The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal (Hindi: ताज महल, Persian, Urdu: تاج محل), is a monument
located in Agra, India, constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce
of 20,000. The Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned its
construction as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum,
who is better known as Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal (sometimes called "the Taj") is generally considered the
finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of
Islamic, Indian, Persian and Turkish architecture . The Taj Mahal
has achieved special note because of the romance of its inspiration. While
the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the
monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures.
Origin and inspiration
Location of the Taj Mahal within India
Shah Jahan, who commissioned the monument, was a prolific patron with
effectively limitless resources. He had previously created the gardens and
palaces of Shalimar in honour of his wife, Mumtaz. After her death in
childbirth (she had already borne him fourteen children) Shah Jahan was
reportedly inconsolable, and soon after he began construction of the Taj
Mahal. His lavish aesthetic and romantic nature is apparent in every
aspect of the Taj Mahal. Visiting Agra in 1663, the French traveller
François Bernier gave the following description of the Taj Mahal and Shah
Jahan's motive for building it:
I shall finish this letter with a description of the two wonderful
mausoleums which constitute the chief superiority of Agra over Delhi. One
was erected by Jehan-guyre [sic] in honour of his father Ekbar; and
Chah-Jehan raised the other to the memory of his wife Tage Mehale, that
extraordinary and celebrated beauty, of whom her husband was so enamoured
it is said that he was constant to her during life, and at her death was
so affected as nearly to follow her to the grave" .
Influences on Taj Mahal design
The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on many design traditions,
particularly Islamic, Persian, Hindu and earlier Mughal architecture.
The overall design derived inspiration from a number of successful Timurid
and Mughal buildings: these include the Gur-e Amir, Humayun's Tomb,
Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and his own Jama
Masjid. Under Shah Jahan's patronage, Mughal building reached new levels
of refinement:, previous Mughal building had primarily been constructed of
red sandstone; Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with
Interior of masjid dome, showing inlaid geometric decoration
Hindu craftsmen, particularly sculptors and stonecutters, plied trade
throughout Asia during this period, and their work was particularly prized
by tomb builders. Whilst the rock-cut architecture which characterises
much of this construction had little or no influence on the Taj Mahal,
other Indian buildings such as the Man Singh palace in Gwalior were an
inspiration for much Mughal palace architecture and the source for the
chhatris which can be seen on the Taj Mahal.
Consistent repeated design elements are employed throughout the complex.
These unify the complex with a single aesthetic vocabulary.
Design elements of the Taj Mahal.
Major design features of the tomb are echoed throughout the complex --
both the tomb and the outlying buildings.
Finial: decorative crowning element of the Taj Mahal domes
Lotus decoration: depiction of lotus flower sculpted on tops of domes
Onion dome: massive outer dome of the tomb (also called an amrud or apple
Drum: cylindrical base of the onion dome, raising it from the main
Guldasta: decorative spire attached to the edge of supporting walls
Chattri: a domed and columned kiosk
Spandrel: upper panels of an archway
Calligraphy: stylised writing of verses from the Qu'ran framing main
Arch: also called pishtaq (Persian word for portal projecting from the
facade of a building) and
Dado: decorative sculpted panels lining lower walls
Most of the elements can be found on the gateway, mosque and jawab as well
as the mausoleum.
The complex is set in and around a large charbagh (a formal Mughal garden
divided into four parts). Measuring 320 m × 300 m, the garden has sunken
parterres or flowerbeds, raised pathways, avenues of trees, fountains,
water courses, and pools that reflect the Taj Mahal.
Each of the four quarters of the garden is divided into 16 flowerbeds by
raised pathways. A raised marble water tank at the centre of the garden,
halfway between the tomb and the gateway, reflects the Taj Mahal.
The charbagh garden was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor
Babur, a design inspired by Persian gardens. The charbagh is meant to
reflect the gardens of Paradise (from the Persian paridaeza -- a walled
garden). In mystic Islamic texts of the Mughal period, paradise as
described as ideal garden, filled with abundance. Water plays a key role
in these descriptions: In Paradise, these text say, four rivers source at
a central spring or mountain, and separate the garden into north, west,
south and east.
Walkways beside reflecting pool
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular in form, with a central tomb or
pavilion in the centre of the garden. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in
siting the main element, the tomb, at the end rather than at the centre of
the garden. But the existence of the newly discovered Mahtab Bagh or
"Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna provides a different
interpretation -- that the Yamuna itself was incorporated into the
garden's design, and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of
The layout of the garden, and its architectural features such as its
fountains, brick and marble walkways, geometric brick-lined flowerbeds,
and so on, are similar to Shalimar's, and suggest that the garden may have
been designed by the same engineer, Ali Mardan.
Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation,
including roses, daffodils, and fruit trees in abundance. As the Mughal
Empire declined, the tending of the garden declined as well. When the
British took over management of the Taj Mahal, they changed the
landscaping to resemble more the formal lawns of London.
While visiting, one may be lucky enough to see the gardners trimming the
lawns with an ox-drawn reel-mower.
Gateway to the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal complex is bounded by a crenellated red sandstone wall on
three sides. The river-facing side is unwalled. Outside the wall are
several additional mausoleums, including those of many of Shah Jahan's
other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz's favourite servant. These
structures, composed primarily of red sandstone, are typical of smaller
Mughal tombs of the era.
On the inner (garden) side, the wall is fronted by columned arcades, a
feature typical of Hindu temples later incorporated into Mughal mosques.
The wall is interspersed with domed kiosks (chattris), and small buildings
which may have been viewing areas or watch towers (such as the so-called
Music House, now used as a museum).
The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily of
red sandstone. The style is reminiscent of that of Mughal architecture of
earlier emperors. Its archways mirror the shape of the tomb's archways,
and its pishtaq arches incorporate the calligraphy that decorates the
tomb. It utilises bas-relief and pietra dura (inlaid) decorations with
floral motifs. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric
designs, like those found in the other sandstone buildings of the complex.
Interior of jawab
At the far end of the complex, two grand red sandstone buildings open to
the sides of the tomb. Their backs parallel the western and eastern walls.
Taj Mahal mosque or masjid
The two buildings are precise mirror images of each other. The western
building is a mosque; its opposite is the jawab or "answer", whose primary
purpose was architectural balance (and which may have been used as a
guesthouse during Mughal times). The distinctions are that the jawab lacks
a mihrab, a niche in a mosque's wall facing Mecca, and the floors of the
jawab have a geometric design, while the mosque floor was laid out the
outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble.
The mosque's basic design is similar to others built by Shah Jahan,
particularly to his Jama Masjid in Delhi: a long hall surmounted by three
domes. Mughal mosques of this period divide the sanctuary hall into three
areas: a main sanctuary with slightly smaller sanctuaries to either side.
At the Taj Mahal, each sanctuary opens on to an enormous vaulting dome.
Simplified diagram of the Taj Mahal floor plan.
Main iwan and side pishtaqs
The focus of the Taj Mahal is the white marble tomb. Like most Mughal
tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin: a symmetrical building
with an iwan, an arch-shaped doorway, topped by a large dome.
The tomb stands on a square plinth. The base structure is a large,
multi-chambered structure. The main chamber houses the cenotaphs of Shah
Jahan and Mumtaz (the actual graves are a level below).
The base is essentially a cube with chamfered edges, roughly 55 metres on
each side (see floor plan, right). On the long sides, a massive pishtaq,
or vaulted archway, frames the iwan, with a similar arch-shaped balcony
above. These main arches extend above the roof of the building by use of
an integrated facade.
To either side of the main arch, additional pishtaqs are stacked above and
below. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered
The design is completely uniform and consistent on all sides of the
building. Four minarets, one at each corner of the plinth, facing the
chamfered corners, frame the tomb.
Base, dome, and minaret
The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is its most spectacular feature.
Its height is about the same size as the base building, about 35 m. Its
height is accentuated because it sits on a cylindrical "drum" about 7 m
Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome (also called
an amrud or apple dome). The top of the dome is decorated with a lotus
design, which serves to accentuate its height. The dome is topped by a
gilded finial, which mixes traditional Islamic and Hindu decorative
The dome shape is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks)
placed at its corners. The chattri domes replicate the onion shape of main
dome. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb, and provide
light to the interior. The chattris also are topped by gilded finials.
Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from the edges of the base
walls, and provide visual emphasis of the dome height.
The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas.
The main dome is crowned by a gilded spire or finial. The finial provides
a clear example of the integration of traditional Islamic and Hindu
decorative elements. The finial is topped by a crescent moon, a typical
Islamic motif, whose horns point heavenward. Because of its placement on
the main spire, the horns of the moon and the finial point combine to
create a trident shape -- reminiscent of the traditional Hindu symbols of
Similarly, the spire is made up of a number of bulbous forms. The central
form bears a striking resemblance to a Hindu sacred water vessel (kalash
At the corners of the plinth stand minarets: four large towers each more
than 40 m tall. The minarets again display the Taj Mahal's basic penchant
for symmetrical, repeated design.
The towers are designed as working minarets, a traditional element of
mosques, a place for a muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer.
Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working
balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony
surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb.
The minaret chattris share the same finishing touches: a lotus design
topped by a gilded finial. Each of the minarets was constructed slightly
out of plumb to the outside of the plinth, so that in the event of
collapse (a typical occurrence with many such tall constructions of the
period) the material would tend to fall away from the tomb.
Calligraphy on large pishtaq
Nearly every surface of the entire complex has been decorated. The
exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest to be found in
Mughal architecture of any period.
Once again, decoration motifs are repeated throughout the complex. As the
surface area changes -- a large pishtaq has more area than a smaller --
the decorations are refined proportionally.
The decorative elements come in basically three categories:
Abstract geometric elements
Islamic strictures forbade the use of anthropomorphic forms.
The decorative elements were created in three ways:
Paint or stucco applied to the wall surface
Throughout the complex passages from the Qur'an are used as decorative
elements. The calligraphy is a florid and practically illegible thuluth
script, created by the Mughal court's Persian calligrapher, Amanat Khan,
who was resident at the Mughal court. He has signed several of the panels.
The calligraphy is made by jasper inlaid in white marble panels. Some of
the work is extremely detailed and delicate (especially that found on the
marble cenotaphs in the tomb). Higher panels are written slightly larger
to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below.
Recent scholarship suggests that Amanat Khan chose the passages as well.
The texts refer to themes of judgment: of doom for nonbelievers, and the
promise of Paradise for the faithful. The passages include: Surah 91 (The
Sun), Surah 112 (The Purity of Faith), Surah 89 (Daybreak), Surah 93
(Morning Light), Surah 95 (The Fig), Surah 94 (The Solace), Surah 36 (Ya
Sin), Surah 81 (The Folding Up), Surah 82 (The Cleaving Asunder), Surah 84
(The Rending Asunder), Surah 98 (The Evidence), Surah 67 (Dominion), Surah
48 (Victory), Surah 77 (Those Sent Forth) and Surah 39 (The Crowds).
Abstract geometric decoration
Abstract forms are used especially in the plinth, minarets, gateway,
mosque, and jawab, and to a lesser extent on the surfaces of the tomb. The
domes and vaults of the sandstone buildings are worked with tracery of
incised painting to create elaborate geometric forms. (The incised
painting technique is to scratch a channel in the stone, and to then lay a
thick paint or stucco plaster across the surface. The paint is then
scraped off the surface of the stone, leaving paint in the incision.)
On most joining areas, herringbone inlays define the space between
adjoining elements. White inlays are used in the sandstone buildings, dark
or black inlays on the white marble of the tomb and minarets. Mortared
areas of the marble buildings have been stained or painted dark, creating
geometric patterns of considerable complexity.
Floors and walkways throughout use contrasting tiles or blocks in
The lower walls of the tomb are white marble dados that have been sculpted
with realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has
been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of these carvings.
The dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura
inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The
inlay stones are yellow marble, jasper and jade, levelled and polished to
the surface of the walls.
The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal steps far beyond traditional
decorative elements. One may say without exaggeration that this chamber is
a work of jewellery.
Screen surrounding cenotaphs
Here the inlay work is not pietra dura, but lapidary. The inlay material
is not marble or jade but precious and semiprecious gemstones. Every
decorative element of the tomb's exterior has been redefined with
The inner chamber
The inner chamber of the Taj Mahal contains the cenotaphs of Mumtaz and
Shah Jahan. It is a masterpiece of artistic craftsmanship, virtually
without precedent or equal.
The inner chamber is an octagon. While the design allows for entry from
each face, only the south (garden facing) door is used.
The interior walls are about 25 m high, topped by a "false" interior dome
decorated with a sun motif.
Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level. As is typical with
the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about
midway up the wall. The four central upper arches form balconies or
viewing areas; each balcony's exterior window has an intricate screen or
jali cut from marble.
In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through
roof openings covered by the chattris at the corners of the exterior dome.
Each of the chamber walls has been highly decorated with dado bas relief,
intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels, reflecting in
miniature detail the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the
The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made
from eight marble panels. Each panel has been carved through with
intricate piercework. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid with
semiprecious stones in extremely delicate detail, forming twining vines,
fruits and flowers.
Cenotaphs, interior of the Taj Mahal
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, so the bodies of
Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are laid in a relatively plain chamber beneath the
inner chamber of the Taj Mahal. They are buried on a north-south axis,
with faces turned right (west) toward Mecca.
The Taj Mahal has been raised over their cenotaphs (from Greek keno taphas,
empty tomb). The cenotaphs mirror precisely the placement of the two
graves, and are exact duplicates of the grave stones in the basement
Mumtaz's cenotaph is placed at the precise centre of the inner chamber. On
a rectangular marble base about 1.5 by 2.5 m is a smaller marble casket.
Both base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious
gems. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz.
On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest
a writing tablet.
Shah Jahan's cenotaph is beside Mumtaz's to the western side. It is the
only asymmetric element in the entire complex. His cenotaph is bigger than
his wife's, but reflects the same elements: A larger casket on slightly
taller base, again decorated with astonishing precision with lapidary and
calligraphy which identifies Shah Jahan. On the lid of this casket is a
sculpture of a small pen box. (The pen box and writing tablet were
traditional Mughal funerary icons decorating men's and women's caskets
Details of lapidary
(craftsmanship is best seen in enlarged version -- click image to see
Arch of jali, entry to cenotaphs
Construction began with setting foundations for the tomb. An area of
roughly three acres was excavated and filled with dirt to reduce seepage
from the river. The entire site was leveled to a fixed height about 50 m
above the riverbank. The Taj Mahal is 180 feet tall. The dome itself
measures 60 feet in diameter and 80 feet high.
View from the Agra Fort.
In the tomb area, wells were then dug down to the point that water was
encountered. These wells were later filled with stone and rubble, forming
the basis for the footings of the tomb. An additional well was built to
same depth nearby to provide a visual method to track water level changes
Instead of lashed bamboo, the typical scaffolding method, workmen
constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the inner and outer
surfaces of the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated
it would take years to dismantle. According to legend, Shah Jahan decreed
that anyone could keep bricks taken from the scaffold, and it was
dismantled by peasants overnight.
A fifteen-kilometre tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and
materials from Agra to the construction site. According to contemporary
accounts teams of twenty or thirty oxen strained to pull the blocks on
specially constructed wagons.
To raise the blocks into position required an elaborate post-and-beam
pulley system. Teams of mules and oxen provided the lifting power.
The order of construction was
The four minarets
The mosque and jawab
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The remaining parts
of the complex took an additional 10 years. (Since the complex was built
in stages, contemporary historical accounts list different "completion
dates"; discrepancies between so-called completion dates are probably the
result of differing opinions about the definition of "completion". For
example, the mausoleum itself was essentially complete by 1643, but work
continued on the rest of the complex.)
Water for the Taj Mahal complex was provided through a complex
infrastructure. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs -- an
animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism. The water flowed into a large
storage tank, where, by thirteen additional purs, it was raised to large
distribution tank above the Taj Mahal ground level.
From this distribution tank, water passed into three subsidiary tanks,
from which it was piped to the complex. A 0.25 m earthenware pipe lies
about 1.5 m below the surface, in line with the main walkway; this filled
the main pools of the complex. Additional copper pipes supplied the
fountains in the north-south canal. Subsidiary channels were dug to
irrigate the entire garden.
The fountain pipes were not connected directly to the feed pipes. Instead,
a copper pot was provided under each fountain pipe: water filled the pots
allowing equal pressure in each fountain.
The purs no longer remain, but the other parts of the infrastructure have
The Taj Mahal was not designed by a single person. The project demanded
talent from many quarters.
The names of many of the builders who participated in the construction of
the Taj Mahal in different capacities have come down to us through various
Ustad Isa and Isa Muhammad Effendi trained by the great Ottoman architect
Koca Mimar Sinan Agha had a key role in the architectural design of the
'Puru' from Benarus, Persia (Iran), has been mentioned as the supervising
architect in Persian language texts (e.g. see ISBN 964-7483-39-2).
The main dome was designed by Ismail Khan from the Ottoman Empire,
considered to be the premier designer of hemispheres and builder of domes
of that age.
Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore, cast the solid gold finial that crowned
the Turkish master's dome.
Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi, was chosen as the chief sculptor and
Amanat Khan from Persian Shiraz, Iran was the chief calligrapher (this
fact is attested on the Taj Mahal gateway itself, where his name has been
inscribed at the end of the inscription).
Muhammad Hanif was the supervisor of masons.
Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz, Iran handled finances and
the management of daily production.
The creative team included sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from
Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from
Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only
marble flowers — thirty seven men in all formed the creative nucleus. To
this core was added a labour force of twenty thousand workers recruited
from across northern India.
European commentators, particularly during the early period of the British
Raj, suggested that some or all of the Taj Mahal was the work of European
artisans. Most of these suggestions were purely speculative, but one dates
back to 1640, when a Spanish Friar who visited Agra wrote that Geronimo
Veroneo, an Italian adventurer in Shah Jahan's court, was primarily
responsible for the design. There is no reliable scholarly evidence to
back up this assertion, nor is Veroneo's name mentioned in any surviving
documents relating to the construction. E.B. Havell, the principal British
scholar of Indian art in the later Raj, dismissed this theory as
unsupported by any evidence, and as inconsistent with the known methods
employed by the designers.
The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and
Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials
during the construction. The translucent white marble was brought from
Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab and the jade and crystal from China. The
turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the
sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, 28
types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white
The total cost of the Taj Mahal's construction was about 50 million
rupees. At that time, 1 gram of gold was sold for about 1.4 rupees. Based
on the October 2005 gold price that would translate to more than 500
million US$. (Comparisons based on the value of gold in two different
economic eras are often misleading, however).
Soon after its completion, Shah Jahan was deposed and put under house
arrest at nearby Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb. Legend has it that he
spent the remainder of his days gazing through the window at the Taj Mahal.
Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal next to his
wife, the only disruption of the otherwise perfect symmetry in the
architecture. By the late 19th century parts of the Taj Mahal had fallen
badly into disrepair. During the time of the First war of Indian
Independence the Taj Mahal faced defacement by British soldiers, sepoys,
and government officials who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli
from its walls.
Protective wartime scaffolding
At the end of the 19th century British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a
massive restoration project, completed in 1908. He also commissioned the
large lamp in the interior chamber (modelled on one hanging in a Cairo
mosque when local craftsmen failed to provide adequate designs). It was
during this time the garden was remodelled with the more English looking
lawns visible today. By the 20th century the Taj Mahal was being better
taken care of. In 1942 the government erected a behemoth scaffolding over
it in anticipation of an air attack by the German Luftwaffe and later by
the Japanese Air Force (see photo). During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965
and 1971 scaffoldings were erected by the government to mislead would-be
Its most recent threats came from environmental pollution on the banks of
the Yamuna River including acid rain occurring due to the Mathura oil
refinery (something opposed by Supreme Court of India directives).
As of 1983 the Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today it is a major tourist destination.
Recently the Taj Mahal was claimed to be Sunni Wakf property, on the
grounds that it is the grave of a woman whose husband Emperor Shah Jahan
was a Sunni. The Indian government have dismissed claims by the Muslim
trust to administer the property, saying their claims are baseless and the
Taj Mahal is Indian national property.
The Taj Mahal is often described as one of the seven wonders of the modern
world. Millions of tourists have visited the site - more than three
million in 2004, according to the BBC - making it one of the most popular
international attractions in India.
The marble is said to fluorecse under the full moon, night viewing was
banned in 1984 due to fears of attacks on the monument. More recently, the
India's Supreme Court ruled that the grounds should be reopened - though
only on five nights each month around the time of the full moon and with
visitor numbers restricted to about 400 each night to prevent
overcrowding. While air pollution had discolored the white marble domes
over the past decade, Agra has taken steps to limit the air pollution
close to the monument; including restricting diesel and gasoline vehicles,
and these steps have helped significantly.
Since there is a mosque on the premises, the grounds are only open to
Islamic vistors on Fridays.
Legends and theories
Origins of the name
The name Taj comes from Persian, the language of the Mughal court, meaning
crown, and Mahal means palace. Most sources suggest that
Taj Mahal is a shorter variant of Mumtaz Mahal, the
nickname of Arjumand Banu Begum, meaning First Lady of the Palace. As
early as 1663, the French traveller François Bernier referred to the place
as Tage Mehale.
The "Black Taj"
A longstanding popular tradition holds that an identical mausoleum complex
was originally supposed to be built on the other side of the river, in
black marble instead of white. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was
overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before the black version could be built.
Ruins of dark marble found across the river are, the story suggests, the
unfinished base of this "Black Taj".
Recent scholarship disputes this theory, and throws some interesting light
on the design of the Taj Mahal. All other major Mughal tombs were sited in
gardens that form a cross, with the tomb at the intersection of the
vertical and horizontal pieces. The Taj Mahal gardens, by contrast, form a
great 'T', with the tomb at the centre of the crosspiece. But the outline
of the ruins on the other river bank would extend the design of the Taj
Mahal gardens to form a cross of proportions typical of other Mughal
tombs. Further, the marble in the ruins opposite the Taj Mahal, while dark
from staining, were originally white. In addition, an octagonal pool in
these ruins would have reflected the Taj Mahal. Scholars have called these
ruins the Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden".
Scholars now believe that the reflection of the Taj Mahal in this pool is
in fact what was meant when people referred to the 'black taj'.
Shah Jahan's asymmetric tomb
Note that Shah Jehan's cenotaph is offset from center, as it was added
after his death.
Aurangzeb had Shah Jahan's tomb and cenotaph placed in the Taj Mahal
rather than building him a separate mausoleum such as other emperors had.
He thus destroyed the symmetry of the Taj Mahal design. A variation on the
Black Taj legend suggests that Aurangzeb's decision was made from malice
or parsimony. In Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb however, which was a major
influence on the Taj Mahal design, Aurangzeb's grandparents were interred
in a similar asymmetric fashion. Aurangazeb was a pious man, and Islam
discourages all kinds of ostentation - least of all in death. That is why
they do not use box-coffins but rather bury their dead in a white shroud.
Islamic books describe burying in coffins or boxes as 'wasting wealth that
can be used in good deeds like feeding the hungry or needy' Shah Jahan's
building itself was thus a waste of money according to Aurangazeb's
worldview. Thus he just buried his father next to his mother's tomb
without much ado. Note: the actual (identical) tombs are in the crypt,
directly below the decorative cenotaphs seen here.
Mutilation of the craftsmen
A seemingly endless number of stories describe, often in horrific detail,
deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan inflicted on
various craftsmen associated with the tomb. Perhaps the most common story
prevailing is that Shah Jahan had the finest architects and sculptors at
his disposal. After the completion of the work, Shah Jahan had their hands
cut off so that they would never build a monument in greater splendour,
and their eyes pulled out so that they would never witness anything more
beautiful. No respected authorities find these legendary horrors credible.
Legends abound concerning items originally attached to the Taj Mahal which
were stolen. Some original items have been removed over time, but many are
mere legends only. These legends include:
Gold leaf, supposed to have covered all or part of the dome.
A golden railing supposed to have circled the cenotaphs (suggested perhaps
by a temporary enamel railing that was replaced after completion of the
Diamonds supposedly inlaid in the cenotaphs
A blanket woven of pearls supposedly covering Mumtaz's cenotaph
Numerous items from the Taj Mahal have gone missing however; these include
An entrance door of carved jasper
Gold leaf that adorned the cast iron joints of the jali screen around the
Numerous rich carpets that covered the interior of the tomb
Enamelled lamps from the interior of the tomb
British plan to demolish the Taj Mahal
There is an often-repeated story that Lord William Bentinck, governor of
India in the 1830s, planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the
marble. In some versions of the tale, the demolition crew were ready to
begin their work but were stopped only because Bentinck was unable to make
the scheme financially viable. There is no contemporary evidence for this
story, which may have emerged in the late nineteenth century when Bentinck
was being criticised for his penny-pinching Utilitarianism, and when Lord
Curzon was emphasising earlier neglect of the monument, and presenting
himself as a saviour of Indian antiquities. Nevertheless, the story may
have been based on a real proposal.
Was the Taj Mahal originally a temple or a palace?
P.N. Oak, President of The Institute for Rewriting Indian History, has
repeatedly asserted that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple of the god
Shiva, usurped and remodeled by Shah Jahan. The temple's name, he says,
was originally "Tejo Mahalaya"; this was corrupted over time to "Taj
Oak also claims that the tombs of Humayun, Akbar and Itmiad-u-Dallah — as
well as the Vatican in Rome, the Kaaba in Mecca, Stonehenge and "all
historic buildings" in India — were also Hindu temples or palaces.
The Taj is only a typical illustration of how all historic buildings and
townships from Kashmir to Cape Comorin though of Hindu origin have been
ascribed to this or that Muslim ruler or courtier.
He further says that if Taj Mahal was not a Shiva temple, that it might
then have been the palace of a Rajput king. In any case (he says), the Taj
Mahal was Hindu in origin, stolen by Shah Jahan and adapted as a tomb —
although Oak also claims that Mumtaz is not buried there.
Oak further states that the numerous eyewitness accounts of Taj Mahal
construction, and Shah Jahan's construction orders and voluminous
financial records, are elaborate frauds meant to hide its Hindu origin.
His many provocative assertions have gained a lot of popular interest and
made Oak a well-known media figure.
He has sued to break open the cenotaphs, and to tear down brick walls in
the lower plinth: In these "fake tombs" and "sealed apartments", Oak says
Shivalingams or other temple items were hidden by Shah Jahan.
According to Oak, the Indian government's refusal to allow him unfettered
access amounts to a conspiracy against Hinduism.
Oak's assertions are not accepted by legitimate scholars. But these
stories are widely believed and publicized by some contemporary Hindutva
(Hindu nationalist) activists.
In 2000 India's Supreme Court dismissed Oak's petition to declare that a
Hindu king built the Taj Mahal and reprimanded him for bringing the
action. In 2005 a similar petition was dismissed by the Allahabad High
Court. This case was brought by Amar Nath Mishra, a social worker and
preacher who claims that the Taj Mahal was built by the Hindu King Parmar
Dev in 1196.
More information about alternate theories of origin
The Question of the Taj Mahal by Bhat, P.S.; Athawale, A.L. (1985). Itihas
Taj Mahal: The True Story by P.N. Oak ISBN 0-9611614-4-2
Was the Taj Mahal a Vedic Temple? The Photographic Evidence! Stephen
"An Architect Looks at the Taj Mahal Legend" by Marvin Mills.
The Letter of Aurangzeb ordering repairs to the Taj Mahal in the year just
before it is said to have been completed.
The Badshahnama is the history written by the Emperor's own chronicler.
Knapp argues that this proves that Shah Jahan had acquired the Taj Mahal
from the previous owner, Jai Singh, grandson of Raja Mansingh, after
selecting this site for the burial of Queen Mumtaz.