtaz Mahal’, meaning ‘Jewel of the Palace’ because he believed she was the most beautiful and noblest woman he had ever known. Poets of the time agreed, praising her beauty, grace and compassion in prose.
Custom allowed Shah Jahan to marry more than one and Mumtaz was his third wife, but by all accounts, he had eyes only for his beloved ‘jewel’ with whom he had 14 children. Tragically, the love of his life died giving birth to his last child. At her deathbed, the grief-stricken emperor vowed to build her the greatest mausoleum the world had ever seen. He also vowed never to remarry – a promise he kept until the end of his life.
Those who know this remarkable love story will certainly agree that the magnificence of the Taj Mahal, which took more than two decades to construct, is surpassed only by the everlasting love of the man who built it to honour the life and death of his beloved wife.