Posts Tagged ‘Taj Mahal Alternative History

31
Jul
09

The Question of the Taj Mahal

The Question of the Taj Mahal

By P. S. Bhat and A. L. Athawale

(from the Itihas Patrika, Vol. 5, pp 98-111, 1985)

 

ABSTRACT

This paper deals with the Taj Mahal, the magnificent marble edifice on the banks of the river Jamuna, in the southern part of Agra city. It is generally believed by historians and laymen alike that the building was erected as a mausoleum by the 5th generation Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, and that the period of its construction was 1631-53 AD.

The basis of these claims has been questioned by Shri P. N. Oak in his book “The Taj Mahal is a Temple Palace.” The substance of Shri Oak’s thesis is that the edifice was originally built as a temple in the 12th century AD, and was subsequently used as a palace by the alien aggressors. The building again fell into the hands of the Rajput kings during the period of Humayun, and was put to use as a palace by Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. And that it was finally commandeered by Shah Jahan from Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur, and was converted into a mausoleum.

The controversy assumes importance as it questions some of the basic premises of mediaeval Indian archeology. This paper attempts to place in perspective some of the pertinent questions that arise on the subject.

I HISTORY

1. INTRODUCTION

The legend of the Taj Mahal tells us that it was built by Shah Jahan (1628-1658 AD), the fifth generation Mogul Emperor, as a mausoleum to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. And that 20,000 men worked incessantly for 22 years to complete the magnificent marble edifice.

Mumtaz died in 1631 AD, at Barhanpur where she was buried and a mausoleum was erected. Six months later her body was shifted to Agra to be buried in what is known as the Temporary Grave–which is demarcated and can be seen even today–a few meters to the southwest of the Taj Mahal. And subsequently her body was laid to rest inside the Taj Mahal.

The main supporting pieces of the above thesis are cited from the following documents, which will be discussed in detail in the course of this paper.

i) The Badshahnama1, an important court journal of Shah Jahan, written by Mulla Abdul Hamid Lahori.

ii) The firmans (court orders) of Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur2, pertaining to the acquisition of marble from the Makrana quarries in Rajasthan.

iii) Travelogue of Peter Mundy3, an employee of the East India Company, who visited Agra between 1631-1633 AD.

iiii) Travelogue of J. B. Tavernier4, a French merchant who visited India five times between 1638-1668 AD.

The Taj Mahal is a seven storeyed edifice with its plinth at the level of the riverbed. The courtyard in front of the building corresponds to the third storey of the edifice. The entire skeleton of the edifice is made of red stone, the top four floors being plastered with marble. It measures a height of 243 ½ ft (whereas the Qutb Minar of Delhi is only 238 ft). The marble platform (4th storey) on which the central edifice is standing has a floor area of 328 ft x 328 ft, and has four marble minarets at its corners. The marble superstructure covers an area of 187 ft x 187 ft with 33 ft chambers cut off at each corner. It has a huge central dome with an inner diameter of 58 ft and a wall thickness of 14 ft — surrounded by four smaller copulas with a diameter of 26’8″.

The central edifice is flanked with two identical red-stone buildings–the one on the western side is a mosque and the other a community hall–each having three domes. Facing the main building at the other end of the courtyard is the Main Gateway, which is a four-storeyed edifice covering a floor area of 140 ft x 110 ft. Midway between the Gateway and the marble edifice, there are two identical double-storeyed buildings, placed on either side of the courtyard known as the “Nagar Khanas” (Drum Houses). The courtyard covers a net area of 1460 ft x 100 ft.

Outside the Main Gateway is the Great courtyard, which covers an additional area of 430 ft x 1000 ft, having rows of redstone constructions, at present used as shops. Thus, the Taj Complex covers a net area of 1890 ft x 1000 ft, which is roughly equal to half the area of the Red Fort of Agra. The whole complex is perfectly symmetrical about the North-South axis, the two halves forming mirror images of each other to minutest details.

It must have been a challenging project both architecturally and financially, so much so that it made both Shah Jahan and his wife immortal. But it is surprising that in none of the hitherto known court papers of Shah Jahan–there are several of them–there is any record of the date of its commencement or of its completion, or the total period of its construction or the details of expenditure. (There is a brief remark in the Badshahnama that the expenditure incurred upon the building was Rs. 40 lakhs. And the present estimate of 20,000 workers and 22 years are based upon the writings of Tavernier, which shall be examined later.) Besides, several details of traditional Hindu symbolism can be located at various places in the Taj Complex. Therefore, it is a pertinent question whether Shah Jahan himself built the edifice, or he converted an existing building into a mausoleum.

2. Court Papers

Badshahnama, one of the most important court journals of Shah Jahan, deals with the burial of Mumtaz in two pages of its first volume (pp.403-404). A line by line translation of these pages was provided by Sri P. N. Oak5 in his book published in 1966. The following passages are quoted from that source.

(On) “Friday–15th Jamadi-ul Awwal, the sacred dead body of the traveller to the kingdom of Holiness, hazrat Mumtaz-ul Zamani–who was buried temporarily…. was brought to the capital Akbarabad (Agra)…

The site covered with magnificent lush garden, to the south of that great city and amidst which (garden) the building known as the palace of Raja Mansingh, at present owned by Raja Jaisingh (Pesh az ein Manzil-e Rajan Mansingh bood Wadaree Waqt ba Raja Jaisingh), grandson (of Mansingh) was selected for the burial of the queen whose abode is in heaven.

“Although Raja Jaisingh valued it greatly as his ancestral heritage and property, yet would have been agreeable to part with it gratis for the Emperor Shahjahan. (Still) out of sheer scrupulousness so essential in the matters of bereavement and religious sanctity, in exchange of that grand place, he was granted a piece of government land (Dar’ awaz aan aali Manzil-e az khalisa-e sharifah badoo marahmat farmoodand) after the arrival of the dead body in that great city on 15th Jamadul Soniya.

“Next year that illustrious body of the heavenly queen was laid to rest. The officials of the capital, according to the royal orders of the day, under the sky-high lofty mausoleum hid the pious lady from the eyes of the world, and the edifice so majestic and with a dome, and so lofty in its stature, is a memorial to the courage of sky-dimensions of the king–and a strength so mighty in resolution so firm–the foundation was laid and geomatricians of farsight and architects of talent incurred an expenditure of Rs. 40 lakhs (chihal lakh roopiah) on this building.”

Normally, the above quoted passages would need no further commentary. It is explicitly stated that the “palace of Raja Mansingh was selected for the burial of the queen”. That it is no ordinary building is obvious as Raja Jaisingh “valued it greatly as his ancestral heritage and property”. And piece of government land was given in exchange of that great palace (aali manzil). The transaction was clinched only after the arrival of the dead body in Agra (which explains the presence of the Temporary Grave). The body was finally buried in the “sky-high lofty mausoleum” the following year (probably soon after the palace was suitably modified). And the subsequent decorations and calligraphical work upon the building cost Rs. 40 lakhs.

What then is the basis of the claim that Shah Jahan built the edifice? In the last paragraph quoted above, there occurs a phrase, “…foundation was laid…” Some historians interpret it to mean that Shah Jahan laid the foundation of a new edifice–the Taj Mahal, and the support to this view is drawn from the Persian line quoted in the third paragraph dealing with the transaction. It is interpreted as a grand palace being granted to Raja Jai Singh in exchange of the land for building the mausoleum.

From the clear and explicit reference to Raja Man Singh’s palace, and the absence of any details about the duration and efforts involved in building the gigantic edifice, the operative phrase, “foundation was laid” can also be viewed as a figurative reference to the initiation of alterations in the edifice. However, the controversy makes it necessary to examine the issue more carefully.

The confusion can be resolved only by examining all other evidences including the architecture of the edifice. The details of architecture–the bulbous dome and the minarets being Mogul characteristics, etc.–are examined in the second part of this paper; but it is relevant to examine one particular aspect of the architecture at this stage.

As mentioned earlier, the Taj Mahal is a multi-storeyed edifice with its plinth at the level of the riverbed. The entire skeleton of the edifice is of brick and red-stone, with the superstructure standing upon the red-stone terrace being plastered with marble. In Mogul tombs it is customary to have two graves: the real grave containing the dead body in the basement of the building, and a well decorated cenotaph meant for the public eye on the upper floor. In the Taj Mahal the real grave is on the third storey of the edifice and the decorated cenotaph is on the fourth.

The basement floor is now completely sealed; but the floor immediately below the real grave has long corridor running East-West on the northern part of the edifice, which can be entered at either end by means of staircases from the red-stone terrace. The corridor is 5’8″ wide and about 322 ft long and opens into 22 rooms (between the corridor and the river side wall) of sizes ranging from 11 ft x 20 ft, to 22 ft x 20 ft. These rooms had windows opening to the riverside, but all of them are permanently sealed with brick and mortar from inside and with red-stone slabs having floral decorations from outside. On the other side of the corridor there are at least three entrances opening to the South, which are crudely sealed with brick and mortar. The staircases to the corridor from the floor above were detected in 1900 AD.

If the edifice was originally constructed for the purpose of a tomb, of what utility were these underground chambers conceived? And then why were they sealed subsequently? Or, was it that the edifice was originally constructed for an altogether different purpose?

Badshahnama (vol I, p. 384) records the date of Mumtaz’s death at Barhanpur as the 17th Zi-it Quada 1040 AH (20th June, 1631). The passages quoted above mentions the date of arrival of the dead body at Agra as the 15th Jamad-ul Sanya 1041 AH (8th Jan., 1632). But the date of final burial of Mumtaz inside the Taj Mahal is not precisely recorded, except that it was done the following year.

That it was done certainly before the 25th February, 1633 becomes obvious from the writings of Peter Mundy (see Section 5), who finally left Agra on the date but has recorded that he had seen a rail of gold around the tomb of Mumtaz.

A completed mausoleum at Barhanpur indicates that the idea of a sepulcher in Agra must have occurred to Shah Jahan at least a few months after the death of Mumtaz. And the burial inside the Taj was complete with costly decorations and the tourists were allowed to visit by February, 1633. Even if one were to accept that the burial was done when the building was still under construction, it is unlikely that the cenotaph on the 4th storey would be decorated with gold, etc., unless the three lower floors of the edifice were complete.

How does it compare with the supposed period of construction of the Taj Mahal, 1631-53 AD? Is it plausible that beginning with the selection of the architects and building plan, the lower three floors of the edifice would be raised upon the riverbed within the span of a year?

Therefore, the translations quoted above regarding the acquisition of Raja Man Singh’s palace seem to be the correct interpretation of the Badshahnama. However, there is another aspect of the question which needs to be examined. Could it be that the marble superstructure upon the red-stone terrace was erected by Shah Jahan himself?

3. Aurangzeb’s Letter

In the year 1652 AD, Aurangzeb assumed charge as the Governor of Deccan. On his way, he visited Agra and inspected the Taj Mahal. In his letter written from Dholpur6, he wrote about the badly needed repairs to the Taj Mahal. Excerpts from the translation of the letter provided by M. S. Vats are quoted below:

“The dome of the holy tomb leaked in two places towards the north during the rainy season and so also the fair semi-domed arches, many of the galleries on the second storey, the four smaller domes, the four northern compartments and seven arched underground chambers which have developed cracks. During the rains last year the terrace over the main dome also leaked in two or three places. It has been repaired, but it remains to be seen during the ensuing rainy season how far the operations prove successful. The domes of the Mosque and the Jama’at Khana leaked during the rains…

“The master builders are of the opinion that if the roof of the second storey is reopened and dismantled and treated afresh with concrete, over which half a yard of mortar grout is laid the semi-domed arches, the galleries and the smaller domes will probably become watertight, but they are unable to suggest any measures of repairs to the main dome…”

The letter is eloquent enough. In 1652 AD, the dome of the holy tomb, the fair semi-domed arches, the four smaller domes and the domes of the Mosque and the Jama’at Khana all had developed serious defects. How does it compare with the supposed period of its construction 1631-53 AD?

And do the master builders of Shah Jahan who were “unable to suggest any measures of repairs to the main dome” appear to be the original architects of the edifice? Does it mean that the statement of Badshahnama, “Next year that illustrious body… was laid to rest… under the sky-high lofty mausoleum… with a dome” is literally true?

 

4. The Firmans

There are records of three firmans by Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur pertaining to the acquisition of marble2. These firmans are cited as a conclusive proof of the claim that it was Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal.

i) dated 9 Rajab, 1041 Hijra (Jan 21, 1632)

“As a great number of carts are required for transportation of marble needed for constructing building (at the capital), a firman was previously sent to you (to procure them). It is again desired of you, that as many carts on hire be arranged as possible in the earliest time, as has already been written to you, and be dispatched to Makrana for expediting the transport of marble to the capital. Every assistance be given to Allahood who has been deputed to arrange the transportation of marble to Akbarabad. Account (of expenditure on carts) along with the previous account of amount allocated for the purchase of marble be submitted (to the mutsaddi in charge of payment).

ii) dated 4 Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1043 Al Hijra (Sept. 9, 1632)

“Mulkshah has been deputed to Amber (Amer) to bring marble from the new mines (of Makrana). It is commended that carts on hire be arranged for transportation of marble and Mulkshah be assisted to purchase as much marble as he may desire to have. The purchase price of marble and cartage shall be paid by him from the treasury. Every other assistance be given to him to procure and bring marble and sculptors to the capital expeditiously.”

iii) dated 7 Saffer, 1047 Al Hijra (June 21, 1637)

“We hear that your men detain the stone-cutters of the region at Amber and Rajnagar. This creates shortage of stone-cutters (miners) at Makrana and the work (of procuring marble) suffers. Hence it is desired of you that no stone-cutter be detained at Amber and Rajnagar and all of them who are available be sent to the mutsaddis of Makrana.”

The firmans conclusively prove that Shah Jahan did acquire marble from the Makrana quarries. But does it also prove that he was the original builder of the Taj Mahal?

The marble walls of the cenotaph chamber, the border of the door arches and the top border of the entire edifice are replete with Koranic inscriptions which can be attributed only to Shah Jahan, even if he was not the builder of the edifice. It is said that fourteen chapters of Holy Koran are inscribed on the walls of the Taj Mahal. In addition, there is commendable amount of inlay-work and flower carving in the Taj Mahal. All these would require considerable amount of fresh marble.

The body of Mumtaz arrived at Agra and was buried in a temporary grave on the 8th of January, 1632. In the firman written barely a fortnight later, Shah Jahan refers to a previous letter and orders Jai Singh to arrange for the transportation of marble “in the earliest time”. That is, the acquisition of marble had begun at about the same time when the body was shifted to Agra. As noted earlier, the lower two floors (and all the other buildings in the Taj Complex) are completely of brick and red stone. Even the skeleton of the marble superstructure is made of brick–for example, the Central dome has a wall thickness of 14 ft, of which only 6 inches on either side is of marble and the rest of 13 ft is of brick. Therefore, if the edifice were to be raised from the foundation onward–not to speak of the selection of architects and building plan, etc.–it is unlikely that the work involving marble would have begun so soon. (It is noteworthy that a completed mausoleum at Barhanpur indicates that the idea of a sepulcher in Agra must have occurred to Shah Jahan only a few months after the death of Mumtaz.) Therefore, it is only reasonable to attribute the acquisition of marble to the alterations in an already existing edifice–the palace of Raja Man Singh.

5. Peter Mundy

He was an employee of the East India Company, and visited Agra three times between 1631 and 1633. His last visit was between 22nd Dec, 1632 and 25th Feb, 1633. He has noted in his Travelogue (pp. 208-213):

“Places of note (in and about Agra) are castle, King Akbar’s tombe, Moholl’s tombe, garden and bazare…

“The king is now building a sepulchre for his late deceased queen Taje Maholl… There is already about her tombe a rail of gold… the building is begun and goes on with excessive labor and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence, gold and silver esteemed common metal and marble but ordinary stones…”

Mundy uses two phrases, “The king is now building a sepulchre…” and “The building is begun…” which can be understood as Shah Jahan was actually erecting an edifice.

But he also states that the Taj Mahal was already a centre of tourist attraction (in 1632-33 AD) comparable with Akbar’s tomb and the fort. The cenotaph on the fourth storey was complete with a gold railing around it, and the tourists were allowed to visit the grave. “The building is begun”, declares Peter Mundy, and the work in progress had much to do with “gold and silver… and marble”. Was it the erection of the edifice or was it calligraphy and decorations?

6. J. B. Tavernier

Great importance is attached to Tavernier’s (a French merchant) records about the Taj Mahal, as he was an impartial foreigner. His writings form the most important basis of the claim that Shah Jahan was the original builder of the Taj Mahal. He visited India five times between 1638-1668 AD. Excerpts from his Travelogue (Book I, pp. 110-111):

“I witnessed the commencement and accomplishment of the great work on which they expended 22 years during which 20,000 men worked incessantly…

“It is said that the scaffolding alone cost more than the entire work, because, for want of wood, they had all to be made of brick as well as the support of the arches.”

Tavernier made his first appearance in Agra in the winter of 1640-41 AD (Dr. Ball’s Introduction, p. xiv) nearly a decade after the death of Mumtaz and makes the claim that he was an eye-witness to the commencement of the Taj Mahal. In the light of the discussion so far, it is superfluous to comment upon this part of the claim. But was he a witness to the completion of the building?

The marble walls of the cenotaph chamber are full of Koranic inscriptions8, which ends with the name of the calligrapher and the dates “…written by the insignificant being Amanat Khan Shirazi in the year 1048 Hijri and the 12th year of His Majesty’s reign.” (i.e, 1639 AD)

That is, the calligraphical work was complete at least a year before Tavernier first visited Agra. Therefore, if at all he had seen any work going on in the building, it can only be the last stages of decorations, not to speak of the erection of the edifice.

He then makes the other important claim that 20,000 men worked incessantly for 22 years to complete the building. This statement seems to the be the basis of the claim that the building was constructed between 1631-53 AD, though, obviously, it does not tally with his claim about its commencement. Nor does the supposed date of completion (1653 AD) tally with Tavernier’s claim of seeing it completed. It is true that he visited India during 1651-55; but he did not visit Agra during that trip. His route, according to V. Ball, was Masulipttam-Madras-Gandekot-Golconda-Surat-Ahmedabad-Surat-Ahmedabad-Golconda-Surat. It is probable, as noted earlier, that he had seen the decorative work completed in the Taj during his first visit to Agra in 1640-41 AD. However, the validity of his claim can be more conclusively examined by comparing it with the expenditure incurred upon the building (Rs. 40 lakhs) as claimed in the Badshahnama.

If the above amount is assumed to have been spent purely upon the labour charges to the exclusion of material costs, then the average salary of a worker comes out to be three-quarters of a rupee per month. Obviously, the lowest paid worker would be getting only a small fraction of this amount. Compare it with Tavernier’s own account (Book I, p. 46) of contemporary labour charges “…you pay each attendant for everything only 4 rupees a month, but up to 5 rupees when the journey is long.”

Surprisingly, he then goes on to quote a rumour, that the brick scaffolding alone had cost more than the entire work! Is this claim reliable? Can the cost of brick scaffolding be more than that of the marble edifice? If at all it is true, then the “entire work” can only mean the alterations in the building and not the erection of it.

That is, the claims of Tavernier regarding the commencement of the edifice, the duration of the work and the labour involved are unreliable; but the rumour he quoted appears to be closer to truth.

7. Other Records

(i) Havell9 quotes a Persian manuscript having the name of several chief craftsmen working in the Taj Mahal as drawing monthly salaries ranging from Rs. 200/- to Rs. 1000/-. The name of the chief calligrapher (Amanat Khan Shirazi) listed in the manuscript is also inscribed inside the cenotaph chamber (Section 6). And, therefore, the manuscript seems to be authentic (Table 1).

It lists the names of a chief architect (Ustad Isa), a dome expert (Ismail Khan Rumi), two pinnacle experts, four calligraphers, four inlay workers, five flower carvers, six master masons, etc. The net salary of 20 of these craftsmen exceeds Rs. one lakh per year. It further weakens the claim of Tavernier, since it reduces the average salary of the rest of 20,000 workers to less than half the amount calculated above.

It is also noteworthy that the chief architect (Ustad Isa), the chief mason (Muhammad Hanief) and the chief calligrapher (Amanat Khan Shirazi)–each was drawing the highest salary of Rs. 1000/- per month. If the chief architect were the one who conceived and designed the Taj Mahal, it is unlikely that he would be treated at par with the chief mason and the calligrapher. Note also the fact that among the names listed, the architect and the dome expert are vastly outnumbered by the masons, calligraphers, flower-carvers and inlay workers.

(ii) Fray Sebastion Manrique10, a Portugese traveller who also visited Agra at about the same time (winter of 1640-41) as Tavernier did. Excerpts from his Travelogue:

“On this building as well as other works, 1000 men were usually engaged as overseers, officials and workmen; of these many were occupied in laying out ingenious gardens, others planting shady groves and ornamental avenues; while the rest were making roads and those receptacles for the crystal water, without which their labour could not be carried out.

“The architect of these works was a Venetian, by the name Geronimo Veroneo, who had come to this part in a Portugese ship and died in the city of Lahore just before I reached it… Fame, the swift conveyor of good and evil news, had spread the story that the Emperor summoned him and informed him that he desired to erect a great and sumptuous tomb to his dead wife, and he was required to draw up some design for this, for the Emperor’s inspection… The architect Veroneo carried out this order… He (Shah Jahan) told Veroneo to spend 3 crores of rupees, that is 300 lakhs, and to inform him it was expended.”

Manrique quotes a prevalent story about the architect Veroneo (who died before the arrival of Manrique) and the expenditure of Rs. 3 crores. But this seems to be a boneless legend, since it is enormously at variance with the Persian manuscript (which records the name of Ustad Isa as the chief architect) and the official account of expenditure (Rs. 40 lakhs) as recorded in the Badshahnama.

But Manrique seems to be an eye-witness for the work inside the Taj Complex, since he is very specific about the nature of the work in the gardens. He does not say anything about the work upon the edifice, which also tallies well with the inscription inside the cenotaph chamber that the calligraphical work was complete by 1639 AD.

He mentions the number of workers to be around 1,000. This is significantly different from the claim of Tavernier; but it tallies well with the expenditure upon the building, as stated in the Badshahnama. If it is assumed that a thousand workers worked in the Taj Complex for a decade since 1632 AD, making allowance for the salaries of the chief craftsmen mentioned in the Persian manuscript, the average salary of the rest of 1000 workers comes out to be Rs. 25/- per month. Compared with the contemporary labour charges, this claim appears to be more reasonable than that of Tavernier. (The actual number of workers would certainly be fluctuating and their average number over the decade could be substantially lower than what Manrique had seen in 1641.)

TABLE – 1

Taj Mahal – Details of Monthly Salaries

(From a Persian Manuscript placed in the National Library, Calcutta, as quoted by E. B. Havell, pp. 31-33)

1. Ustad Isa (Agra/Shiraz)   Chief Architect  Rs. 1,000
2. Ismail Khan Rumi (Rum)  Dome Expert Rs. 500
3. Muhammad Sharif (Samarkhan) Pinnacle Expert Rs. 500
4. Kasim Khan (Lahore)  Pinnacle Experts  Rs. 295
5. Muhammad Hanief (Khandahar)  Master Mason  Rs. 1,000
6. Muhammad Sayyid (Multan)  Master Mason  Rs. 590
7. Abu Torah (Multan)  Master Mason  Rs. 500
8. – – – (Delhi)  Master Mason  Rs. 400
9. – – – (Delhi)  Master Mason  Rs. 375
10. – – – (Delhi)  Master Mason  Rs. 375
11. Amanat Khan Shirazi (Shiraz)  Calligrapher  Rs. 1,000
12. Qadar Zaman  Calligrapher  Rs. 800
13. Muhammad Khan (Bagdad)  Calligrapher  Rs. 500
14. Raushan Khan (Syria)  Calligrapher  Rs. 300
15. Chiranji Lal (Kanauj)  Inlay Worker  Rs. 800
16. Chhoti Lal (Kanauj)  Inlay Worker  Rs. 380
17. Mannu Lal (Kanauj)  Inlay Worker  Rs. 200
18. Manuhar Singh (Kanauj)  Inlay Worker  Rs. 200
19. Ata Muhammad (Bokhara)  Flower Carver  Rs. 500
20. Shaker Muhammad (Bokhara)  Flower Carver  Rs. 400
21. Banuhar  Flower Carver  - – -
22. Shah Mal  Flower Carver  - – -
23. Zorawar  Flower Carver  - – -
24. Pira (Delhi)  Carpenter  - – -
25. Ram Lal Kashmiri (Kashmir)  Garden Expert  - – -

 

8. Age of the Taj Mahal

Modern techniques of archaeometry are used to determine the approximate age of historical buildings with reasonable accuracy. Marvin Mills11 of New York reports about the Carbon-14 dating of the Taj Mahal: “Another item of evidence concerning the alleged date of the Taj is adduced from a radiocarbon date from a piece of wood from a door on the north facade of the Jumuna River’s bank. The sample was tested by Dr. Even Williams, director of the Brooklyn College Radiocarbon Laboratory. The date came to 1359 AD with a spread of 89 years on either side and 67% probability, Masca corrected.”

That is, it can be said with 67% certainty that the particular door was made during the period 1270-1448 AD. However, the radio-carbon dating of a single door is not a conclusive evidence about the age of the building for two reasons; the sample itself might be contaminated. And that there is a possibility of the door being a subsequent replacement of the original one in the ancient edifice. Therefore, to arrive at a conclusion, more such samples need to be examined.

To sum up: The statement of Badshahnama about the acquisition of Raja Man Singh’s palace for the burial of the queen is clear and explicit. The numerous underground chambers and Aurangzeb’s exhaustive list of defects in all the three major buildings, including all the five domes of the marble edifice give the distinct impression that the edifice was already ancient and was built for an altogether different purpose. The statement of Peter Mundy that the cenotaph (which is on the fourth storey of the edifice) was complete with costly decorations in 1632-33 AD, and that the Taj Mahal was already a centre of tourist attraction, only support the above claim. The radio carbon test result, though not conclusive about the date, makes the above conclusion more emphatic.

The work upon the building might have started in 1632 AD and must have lasted as the inscription inside the cenotaph chamber indicates–for nearly a decade. The records of Tavernier regarding the date of commencement, total duration of work and labour involved are not reliable.

The firmans, if viewed in isolation, can mean that Shah Jahan was actually erecting the marble superstructure. But in the light of other evidences, the acquisition of marble could only be for the purpose of alterations in the edifice. The Persian manuscript listing the names of several craftsmen and their salaries, and the rumour quoted by Tavernier, further support this thesis.

It may be relevant to discuss another pertinent point at this stage. Usually the court historians do not spare an opportunity to indulge in needless hyperboles to enhance the glory of their paymasters. But in the 1600 pages of Badshahnama, only two pages deal with the burial of Mumtaz and only one paragraph can be construed as dealing with the construction of the Taj Mahal. If Shah Jahan were to undertake so challenging a project like the Taj Mahal, does it not merit greater attention in the Badshahnama than the single paragraph quoted above? And that the date of Mumtaz’s burial more than a casual reference?

II – ARCHITECTURE

The discussion upon the historical evidences raises many pertinent questions regarding the architecture of the building. Does the edifice look like a palace or like a Mogul tomb? Is not the dome–the bulbous dome–a characteristic of Mogul architecture? Do the minarets and the single pointed arch not have religious significance in Islamic architecture? The discussion upon the Taj Mahal cannot be complete unless one finds satisfactory answers to the above questions.

Many historians (Havell, Batley, Kenoyer, Hunter, etc.), from time to time, have pointed out that the architecture of the Taj Mahal is not in the traditions of Saracenic style but resembles that of a Hindu temple. But this view has largely gone unnoticed primarily because it runs against the grain of some of the accepted premises of Indo-Saracenic architecture.

The single pointed door arch had great religious significance in Saracenic architecture as it represents the one and the only God of Islam. Such arches are commonly seen in the Islamic architecture of Bagdad and surrounding places, and hence it is generally believed that the single pointed arch and the arcuate style (as against the trabeate style) of constructing it are exclusive innovations or Saracenic architecture. And that it arrived at India as a resultant contribution of Afghan invasion at the close of the 12th century.

It is also generally believed that the bulbous dome seen in the Taj Mahal, migrated to India from Samarkhand, subsequent to the establishment of Mogul dynasty by Babur in the 16th century. There are significant differences between the Arab domes seen in Bagdad and Egypt and the dome of Taj Mahal, the bulbous dome of Samarkhand forming the link between the two. Since the arcuate style of constructing the arches and domes is believed to be exclusively of Saracenic origin, it is also believed that the bulbous dome originated outside India.

These premises were originally propounded by the well-known British historian James Fergusson12 who conducted the pioneer work in the field of Indian archaeology for nearly five decades from around 1835 AD. His assumptions–widely accepted today–preclude the question of the Taj Mahal being a Hindu construction. However, the historical evidences discussed so far, call for a thorough examination of the architecture of the edifice, notwithstanding the assumptions.

9. The Arch And The Dome

It is not necessary here to go into the debate whether the single pointed arch (and the arcuate style of constructing it) was exclusively of Saracenic origin. Even if it were so, it was well assimilated into the Hindu architecture by the middle of the 14th century. In the latter half of the 14th century the rulers of Vijayanagara (1346-1563 AD) in South India employed the single pointed arch in their construction. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that it was used in the Hindu architecture of North India several decades earlier. This tallies well with the approximate period of construction of the Taj Mahal, as suggested by the radio-carbon dating (i.e. 1359 AD).

However, the assumption that the bulbous dome originated in Samarkhand requires a closer examination. The initiation and development of medieval architecture of Samarkhand is attributed to Timurlung (1394-1404 AD), the 6th generation predecessor of Emperor Babur. He invaded India in 1398 AD and after sacking Delhi and surrounding cities, carried off a large number of architects and other craftsman as captive labour to build his capital Samarkhand. A passage from his autobiography (Malfuzat-i-Timuri) would be illustrative:

“I ordered that all the artisans and clever mechanics who were masters of their respective crafts should be picked out from among the prisoners and set aside, and accordingly some thousands of craftsmen were selected to await my command. All these I distributed among the princes and amirs who were present, or who were engaged officially in other parts of my dominions. I had determined to build a Masjid-i-Jami in Samarkhand, the seat of my empire, which should be without a rival in my country; so I ordered that all builders and stone masons should be set apart for my own especial service.”13

It is important to note that the approximate period of construction of the Taj Mahal is around 1359 AD, whereas Timurlung invaded India in 1398 AD. Could it be that the bulbous dome was prevalent in India during that period and migrated to Samarkhand through the captive architects?

There are several important points which need to be considered in favour of the above conjecture:

(i) Similar buildings of the same period: There are several (more than a hundred) Jaina temples in the sacred mounts of Sonagarh (Bundelkhand) and Muktagiri (Berar) which contain the bulbous domes as well as the single pointed arches. Fergusson (p.62) attributes these temples to the 16th and 17th centuries, but it is important to note his uncertainty about their true antiquity: “So far as can be made out most of these temples date from 16th and 17th centuries, though a few of them may be older. Their original foundation may be earlier, but of that we know nothing, no one having yet enlightened us on the subject, nor explained how and when this hill became a sacred mount.

In fact, Fergusson here uses his own assumption (about the origin of the bulbous dome) as the touchstone to determine the period of the superstructure though he could not reconcile their foundations to the same period.

(ii) The Lotus Canopy: various kinds of domes were used in the ancient temples of Mount Abu, Girnar, Udayapur, Mylass, Carla, etc., some of them as old as the 4th century AD. All types of domes in these temples are topped with an inverted lotus flower, its stem forming the pinnacle of the building. The bulbous domes of Sonagarh and Muktagiri also contain the lotus canopy. And every single dome in the Taj Campus contains a similar lotus canopy. Havell (pp.23-26) traces the constituent elements of the Taj dome to the Hindu Shilpa Shastra, and the lotus canopy to the ‘Mahapadma’ in the ‘stupi’ (pinnacle) of the ‘vimana’ type of temple dome.

It is noteworthy that the lotus is a sacred flower of the Hindus associated with their gods and goddesses, whereas it does not seem to have any special significance in Islamic culture, and the Saracenic architecture of Samarkhan, Persia, Bagdad and Egypt do not contain the lotus canopy over the dome. Even the Humayun’s tomb, widely believed to be the prototype of the Taj, does not contain the lotus canopy.

In this regard, it is necessary to clarify another point. There are many Hindu religious symbols seen in the Taj Mahal, which are often attributed to the religious tolerance of Shah Jahan, under whom the Hindu craftsmen enjoyed considerable freedom. But the Persian manuscript (Section 7) lists the names of Ustad Isa and Ismail Khan Rumi as the chief architect and the dome expert respectively. There is some ambiguity about the nativity of Ustad Isa (as to whether he was a citizen of Agra or of Shiraz), but the dome expert, as the name suggests, was from Rum which means the area around Bagdad and Mesopotamia. Is it plausible that the dome expert from the heartland of Islam, built the dome according to the Shilpa Shastra with a lotus canopy?

(Incidently, what was this dome expert doing in the Taj Mahal? He was drawing a stately salary of Rs. 500/- per month, and if Aurangzeb’s letter (Section 3) is to be believed, he did not even carry out the badly needed repairs to any of the five domes of the marble edifice!)

(iii) Arrangement of Domes: In architecture, even minor details normally embody certain meaning, and it would be more so in the case of gigantic domes which form the most important aspect of such buildings. Do the arrangements of numerous domes in the Taj Complex have any special significance?

A well-known authority on Indian architecture E. B. Havell (pp.22-23) points out: “… the arrangement of the roofing of the mausoleum itself consists of five domes… this structural arrangement is not Saracenic, but essentially Hindu. It is known in Hindu architecture as the pancharatna, the shrine of the five jewels, or the five-headed lingam of Siva… A typical example of it is found in one of the small shrines of Chandi Sewa at Prambanam in Java, which has an arrangement of domes strikingly similar to that of the Taj.” (According to Sir Stanford Raffles, the Chandi Sewa temple was completed in 1098 AD.)

In front of the marble edifice, at the other end of the courtyard is the main Gateway which contains 22 mini-domes arranged on top of two parallel walls–one facing the Taj Mahal and the other facing the outer southern gate. (According to the legend, it represents the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. The legend has its origin in the records of Tavernier, which is already examined in an earlier section, and is found baseless.)

It is noteworthy that the two rows of mini-domes are separated by more than 100 ft. (The floor area of the main Gateway is 140 ft x 110 ft.) And that the number derives its significance from the Ekadasa Rudra (Eleven forms of Siva?).

The central edifice is flanked with two identical buildings, each having three huge domes. Could it be that they derive their significance from the Trinity of the Hindus? There seems to be no special significance attached to the number of domes in Saracenic architecture. In India there are mediaeval mosques which can be classified as having one, three, five, ten, eleven or even fifteen domes. However, the triple domed version seems to be a distinct Indian contribution to Saracenic architecture as such buildings are scarcely seen outside India.

(iv) The Direction of the Mosque: Normally mosques are built facing the Holy Mecca, the direction in which the faithful is commanded to turn while he prays. But the mosque inside the Taj Complex is facing the cardinal West instead of the Holy City. Marvin Mills10 of New York states: “… by the ninth century, they (Muslims) were able to calculate the direction of Mecca within two degrees from any city… the mosque that is part of the Taj complex faces due West whereas Mecca from Agra is 14 degrees 55 minutes south of West.”

Therefore, the fact that the Taj Mahal contains the bulbous dome, in itself is not sufficient to attribute its authorship to Shah Jahan. On the other hand, the fact that the domes having lotus canopy needed repairs in 1662 AD, the arrangement of the dome in the marble edifice, the main gateway and the adjacent buildings and also the direction of the mosque give rise to speculation that the bulbous dome was part of temple architecture. The temples of Muktagiri and Sonagarh further substantiates this conjecture, indicating the possibility of the bulbous dome existing in India before the Mogul invasion in the 16th century.

10 The Minarets

In the mediaeval architecture of Persia and Bagdad, the minaret had a functional utility–to give call for the prayer to the faithful–in a mosque. Several of the mediaeval mosques in Gujarat do contain such minarets. But in the northern Gangetic plain, during the first four centuries of Pathan architecture, the minaret was not part of the building, with the sole exception of the mosque of Ajmer. (The mosque of Ajmer was one of the two earliest buildings built by the invading Afghans, and subsequently its minarets fell off due to the faulty construction.) Says Fergusson (pp.219-20): “…minarets…so far as I know, were not attached to mosques during the so-called Pathan period. The call to prayer was made from the roof; and except the first rude attempt at Ajmer, I do not know an instance of a minaret built solely for such a purpose, though they were, as we know, universal in Egypt and elsewhere long before this time, and were considered nearly indispensable in the buildings of the Mughals very shortly afterwards.”

However, the style and the purpose of the minarets of the Taj Mahal appear to be quite different from those of the Saracenic architecture of Persia or Bagdad for two reasons:

(i) The marble edifice, which is a mausoleum, has four minarets at its corners, whereas the adjacent mosque for which a minaret would have been of functional utility does not have any.

(ii) In pure Saracenic architecture, the minaret normally rises from the shoulder of the edifice to well-above the dome. In the case of the Taj Mahal, they stand separated from the edifice and are shorter than the domes.

Therefore, the purpose of the minarets is not functional but decorative, and the inspiration behind them is not Saracenic.

In fact, the “era of minarets” seems to have begun with Shah Jahan himself. Among the buildings of his predecessors, only one–the southern gateway to Sikandara (Akbar’s tomb) in Agra–contains four marble minarets. But there is good reason to believe that those are subsequent additions (probably by Shah Jahan himself) and not part of original design. Apart from the contrast of the marble minarets standing on top of red-stone gateway, to quote Satish Grover1 “the location of the minarets over the parapets flanking the main entrance, is to say the least unusual and a clear case of fortuitous addition rather than comprehensive design. These minarets were certainly built either as experiments before erecting those at the Taj or immediately thereafter–more probably the latter.”

Therefore, it is reasonable to speculate that the minarets of the Taj Mahal were not inspired by the Saracenic architecture; but on the other hand, it is from the Taj Mahal that the subsequent Mogul architecture adopted the concept of decorative minarets.

11. Hindu Symbolism

In addition to the lotus canopy over the dome, there are many other symbolic and sculptural details in the Taj Mahal which are quite appropriate in a Siva temple.14 Some of them are quoted below:

(i) Recess above the entrance: In the southern entrance to the outer precincts of the Taj Complex (i.e., the Taj Gunj gate facing the main gateway), above the door arch, there is a small arched recess. It is customary in Hindu Forts (for example, the Nagardhan Fort, Nagpur) to place an idol of Lord Ganesa in a similar recess above the main entrance. Could it be that the recess above the Taj entrance also contained a similar idol, which was subsequently removed by the iconoclastic invaders?

(ii) The Rajput Welcome Signs: The walls of the main gateway and the “kitchen” in the great courtyard are marked with typical Rajput welcome signs, such as the “gulab-dani” (rose-water cans) and “ilaichi-dani” (cardamon pots). The Rajput palaces at Deeg (Bharatpur) and Jaipur also contain similar welcome signs.

(iii) Ganesa Torana: On the main gateway, the entire border at waist-height is decorated with what is called the “Ganesa Torana” (the elephant trunk and the crown can be clearly identified). It is noteworthy that animate decorations are taboo in Islam.

(iv) Other sculptural details: Upon the marble walls of the central edifice, there are sculptural details of flowers in the shape of OM and bell flowers which is of great significance in the worship of Lord Shiva.

(v) The pinnacle: On top of the central dome of the Taj Mahal, there is a copper pinnacle which measures a height of 32′ 5 ½”. On the eastern red-stone courtyard, in front of the community hall, there is a figure of the pinnacle inlaid in black marble which measures a length of only 30′ 6″.

There is reason to believe that the copper pinnacle is not the original one. The Shahjahannama of Muhammad Salah Kumbo mentions that the pinnacle was pure gold15. But by 1873-74 it was already of copper and when it was taken down for regilding, the words “Joseph Taylor” were found engraved on the copper16. Captain Taylor was the British official who carried out the repairs to the Taj Mahal in 1810 AD. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the original gold pinnacle was removed by either Joseph Taylor or his predecessors. The discrepancy between the lengths of the pinnacle and its figure in the courtyard supports this conclusion. However, because of the similarity between the copper pinnacle and its figure in the courtyard, it can be assumed that the original shape remains unaltered.

The end of the pinnacle branches into a trident, its central tongue extending farther than that of the other two. On closer observation, the central tongue appears to be in the shape of a “Kalasha” (water pot) topped with two bent mango leaves and a coconut. This is a sacred Hindu motif. Could it be that the trident pinnacle was symbolic of the deity Lord Shiva worshipped inside?

The symbols listed above are directly Hindu and some of them–the animate decorations such as the cobra twins and Ganesha–“torana” are toboo in Islam. It is likely that these details, not being very obvious, are only those that have survived the alterations in the building.

An alternate explanation attributes the Hindu symbolism to the benevolent religious tolerance of Shah Jahan, under whom the Hindu craftsmen enjoyed complete freedom to express their talent in their own traditional style. However, regarding his religious tolerance, his own court journal Badshahnama has an altogether different commentary to make: “It has been brought to the notice of His Majesty that during the late region many idol temples had begun, but remained unfinished at Benaras, the great stronghold of infidelity. The infidels were now desirous of completing them. His Majesty, the defender of the faith, gave orders that at Benaras and throughout all his dominions at every place, all temples should be cast down. It was now reported from the province of Allahabad that 76 temples had been destroyed in the district of Benaras.”17

12. General Layout And Plan

(i) Numerous rooms in the edifice: It has been discussed in an earlier section that there are two floors below the real grave containing numerous rooms. Obviously, these rooms did not have any utility in a mausoleum, and their presence is not explicable unless it is accepted to be an ancient edifice built for an altogether different purpose. They do not appear to have been living rooms, but were they meant for storing provisions and other materials of a vast temple complex?

(ii) The Nagar Khanas: Midway between the main gateway and the marble edifice, on either side of the courtyard, there are two identical buildings known as the “Nagar-khanas” (Drum Houses).

Is it plausible that Shah Jahan, who was very “scrupulous…in the matters of bereavement and religious sanctity” (Section 2) built these drum houses? Music is taboo in Islam–there is a mosque nearby. And a mausoleum is certainly not a place for festivity!

On the other hand, drums are important accompaniments in the worship of Lord Shiva.

(iii) The Gow-Shala: within the precincts of the Taj Mahal, to the east of the Main Gateway, at the extreme end of the courtyard, there is a cow-shed known as the “Gow-Shala”. What could have been the purpose of a cow-shed in a mausoleum? Or was it part of the temple complex?

It is possible that it was not part of the original plan–as it disturbs the symmetry of the complex–but because of its Sanskrit name, the “Gow-Shala” appears to have been introduced by the Hindu rulers, who were using the edifice as a palace or temple.

To Sum Up: The arrangement of the domes, the lotus canopy, the trident pinnacle, the numerous rooms in the building, the direction of the mosque and its triple domes, the “Gow-shala”, the “Nagar-khanas,” and the surviving Hindu symbolism indicate that it was originally built as a temple complex. The purpose of the minarets is not functional but decorative, and the inspiration behind them does not appear to be Saracenic. The graves and the Koranic inscriptions upon the marble wall, of course, should be attributed to Shah Jahan.

The whole argument about the Taj Mahal being a Mogul construction hinges solely upon the assumption about the origin of the bulbous dome, which certainly is debatable. Havell had emphatically asserted (pp.1-38) that the prototype of bulbous dome existed in the Buddhist stupa and the carvings of Ajanta several centuries before the Mogul invasion. He did not question the claim of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, but asserted that from purely architectural considerations, the inspiration behind the edifice was neither Arab, nor Persian, nor European but Indian–“more Indian than St. Paul’s cathedral and Westminster Abbey are English”. (p. 13)

III–SUM TOTAL

The discussion on the historical evidence indicates that the Taj Mahal was already ancient at the time of Shah Jahan. And the discussion upon the architecture leads to the conclusion that the general layout of the Taj Complex resembles a Shiva temple. The whole thesis of Shah Jahan himself building the edifice rests upon the premise that the bulbous dome originated in Samarkhand and migrated to India after the advent of Babur.

The discussion cannot be complete unless we examine two other questions: What is the plausibility of Shah Jahan constructing the edifice, and how did the legend come to be?

There is universal agreement about the architectural splendour and grandeur of the Taj Mahal. It was conceived by an inspired mind which knew the meaning of beauty, and it signifies the culmination of a mature style in architecture. It is a testimony to the peace and prosperity of its period.

The Moguls were rich in wealth and taste and seem to have had the leisure to undertake a project of this kind. But what about its style? Does it appear to be in the tradition of the style developed and perfected by the successive rulers of Mogul dynasty? Listen to James Fergusson (pp. 307-308): “It would be difficult to point out in the whole history of architecture any change so sudden as that which took place between the style of Akbar and that of his grandson Shah Jahan–nor any contrast so great as that between the manly vigour and exuberant originality of the first, as compared with the extreme but almost effeminate elegance of the second. Certainly when the same people, following the same religion, built temples and palaces in the same locality, nothing of the sort ever occurred in any country whose history is known to us.”

It should be remembered that Fergusson was the pioneer in the field of Indian archeaology and was the first–and considered the most authoritative–historian to propound that the bulbous dome originated in Samarkhand. But at the same time he found that the difference between the styles of Akbar and Shah Jahan so unique, that it was the only one of its kind in the human history. Having said this, he does not discuss the possibility of some of those buildings belonging to an altogether different era, but a few pages later (p. 316) makes a brief but startling remark about the Taj Mahal, “When used as a Baradhari, or pleasure palace, it must always have been the coolest and loveliest of garden retreats, and now that it is sacred to the dead it is the most graceful and the most impressive of the sepulchres of the world.”

That is, the version of the Badshahnama as quoted at the beginning of this essay–that Shah Jahan had acquired a palace for the burial of his queen–was known to Fergusson during the middle of the 19th century. (The above statement occurs repeatedly in his books published in 1855, 1867 and 1876.) He also found its style too uniquely different to reconcile with that of Shah Jahan’s immediate predecessors. And yet, the doyen of Indian archaeology glossed over the issue of its antiquity and attributed it to Shah Jahan! Why then did Fergusson not question the claim–if at all there was any single cogent claim at the time–and thereby perpetuate the legend of Shah Jahan himself building the Taj Mahal?

The legend had originated at the time of Shah Jahan himself–as both Tavernier and Manrique testify, though their versions do not match with each other–and drew powerful support from the writings of Fergusson save the above quoted sentence. The above sentence not only appears in all the three major publications of Fergusson (1867 and 1876), but also was quoted in the 9th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875)–where it remained until the 11th edition in 1910–and also in “Murray’s Handbook (for travellers) to India and Ceylon” (1891). In 1896, Syad Muhammad Latif19 wrote that the building “was originally a palace of Raja Man Singh but now it was the property of his grandson Raja Jai Singh. His Majesty gave the Raja a lofty edifice from the Khalsa estate in exchange of this building; and the spot was used for the mausoleum of the deceased empress.”

Meanwhile the legend also grew, as can be made out from the numerous writings of the period though the details pertaining to the construction of the edifice, such as the identity of the architect, expenditure, duration of construction, etc., did not go beyond vague conjectures. In 1905, Moin-ud-din Ahmed20 quoted from Badshahnama (Vol. II, pp. 325-6) that the gold railing around the tomb “was made under the supervision of Bebadal Khan, Master of king’s kitchen”. But the identity of the architect of the edifice remained unsolved. The 22 basement rooms were detected in 1900 AD, and Moin-ud-din Ahmed discussed them in his book (pp. 35-36) and stated that, “The real object of building them remains a mystery.”

In fact, by the turn of the century, the legend had grown so powerful that it made all the evidences to the contrary appear irrelevant. Even though the discovery of the sealed underground chambers was a powerful reason to re-examine the legend carefully, the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910) chose to omit the above statement of Fergusson from its columns–apparently because of its incongruity with the powerful legend. It mentioned the name of Ustad Isa as the Chief architect. By 1913, E. B. Havell, while emphatically asserting that the architecture of the edifice is Hindu, and not Saracenic, does not at all discuss the possibility of Shah Jahan acquiring the edifice. By 1931, the letter of Aurangzeb discussing the serious defects in the Taj Mahal was published (“Marakka-i-Akbarabad” by Said Ahmed, 1931), which was translated by M. S. Vats of Archaeological Survey of India in 1945. But the legend survived the publication.

To revert back to Fergusson, why did he not question the legend, though he had very good reason to do so? Obviously, he was labouring under the burden of his own assumption that the bulbous dome was a resultant contribution of Mogul invasion upon India during the 16th century. In this respect, his own uncertainty about the antiquity of the temples of Sonagarh and Muktagiri [Section 9 (i)] is also quite significant. Fergusson himself recorded (p. 286) this uncertainty and inconclusiveness, while discussing the basis of his assumption:

“It is probable that very considerable light will yet be throne upon the origin of the style which the Moguls introduced into India, from an examination of the buildings erected at Samakhand by Timur, a hundred years before Babar’s time (A.D. 1393-1404). Now that the city is in the hands of Russians, it is accessible to Europeans. Its buildings have been drawn and photographed, but not yet described so as to be available for scientific purposes…”

Therefore, it can be said with certainty that the legend of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal rests purely upon the erroneous assumption about the origin of the bulbous dome. (In fairness, Shah Jahan himself never claimed that he built the Taj Mahal.) And that the architecture of the Taj Mahal, to put it in the words of Havell, “more Indian than St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are English.”

What then is the true age of the Taj Mahal?

Though it was put to use as a palace, its architecture is not that of a residential mansion, but of a temple. Obviously, it was converted into a palace, and Raja Man Singh was not the one to effect the conversion. It is not unreasonable to speculate that the edifice acquired his name due to his pre-eminent position in the Mogul Court and his fairly long occupation of the building. The fact that the edifice required elaborate repairs in 1652 AD, also indicates that it belonged to a period earlier to Raja Man Singh. The radio-carbon dating–though not conclusive about the date–further reinforces the possibility of the Taj Mahal being a couple of centuries older than Shah Jahan. However, a conclusive dating can be done only by several radio-carbon tests of different samples from the edifice. And it is almost certain that the sealed underground chambers would reveal enough evidence about the original purpose and the true age of the edifice. The historical antecedents of the building can be traced only by considerable diligent study of the documents pertaining to several centuries prior to Shah Jahan.

However, if radio-carbon test result quoted above can be treated as a pointer, it raises certain important questions regarding Indian archaeology.

i) Was the bulbous dome an exclusive innovation of Indian architecture, and migrated to Samakhand through the architects taken captive by Timurlung?

ii) If the architecture style could produce so fine a piece as the Taj Mahal in the 14th century, how long ago did the style originate? Is it true, as Havell has asserted, that the bulbous dome had its origin in the Buddhist stupas and the carvings of Ajanta (which was at least a thousand years before the initial Afgan invasion)? If so, it brings us face to face with the other assumptions of Fergusson that the single pointed arch and the arcuate style of constructing the arches and domes–the Taj Mahal answer to both these characteristics–have arrived at India only during the 13th century AD after the initial Afgan invasion.

Thus, the question of antiquity of the Taj Mahal has powerful bearing upon the study of Indian archaeology. It raises certain pertinent questions about the origin, development, influence and classification of one of the important streams of mediaeval architecture. And since an architectural style carries with it the stamp of the contemporary epoch, the above questions have bearing upon the study of Indian history as well. Therefore, it calls for a thorough re-examination of the Mogul architecture–particularly that of Shah Jahan, which Fergusson found it so difficult to reconcile with the style of that period.


(The authors wish to acknowledge their debt to Shri V. S. Godbole for his notes on the subject)

References

1. Abdul Hamid Lahori, “Badshahnama”, Vol. 1, Royal Asiatic society, Bengal, 1867, pp. 402-403.

2. Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner.

3. Peter Mundy, “Travels in Asia and Europe”, Vol. II, Edited by R. C. Temple, Hakluyt Society, 1907-36, pp. 208-213.

4. J. B. Tavernier, “Travels in India”, Translated by V. Ball, Macmillan & Co., London, 1889, Book I, pp. 46, 110-111.

5. P. N. Oak, “The Taj Mahal is a Temple Palace”, 1966, pp.20-26.

6. “Adaab-a-Alamgir”, National Archives, New Delhi, p. 82.

7. M. S. Vats, “Repairs to the Taj Mahal”, An Archaeological Survey of India bulletin, 1945.

8. “Keene’s Handbook for Visitors to Agra and Its Neighborhood”, Re-written by E. A. Duncan, Thacker’s Handbook of Hindustan, pp. 170-4.

9. E. B. Havell, “Indian Architecture”, S. Chand & Co.(Pvt) Ltd., 1913, pp. 1-38.

10. “Travels of Fray Sebastion Manrique”, Vol. II, Translated by St. Pau Lt. Col. Luard and Father Hasken, Hakluyt Society, 1927, pp. 171-2.

11. Marvin H Mills, “Archaeometry in the Service of Historical Analysis to Re-examine the Origin of Moslem Building”, Itihas Patrika Vol. 4, No. 1, March 1984, pp. 12-13.

12. James Fergusson, “History of Indian and Eastern Architecture”, 2nd Edition, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1972, pp. 62-66, 196-221, 283-320.

13. Elliot and Dowson, “History of India”, Vol. III, 2nd Edition, Sushil Gupta (India) Ltd., 1953, p. 448.

14. Satish Grover, “The Architecture of India”, Vikas Publishing House, Pvt., 1981, pp. 190-193.

15. Hemant Gokhale, “The Taj Mahal–A Tomb or Shiva temple?”, Itihas Patrika, Vol. 2, No. 3, Sept. 1982, pp. 99-113.

16. Reference Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of London, 1843, Vol. VII, p. 58.

17. Ram Nath, “The Immortal Taj”, Taraporewala, Bombay, 1972, p. 81.

18. Elliot and Dowson, “History of India”, Vol. VII, 2nd Edition, Sushil Gupta (India) Ltd., 1953, p. 36.

19. Syad Mohammad Latif, “Agra–Historical & Descriptive”, 1896, p. 105.

20. Moin-ud-din-Ahmed, “History of the Taj”, 1903, pp. 35-36, 46-47.

21. V. S. Godbole, “The Taj Mahal–Simple Analysis of Great Deception”, Itihas Patrika, Vol 2, No. 1, March, 1982, pp. 16-32.

31
Jul
09

The Distorted History of the Taj Mahal

The Distorted History of Taj Mahal

By Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari

There is no doubt that Taj Mahal in Agra is the most beautiful architectural marvel in the entire world and hence it is called one of the great wonders of the world. But who is the author of this excellent exhibit of architecture? Opinions in this regard are highly contentious. The general notion is that, it is the creation of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. In previous articles, we have seen how the authorship of excellent pieces of architecture in Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are being falsely attributed to the foreign Muslim invaders, who occupied and ruled India for nearly eight centuries. So, the question naturally arises – Is the claim of Shah Jahan’s authorship of Taj Mahal true? Or the said view is merely a part of the process of distortion of Indian history, to appease the Muslims? In this article, we shall try to find a plausible reply to these questions.

In this regard, the Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Taj Mahal is a mausoleum complex in Agra, in western Uttar Pradesh state, in northern India, on the southern bank of the Yamuna (Jumna) River. …the Taj Mahal is distinguished as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a blend of Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles. One of the most beautiful structural compositions in the world, the Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahān (reigned 1628–58) to immortalize his wife Mumtāz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”). The name Taj Mahal is a derivation of her name. She died in childbirth in 1631, after having been the emperor’s inseparable companion since their marriage in 1612. The plans for the complex have been attributed to various architects of the period, though the chief architect was probably Ustad Ahmad Lahawrī, an Indian of Persian descent.” [1]

 

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia maintains a similar view and says, “The Taj Mahal (pronounced /tɑdʒ məˈhɑl) is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal (also “the Taj”) is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” [2]

 

In this context, we should mention what the India ’s historians have to say in this matter. Historian R C Majumdar, in this regard, writes, “The Taj Mahal, a splendid mausoleum built by Shah Jahan, at a cost of fifty lacs of rupees, over the grave of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is rightly regarded as one of the wonders of the world for its beauty and magnificence.” [3] Another historian S K Saraswati writes, “But all the above architectural creations of Shah Jahan are thrown into shade by that superb conception of the mausoleum that the emperor raised up at Agra to enshrine the mortal remains of his beloved consort, Arjumand Banu Begam, better known as Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal, as it is called after the title of the empress, stands on an elevated ground on a bend of the river Jamuna so that it has a fine view from whatever angle it is seen.” [4]

As a result of this worldwide propaganda, Shahjahan’s authorship of Taj Mahal, mixed with story of romantic love between Shah Jahan and his wife, has become so pervasive that it has become a universal symbol of love between a husband and his wife. Even a common man, at first instance, refuses to admit any other version, even if it is more convincing and rational. Even the Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore, being swayed by the above story, described the Taj Mahal, in one of his poems, as a drop of tears of the grief-stricken Emperor Shahjahan.

The True History of Taj Mahal:

But according to Stephen Knapp, a well known researcher on Taj Mahal, it was not built by Shah Jahan and he writes, “There is ample evidence that the Taj Mahal was never built by Shah Jahan. Some say the Taj Mahal pre-dates Shah Jahan by several centuries and was originally built as a Hindu or Vedic temple/palace complex and Shah Jahan merely acquired it (by brute force) from its previous owner, the Hindu King Jai Singh.” [5] Not only Stephen Knapp but many other researchers like Yogesh Saxena, V S Godbole and Prushottam Nagesh Oak (or P N Oak) hold a similar view and P N Oak is the most prominent and pioneer among scholars who worked to discover the real author of Taj Mahal.

It is well known that Emperor Akbar got Akbarnama, a history of his reign, written by his court-chronicler Abul Fazl and in a similar manner,  Shahjahan had the history of his reign titled Badshahnama written by his court-chronicler Abdul Hamid Lahori. The original Badshahnama was written in Persian using Arabic alphabets and in 1963, P N Oak made a startling discovery the the pages 402 and 403 of the edition of Badshahnama, published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal (see the fascimile of the page 402 and 403 of the edition in Figure-1), contain the true history of the building now known as Taj Mahal. An English translation of the contents from line 21 of page 402 to line 41 on page 403 of Badshahnama is given below.

Meanwhile, we should notice another important point. It is well known that the two British historians, H M Elliot and J Dowson, have done the great job of writing history of India, under Muslim rule, starting from the attack on Sindh by Mohammed bin Kasim in the 8th century to the fall of Marathas in the 19th century, a period, covering nearly 1200 years. It has been written, based on chronicles of the court chroniclers of the Muslim rulers only. The work of Elliot and Dowson’s was published in 8 volumes during 1867 to 1877 and the Volume 7 of their work deals with the reigns of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. But it is really astonishing that there is not even a mentioning of Taj Mahal in the said work.

Many Muslim chroniclers have described the times of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, e.g.

(1) Badshahnama by Abdul Hamid Lahori,

(2) Wakiyat Jahangiri by emperor Jahangir,

(3) Shahjahan-nama by Enayet Khan,

(4) Tarikh-i- Mufajjali by Mufajjal Khan,

(5) Mirat-i-Alam by Bakhtyar Khan,

(6) Alamgirnama by Muhammad Qazim and

(7) Mustakhab-ul-Lubab by Kafi Khan.

But in none of above works, there is even mentioning of Taj Mahal, except Badshahnama by Lahori and that too as a palace of Jai Singh

While commenting on this point, Dr Yogesh Saxena, writes, “The authors should have said, “Though we have presented history of Shahjahan based on his official chronicle Badshahnama, we did not find any reference to Taj Mahal in it.” They did no such thing. And Historians have kept even this information from us for the last 130 years.” [6] It was Professor P N Oak, who, for the first time, made the startling discovery that there is mentioning of the building now called Taj Mahal, but as a palace of the Hindu king Jai Singh, in Badshahnama.

There is another important point to note. There is a well established rumour that Shah Jahan engaged 20,000 labours who toiled for 20 (or 22) years to complete the construction of Taj Mahal, originates by the French traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier. It is really unthinkable that, Shah Jahan completed such a gigantic job, spending so much money, employing so many people throughout so many years, but it escaped the attention of his sycophant chroniclers, and they did not even say a single word about the said job in their works. So, the logical conclusion is that, the said gigantic construction never took place during the reign of Shah Jahan and Badshahnama confirms this fact.

The original Badshahnama was written in Persian using Arabic alphabets and the pages 402 and 403 of the edition published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal (see the fascimile of the page 402 and 403 of Vol-I of the edition given above) contain the true history of the building now known as Taj Mahal. Professor Oak got the two pages translated into English by a scholar of Persian language and said trnslation of the contents from line 21 of page 402 to line 41 on page 403 of Vol-I of Badshahnama is given below.

“Friday, 15th Jamadiulawal, the sacred dead body of the traveller to the kingdom of holiness Hazrat Mumtazul Zamani, who was temporarily buried, was brought, accompanied by Prince Mohammad Shah, Suja bahadur, Wazir Khan and Satiunnesa Khanam, who knew the pemperament of the deceased intimately and was well versed in view of that Queen of the Queens used to hold, was brought to the capital Akbarabad (Agra) and an order was issued that very day coins be distributed among the beggers and fakirs. The site covered with a majestic garden, to the south of the great city (of Agra) and amidst which the building known as the palace of Raja Man Singh, at present owned by Raja Jai asingh, grandson of Man Singh, was selected for the burial of the Queen, whose abode is in heaven. Although Raja Jai Singh valued it greatly as his ancestral heritage and property, yet he agreed to part with it gratis for Emperor Shahjahan, still out of sheer scrupulousness and religious sanctity, he (Jai Singh) was granted Sharifabad in exchange of that grand palace (Ali Manzil). After the arrival of the deadbody in that great city (of Agra), next year that illustrious body of the Queen was laid to rest and the officials of the capital, according to royal order, hid the body of that pious lady from the eyes of the world and the palace so majestic (imarat-e-alishan) and capped with a dome (wa gumbaje) was turned into a sky-high lofty mausoleum”. [7]

Many historians try to convince that Shah Jahan purchased a piece of land from Raja Jai Singh and erected Taj Mahal on that land. But the lines 29 and 30 of page 403 of Vol-I of Badshahnama reads, “Pesh az ein Manzil-e-Rajah Mansingh bud wadari waqt ba Rajah Jaisingh (29) Nabirae taalluq dasht barae madfan e an bahisht muwattan bar guzeedand .. (30).” According to experts, the correct translation of the phrase “Manzil-e-Rajah Mansingh bud wadari waqt ba Rajah Jaisingh”is “.. the building known as the palace of Raja Man Singh, at present owned by Raja Jai asingh”. So, it is evident that it cannot be a transaction of land but of a magnificent palace. In line 37, further clarification has been made and said that it was a transaction of an imarat-e-alishan (i.e. a gigantic building) and not of land

In 1964, when Prof P N Oak started to disclose his doubts about Shah Jahan’s authorship of Taj Mahal and presented the document in Badshahnama as the proof, many of his opponents said that his translation of Badshahnama was not correct. One of his bitter critiques was a Kashmiri Pandit. He was also a scholar of Persian language. To narrate the incident Dr Yogesh Saxena writes, “One of his opponents was a Kashmiri Pandit. Eventually they went to Government of India Archives. At the suggestion of the Librarian there the Pandit started to read Badshahnama, soon he came to Volume I, page 403. One line read – va pesh azin manzil-e-Raja Mansingh bood, vadari vakt ba Raja Jaisingh. He confessed that Shah Jahan took over Raja Mansingh’s palace for burial of Mumtaz. We owe so much to this honest opponent of Mr Oak. He gave word by word translation of pages 402 and 403 to Mr Oak who promptly published it in his book Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace (1968). However, Mr Oak never stated that the translation was his. It was done for him by a Persian expert.” [6]

The name of the Queen, in whose memory the Taj Mahal is being said to have been erected, was Arjumand Banu. She was married to Shahjahan in 1612 A.D. and within 18 years of her married life she gave birth to 14 children and in fact she died in 1630 (or in 1631) while she was delivering her 14th child. According to Badshahnama she was buried temporarily at Burhanpur and in the same year her body was brought from Burhanpur to Agra and the next year her body was permanently buried at the majestic palace of Raja Man Singh.. From the Badshahnama it becomes evident the edifice, now known as Taj Mahal, was not authored by Emperor Shahjahan.

Who was The Author of Building called Taj Mahal:

So, according to the narrations of Badshanama and from other evidence, it becomes clear that the edifice, now known as Taj Mahal, was not authored by emperor Shah Jahan. The question, therefore, naturally arises – Who built that magnificent building?

A locality, nearly 4 km away from Taj Mahal, is called Bateswar and in 1900 A.D., General Alexander Cuningham, the then Director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), conducted an excavation at Bateswar and discovered an edict, now known as the Munj Bateswar Edict and kept at the Lucknow Museum. The epigraph contains 34 verses written in Sanskrit, out of which 25th, 26th and 34th verses are important in the present context. The original Sankrit text and English translation of the above verses are given below -

Prasādo vaiṣṇavastena nirnimitotavahan hari /

Murdhn āspriśati yo nityaṃ  padamasaiva madhyamam // (25)

“He built a marble temple which is the abode of Lord Vishnu and the King bows down to touch His feet” (25).

Akāryacca sphatikāvadātamasāvidam mandiramindumauleḥ /

Na jātuyasminnibsnsadevah kailāsvasayacakara cetaḥ  //  (26)

“The King has built another marble temple which has been dedicated to the Lord Who has the moon as His ornament on His forehead and Who, getting such a beautiful abode, has forgotten to return to Kailash ” (26).

Pakṣa tryakṣamukhāditya saṃkhye vikramavatsare /

Aśvina śukla pañcmyāṃ  bāsare vāsave śitu //  (34)

“Today, the 5th day of the bright half in the month of Ashwin, the Sunday, in the year 1212 of the Vikram Samvat, the edict is being laid” (34).

Mr. D. J. Kale, a well known archaeologist, has mentioned the said Munj Bateswar Edict in his celebrated work Epigraphica India. On page 124 of the said work, Mr. Kale writes, “The sais Munj Bateswar Edict was laid by King Paramardidev of the Chandratreya dynasty on Sukla Panchami in the month of Ashwin, in the year 1212 Vikram Samvat (or A.D. 1156).  …  King Paramardidev built two magnificent temples with white marble , one for Lords Vishnu and the other for Lord Shiva and they were desecrated later on by the Muslim invaders. Perhaps a farsighted man took the edict to a safer place at Bateswar and buries it beneath the ground”.[8] Perhaps, after the said desecration, the temples were no longer used as religious places and due to this reason Abdul Hamid Lahori mentioned them as palaces, not as temples. According to the renowned historian Mr. R. C. Majumdar, the other name of the Chandratreya or Chandel King Paramardidev was Paramal and their kingdom was known as Bundelkhand, a.k.a.Jejakabhukti [9]

Today, there are two marble palaces in Agra, one is the Mausoleum of Idmat-ud-Daula, the father of Noorjahan and the other is Taj Mahal, and it is evident from the Munj Bateswar edict that, once upon a time, one of them was the temple of Lord Vishnu and the other was a temple of Lord Shiva. Experts believe that it is the temple of Lord Vishnu that has been made the mausoleum of Idmat-ud-Daula, and the temple of Lord Shiva has been converted into the mausoleum of the queen Arjumand Banu. There are so many evidence that support of this conclusion and we shall try to discuss them in future installments of this article.

 

 References:

 [1] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/581007/Taj-Mahal

[2] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal)

[3] R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhury and K. Datta,  An Advanced History of India, MacMillan & Co (1980),586..

[4] R. C. Majumdar (Gen Ed), History & Culture of the Indian People (in 12 Volumes), Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai (1996), VII, 793.

[5] Stephen Knapp,Taj Mahal: Was it a Vedic Temple ? The Photographic Evidence ( http://www.stephen-knapp.com/was_the_taj_mahal_a_vedic_temple.htm )

[6] Yogesh Saxena Taj Mahal – It is time to tell the truth, (http://agrasen.blogspot.com/2009/04/hidden- facts-in-indian-history.html )

[7] P N Oak, Tajmahal – The True Story, Published by A Ghosh, p 9-12.

[8] D J Kale, Epigraphica India , published by S D Kale & M D Kale, I, 270-274.

[9] R C Majumdar, ibid, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Vol-5, p-122

31
Jul
09

Taj Mahal: Time to Tell the Truth

Taj Mahal:

 Time to Tell the Truth

By Dr. V. S. Godbole
 

There are many legends about the Taj Mahal. But one sentence is common in all of them. “For the construction, 20,000 men worked for 22 years.” This is well known throughout the world. The simple question is – where do these figures come from?

These figures come from a book called “Travels in India” by J B Tavernier, a French jewel merchant. He was a great adventurer who made six voyages to India in the days of Shivaji (1638 to 1668). Tavernier says, “I witnessed the commencement and completion of this monument (Taj Mahal) on which 20,000 men worked incessantly for 22 years.”

Tavernier’s book was first published in French in 1675. In those days, it was a great adventure for a single man to travel over such a long distance, face many difficulties, deal with peoples of many cultures and languages, adjust to their customs and traditions, and come home safely – that in itself was incredible. In addition Tavernier carried out a trade in precious stones like diamonds. He completed such voyages, not once but six times. His book was therefore a great sensation at that time. It was naturally translated into English and during 1677 to 1811; nine editions of the English translation were published, whereas during the same period twenty-two editions of the French book were printed.

In 1889, Dr. Ball translated the original French book into English, corrected some mistakes in earlier translation and provided extensive footnotes. He also studied Tavernier’s movements thoroughly and provided details of his six voyages. From this it is clear that Tavernier came to Agra only twice – in the winter of 1640-41 and in 1665. This raises another interesting question.

Historians say that Mumtaz, wife of Shahjahan died in 1631 and the construction of Taj Mahal started immediately. But if that is the case Tavernier could not have seen the commencement of Taj Mahal, as he came to Agra nearly 10 years later.

Aurangzeb had imprisoned his father Shahjahan in the Red Fort of Agra since 1658 and usurped power. No historian claims that Aurangzeb completed Taj Mahal. So, Tavernier could not have seen the completion of Taj Mahal either. And that being the case his statement that 20,000 men worked on it incessantly is meaningless.

Why have historians kept this truth from us for the last 117 years? The reason is simple. It strikes at the heart of the legend.

Badshahnama – What Does it Say?

British Historians have proclaimed that in India, Hindu Kings had no historical sense. Historical records were kept only by the Muslim rulers. Fair enough, then let us turn to the Badshahnama which was written during the reign of Shahjahan. The Asiatic Society of Bengal published the Persian text of Badshahnama in two parts, part I in 1867 and part II in 1868. The compilation was done by two Maulavis, under the superintendence of an English Major. The funny thing is that no one quotes Badshahnama to explain how the Taj Mahal was built. Why?

Elliot and Dowson, two English gentlemen undertook the formidable task of writing history of India from the attack on Sindh by Mohammed bin Kasim in the 8th century to the fall of Marathas in the 19th century. A period covering some 1200 years. But it was written, based on chronicles of Muslim rulers only. Elliot and Dowson’s work was published in 8 volumes during 1867 to 1877. Volume 7 deals with the reigns of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. And yet in the entire volume we do not find the word ‘Taj Mahal.’ The authors should have said, “Though we have presented history of Shahjahan based on his official chronicle Badshahnama, we did not find any reference to Taj Mahal in it.” They did no such thing. And Historians have kept even this information from us for the last 130 years.

In 1896 Khan Bahaddur Syed Muhammad Latif wrote a book entitled “Agra Historical and Descriptive.” He refers to Badshahnama many times but does not quote specific page numbers. On page 105 he says, “The site selected for the mausoleum was originally a palace of Raja Mansingh but it was now the property of his grandson Raja Jaisingh.” Many authors have referred to Latif in their bibliography but have not cared to see what he has said. This truth was also hidden away from us by our Historians.

In 1905, H. R. Nevill, ICS, compiled Agra District Gazetteer. In it he changed the words “Raja Mansingh’s Palace” to “Raja Mansingh’s piece of land.” Ever since all historians have followed suit and repeated “Shahjahan purchased Raja Mansingh’s piece of land, at that time in the possession of his grandson Raja Jaisingh.” This deception has been going on for more than a century.

One may ask, “Why would an English officer be interested in playing such a mischief?” Well if we look at the events of those times the reason is clear cut.

1901

Viceroy Lord Curzon separated some districts from Punjab to create a Muslim majority North West Frontier Province. Hindus became an insignificant minority in this province and that marked the beginning of their misfortune.

1903

Curzon declared his intention to partition Bengal to create a Muslim majority province of East Bengal.

1905

Curzon resigned but put into effect the partition of Bengal.

1906

A Muslim delegation led by Agakhan called upon new Viceroy Lord Minto. Muslims pleaded that in any political reforms they should be treated separately and favourably. This move was obviously engineered by the British rulers.

December – Muslim League was started in Dacca.

1909

In the Morley – Minto reforms, Muslims were granted separate electorates.

We should also remember that during 1873 and 1914, some English officers had translated into English the Persian texts of Babur-nama. Humayun-nama, Akbar-nama, Ain-e-Akbari and Tazuk – i – Jehangiri, but NOT Badshahnama. Judging from above events it is obvious why Mr Nevill played the mischief when compiling Agra District Gazetteer in 1905.

It is astonishing that though Maulavi Ahmad (History of Taj, 1905) and Sir Jadunath Sarkar (Anecdotes of Aurangzeb, 1912) repeat that Raja Mansingh’s piece of land was purchased by Shahjahan, they also provide a reference – Badshahnama.

Volume I page 403. Strange as it may sound, no one had bothered to see what is written on that page.

In 1964, Mr. P. N. Oak of New Delhi started having his doubts about Taj Mahal. He put forward an argument that it was originally a Hindu Palace. Oak had to cross swords with many historians. One of his opponents was a Kashmiri Pandit. Eventually they went to Government of India Archives. At the suggestion of the Librarian there the Pandit started to read Badshahnama, soon he came to Volume I page 403. One line read – “va pesh azin manzil-e-Raja Mansingh bood, vadari vakt ba Raja Jaisingh.” He confessed that Shahjahan took over Raja Mansingh’s palace for burial of Mumtaz. We owe so much to this honest opponent of Mr. Oak. He gave word by word translation of pages 402 and 403 to Mr. Oak who promptly published it in his book “Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace” (1968). However, Mr. Oak never stated that the translation was NOT his. It was done for him by a Persian expert. That made life of his opponents easy. They said, “Mr Oak’s translation is wrong.”

I obtained Oak’s book in London in 1977. I made a study for one year. First of all I read all the references generally  quoted by Historians and writers.That was made possible by my being in England. Mr. Oak did not have that facility. All the references led to the same conclusion that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace and it was NOT built by Shahjahan. My booklet entitled – “Taj Mahal: Simple Analysis of a Great Deception” was published in 1986. In 1981, while going through some references, I started suspecting that the British knew the true nature of the Taj Mahal for a long time but had deliberately suppressed the truth. Eventually, my research was published in 10 parts in the Quarterly “Itihas Patrika” of Thane (India). I collected all the information available on Taj Mahal over the 200 year period from 1784 to 1984, and shown how the British suppressed vital pieces of evidence or twisted the truth. My research continued and was published in 1996 under the title – “Taj Mahal and the Great British Conspiracy.”

Taj Legend Exposed in England in 1980

Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a reputable Institution in London. In1980, in their monthly Journal, they published two letters challenging the validity of the usual Taj Legend. One was by Mr. Oak, the other by me. No one has refuted our arguments. Mr. Oak refers to Badshahnama, Volume I page 403. What have I disclosed in my letter?

What was Agra City like before Shahjahan came to power? That is the question dodged by all historians. In the 17th century, the Dutch like the English were trying to trade in India. They had a Factory (trading post) in Agra. Fransisco Pelsaert was their Senior Factor (Merchant) at Agra from 1620 to 1627. In 1626, he prepared a commercial report for his directors in Holland. By strange coincidence, he describes Agra City at that time. He says, “The city is narrow and long, because all the rich and influential people have built their palaces on the river bank and this stretches for 10 ½ miles. I will mention some of the well known ones. Starting from the North there is the palace of Bahadur Khan, Raja Bhoj, ……. Then comes the Red Fort. (Pelsaert then describes the Fort) beyond it is Nakhas – a great market, then follow the palaces of great Lords – Mirza Abdulla, Aga Naur …… Mahabat Khan, Late Raja Mansingh, Raja Madho Singh.”

English translation of this report was available since 1925. And yet no Historian refers to it. Why? The reason is simple. In 1626, Pelsaert has said that 10 ½ mile stretch of the river-bank was full of palaces, the late Raja Mansingh’s Palace being the last one. The Badshahnama says that Shahjahan took over this palace for burying his wife Mumtaz. Thus, what we call Taj Mahal today is nothing but Late Raja Mansingh’s Palace. That is the truth which Historians have kept away from us.

My efforts had one effect. In 1982, the Archaeological Survey of India published a booklet entitled “Taj Museum.” Though the authors repeat the usual legend, they say “Mumtaz died in Burhanpur and was buried there. Six months later Shahjahan exhumed her body and sent her coffin to Agra, on that site until then stood Late Raja Mansingh’s Palace……”

Today that palace is called the Taj Mahal. Nothing could be simpler. What building work is needed for burying a corpse in a Palace?

Dr. V. S. Godbole, April 2007
14 Turnberry Walk Akshaya Tritiya
Bedford
MK41, 8AZ
U.K.
v.godbole3@ntlworld.com

31
Jul
09

The Badshahnama

The Badshahnama

Here is a copy of a page of the Badshahnama, the history of Shah Jahan, the so-called builder of the Taj Mahal. This is from the Government of India’s National Archives, and available from the instituional libraries dealing with the medieval history of India.

This is supposed to have been written by the emperor’s chronicler, the Mullah Abdul Hamid Lahori. It describes the site of the Taj Mahal as being full of majestic and lush gardens just south of the city (Agra). It goes on to say that the palace of Raja Mansingh, which was owned by his grandson Raja Jaisingh, was selected as the place for the burial of the queen Mumtaz. This means, of course, that Shah Jahan never built the Taj Mahal but only acquired it from the previous owner, who was Jaisingh.

badsha2

31
Jul
09

The Letter of Aurangzeb

The Letter of Aurangzeb

This is supposed to be a copy of the original letter from Aurangzeb himself written in 1652, complaining of the extensive repairs that are in need of being done on the Taj Mahal. He says that several rooms on the second storey, the secret rooms and tops of the seven storey ceilings have all absorbed water through seepage and are so old that they were all leaking, and the dome had developed a crack on the northern side. This was in spite of the fact that the rumor is that the Taj was finished being built in 1653. The logic of this is that Mumtaz was supposed to have died around 1631, and it is said that it took 22 years to build the Taj. However, in the letter herein Aurangzeb ordered immediate repairs at his expense while recommending to the emperor that more elaborate repairs such as the roof be opened up and redone with mortar, bricks and stone.

Aurangzeb’s letter is recorded in at least three chronicles titled ‘Aadaab-e-alamgiri ‘, ‘Yaadgaarnama ‘and the ‘ Muraaqqa-I-Akbarabadi ‘ (edited by Said Ahmad, Agra, 1931, page 43, footnotes 2).

In any case, if the Taj was a new building, there would no doub not be any need for such extensive repairs.

 letter1

31
Jul
09

The True Story of the Taj Mahal

The True Story of the

 

Taj Mahal

 

By P. N. Oak

 


The story of the Taj Mahal that most of us have known about may not be the real truth. Herein Mr. P. N. Oak presents an interesting set of proofs that show a completely different story. Contrary to what visitors are made to believe the Tajmahal is not a Islamic mausoleum but an ancient Shiva Temple known as Tejo Mahalaya which the 5th generation Moghul emperor Shahjahan commandeered from the then Maharaja of Jaipur. The Taj Mahal, should therefore, be viewed as a temple palace and not as a tomb. That makes a vast difference. You miss the details of its size, grandeur, majesty and beauty when you take it to be a mere tomb. When told that you are visiting a temple palace you wont fail to notice its annexes, ruined defensive walls, hillocks, moats, cascades, fountains, majestic garden, hundreds of rooms archaded verendahs, terraces, multi stored towers, secret sealed chambers, guest rooms, stables, the trident (Trishul) pinnacle on the dome and the sacred, esoteric Hindu letter “OM” carved on the exterior of the wall of the sanctum sanctorum now occupied by the cenotaphs. For detailed proof of this breath taking discovery, you may read the well known historian Shri. P. N. Oak’s celebrated book titled ” Tajmahal : The True Story“. But let us place before you, for the time being an exhaustive summary of the massive evidence ranging over hundred points:


NAME

1.The term Tajmahal itself never occurs in any mogul court paper or chronicle even in Aurangzeb’s time. The attempt to explain it away as Taj-i-mahal is therefore, ridiculous.

2.The ending “Mahal”is never muslim because in none of the muslim countries around the world from Afghanistan to Algeria is there a building known as “Mahal”.

3.The unusual explanation of the term Tajmahal derives from Mumtaz Mahal, who is buried in it, is illogical in at least two respects viz., firstly her name was never Mumtaj Mahal but Mumtaz-ul-Zamani and secondly one cannot omit the first three letters “Mum” from a woman’s name to derive the remainder as the name of the building.

4.Since the lady’s name was Mumtaz (ending with ‘Z’) the name of the building derived from her should have been Taz Mahal, if at all, and not Taj (spelled with a ‘J’).

5.Several European visitors of Shahjahan’s time allude to the building as Taj-e-Mahal is almost the correct tradition, age old Sanskrit name Tej-o-Mahalaya, signifying a Shiva temple. Contrarily Shahjahan and Aurangzeb scrupulously avoid using the Sanskrit term and call it just a holy grave.

6.The tomb should be understood to signify NOT A BUILDING but only the grave or centotaph inside it. This would help people to realize that all dead muslim courtiers and royalty including Humayun, Akbar, Mumtaz, Etmad-ud-Daula and Safdarjang have been buried in capture Hindu mansions and temples.

7.Moreover, if the Taj is believed to be a burial place, how can the term Mahal, i.e., mansion apply to it?

8.Since the term Taj Mahal does not occur in mogul courts it is absurd to search for any mogul explanation for it. Both its components namely, ‘Taj’ and’ Mahal’ are of Sanskrit origin.

 


TEMPLE TRADITION

9.The term Taj Mahal is a corrupt form of the sanskrit term TejoMahalay signifying a Shiva Temple. Agreshwar Mahadev i.e., The Lord of Agra was consecrated in it.

10.The tradition of removing the shoes before climbing the marble platform originates from pre Shahjahan times when the Taj was a Shiva Temple. Had the Taj originated as a tomb, shoes need not have to be removed because shoes are a necessity in a cemetery.

11.Visitors may notice that the base slab of the centotaph is the marble basement in plain white while its superstructure and the other three centotaphs on the two floors are covered with inlaid creeper designs. This indicates that the marble pedestal of the Shiva idol is still in place and Mumtaz’s centotaphs are fake.

12.The pitchers carved inside the upper border of the marble lattice plus those mounted on it number 108-a number sacred in Hindu Temple tradition.

13.There are persons who are connected with the repair and the maintainance of the Taj who have seen the ancient sacred Shiva Linga and other idols sealed in the thick walls and in chambers in the secret, sealed red stone stories below the marble basement. The Archaeological Survey of India is keeping discretely, politely and diplomatically silent about it to the point of dereliction of its own duty to probe into hidden historical evidence.

14.In India there are 12 Jyotirlingas i.e., the outstanding Shiva Temples. The Tejomahalaya alias The Tajmahal appears to be one of them known as Nagnatheshwar since its parapet is girdled with Naga, i.e., Cobra figures. Ever since Shahjahan’s capture of it the sacred temple has lost its Hindudom.

15.The famous Hindu treatise on architecture titled Vishwakarma Vastushastra mentions the ‘Tej-Linga’ amongst the Shivalingas i.e., the stone emblems of Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity. Such a Tej Linga was consecrated in the Taj Mahal, hence the term Taj Mahal alias Tejo Mahalaya.

16.Agra city, in which the Taj Mahal is located, is an ancient centre of Shiva worship. Its orthodox residents have through ages continued the tradition of worshipping at five Shiva shrines before taking the last meal every night especially during the month of Shravan. During the last few centuries the residents of Agra had to be content with worshipping at only four prominent Shiva temples viz., Balkeshwar, Prithvinath, Manakameshwar and Rajarajeshwar. They had lost track of the fifth Shiva deity which their forefathers worshipped. Apparently the fifth was Agreshwar Mahadev Nagnatheshwar i.e., The Lord Great God of Agra, The Deity of the King of Cobras, consecrated in the Tejomahalay alias Tajmahal.

17.The people who dominate the Agra region are Jats. Their name of Shiva is Tejaji. The Jat special issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India (June 28,1971) mentions that the Jats have the Teja Mandirs i.e., Teja Temples. This is because Teja-Linga is among the several names of the Shiva Lingas. From this it is apparent that the Taj-Mahal is Tejo-Mahalaya, The Great Abode of Tej.

 


DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE

18. Shahjahan’s own court chronicle, the Badshahnama, admits (page 403, vol 1) that a grand mansion of unique splendor, capped with a dome (Imaarat-a-Alishan wa Gumbaze) was taken from the Jaipur Maharaja Jaisigh for Mumtaz’s burial, and the building was known as Raja Mansingh’s palace.

19. The plaque put the archealogy department outside the Tajmahal describes the edifice as a mausoleum built by Shahjahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal , over 22 years from 1631 to 1653. That plaque is a specimen of historical bungling. Firstly, the plaque sites no authority for its claim. Secondly the lady’s name was Mumtaz-ulZamani and not Mumtazmahal. Thirdly, the period of 22 years is taken from some mumbo jumbo noting by an unreliable French visitor Tavernier, to the exclusion of all muslim versions, which is an absurdity.

20. Prince Aurangzeb’s letter to his father,emperor Shahjahan,is recorded in atleast three chronicles titled `Aadaab-e-Alamgiri’, `Yadgarnama’, and the `Muruqqa-i-Akbarabadi’ (edited by Said Ahmed, Agra, 1931, page 43, footnote 2). In that letter Aurangzeb records in 1652 A.D itself that the several buildings in the fancied burial place of Mumtaz were seven storeyed and were so old that they were all leaking, while the dome had developed a crack on the northern side.Aurangzeb, therefore, ordered immediate repairs to the buildings at his own expense while recommending to the emperor that more elaborate repairs be carried out later. This is the proof that during Shahjahan’s reign itself that the Taj complex was so old as to need immediate repairs.

21. The ex-Maharaja of Jaipur retains in his secret personal `KapadDwara’ collection two orders from Shahjahan dated Dec 18, 1633 (bearing modern nos. R.176 and 177) requestioning the Taj building complex. That was so blatant a usurpation that the then ruler of Jaipur was ashamed to make the document public.

22. The Rajasthan State archives at Bikaner preserve three other firmans addressed by Shahjahan to the Jaipur’s ruler Jaising ordering the latter to supply marble (for Mumtaz’s grave and koranic grafts) from his Makranna quarris, and stone cutters. Jaisingh was apparently so enraged at the blatant seizure of the Tajmahal that he refused to oblige Shahjahan by providing marble for grafting koranic engravings and fake centotaphs for further desecration of the Tajmahal. Jaising looked at Shahjahan’s demand for marble and stone cutters, as an insult added to injury. Therefore, he refused to send any marble and instead detained the stone cutters in his protective custody.

23. The three firmans demanding marble were sent to Jaisingh within about two years of Mumtaz’s death. Had Shahjahan really built the Tajmahal over a period of 22 years, the marble would have needed only after 15 or 20 years not immediately after Mumtaz’s death.

24. Moreover, the three mention neither the Tajmahal, nor Mumtaz, nor the burial. The cost and the quantity of the stone also are not mentioned. This proves that an insignificant quantity of marble was needed just for some supercial tinkering and tampering with the Tajmahal. Even otherwise Shahjahan could never hope to build a fabulous Tajmahal by abject dependence for marble on a non cooperative Jaisingh.

 


EUROPEAN VISITOR’S ACCOUNTS

25. Tavernier, a French jeweller has recorded in his travel memoirs that Shahjahan purposely buried Mumtaz near the Taz-i-Makan (i.e.,`The Taj building’) where foriegners used to come as they do even today so that the world may admire. He also adds that the cost of the scaffolding was more than that of the entire work. The work that Shahjahan commissioned in the Tejomahalaya Shiva temple was plundering at the costly fixtures inside it, uprooting the Shiva idols, planting the centotaphs in their place on two stories, inscribing the koran along the arches and walling up six of the seven stories of the Taj. It was this plunder, desecrating and plunderring of the rooms which took 22 years.

26. Peter Mundy, an English visitor to Agra recorded in 1632 (within only a year of Mumtaz’s death) that `the places of note in and around Agra, included Taj-e-Mahal’s tomb, gardens and bazaars’.He, therefore, confirms that that the Tajmahal had been a noteworthy building even before Shahjahan.

27. De Laet, a Dutch official has listed Mansingh’s palace about a mile from Agra fort, as an outstanding building of pre shahjahan’s time. Shahjahan’s court chronicle, the Badshahnama records, Mumtaz’s burial in the same Mansingh’s palace.

28. Bernier, a contemporary French visitor has noted that non muslim’s were barred entry into the basement (at the time when Shahjahan requisitioned Mansingh’s palace) which contained a dazzling light. Obviously, he reffered to the silver doors, gold railing, the gem studded lattice and strings of pearl hanging over Shiva’s idol. Shahjahan comandeered the building to grab all the wealth, making Mumtaz’s death a convineant pretext.

29. Johan Albert Mandelslo, who describes life in agra in 1638 (only 7 years after mumtaz’s death) in detail (in his `Voyages and Travels to West-Indies’, published by John Starkey and John Basset, London), makes no mention of the Tajmahal being under constuction though it is commonly erringly asserted or assumed that the Taj was being built from 1631 to 1653.

 


 SANSKRIT INSCRIPTION

30. A Sanskrit inscription too supports the conclusion that the Taj originated as a Shiva temple. Wrongly termed as the Bateshwar inscription (currently preserved on the top floor of the Lucknow museum), it refers to the raising of a “crystal white Shiva temple so alluring that Lord Shiva once enshrined in it decided never to return to Mount Kailash his usual abode”. That inscription dated 1155 A.D. was removed from the Tajmahal garden at Shahjahan’s orders. Historicians and Archeaologists have blundered in terming the insription the `Bateshwar inscription’ when the record doesn’t say that it was found by Bateshwar. It ought, in fact, to be called `The Tejomahalaya inscription’ because it was originally installed in the Taj garden before it was uprooted and cast away at Shahjahan’s command.

A clue to the tampering by Shahjahan is found on pages 216-217, vol. 4, of Archealogiical Survey of India Reports (published 1874) stating that a “great square black balistic pillar which, with the base and capital of another pillar….now in the grounds of Agra,…it is well known, once stood in the garden of Tajmahal”.

 


 MISSING ELEPHANTS

31. Far from the building of the Taj, Shahjahan disfigured it with black koranic lettering and heavily robbed it of its Sanskrit inscription, several idols and two huge stone elephants extending their trunks in a welcome arch over the gateway where visitors these days buy entry tickets. An Englishman, Thomas Twinning, records (pg.191 of his book “Travels in India A Hundred Years ago”) that in November 1794 “I arrived at the high walls which enclose the Taj-e-Mahal and its circumjacent buildings. I here got out of the palanquine and…..mounted a short flight of steps leading to a beautiful portal which formed the centre of this side of the `COURT OF ELEPHANTS” as the great area was called.”

 


 KORANIC PATCHES

32. The Taj Mahal is scrawled over with 14 chapters of the Koran but nowhere is there even the slightest or the remotest allusion in that Islamic overwriting to Shahjahan’s authorship of the Taj. Had Shahjahan been the builder he would have said so in so many words before beginning to quote Koran.

33. That Shahjahan, far from building the marble Taj, only disfigured it with black lettering is mentioned by the inscriber Amanat Khan Shirazi himself in an inscription on the building. A close scrutiny of the Koranic lettering reveals that they are grafts patched up with bits of variegated stone on an ancient Shiva temple.

 


CARBON 14 TEST

34. A wooden piece from the riverside doorway of the Taj subjected to the carbon 14 test by an American Laboratory, has revealed that the door to be 300 years older than Shahjahan,since the doors of the Taj, broken open by Muslim invaders repeatedly from the 11th century onwards, had to b replaced from time to time. The Taj edifice is much more older. It belongs to 1155 A.D, i.e., almost 500 years anterior to Shahjahan.

 


 ARCHITECTURAL EVIDENCE

35. Well known Western authorities on architechture like E.B.Havell, Mrs.Kenoyer and Sir W.W.Hunterhave gone on record to say that the TajMahal is built in the Hindu temple style. Havell points out the ground plan of the ancient Hindu Chandi Seva Temple in Java is identical with that of the Taj.

36. A central dome with cupolas at its four corners is a universal feature of Hindu temples.

37. The four marble pillars at the plinth corners are of the Hindu style. They are used as lamp towers during night and watch towers during the day. Such towers serve to demarcate the holy precincts. Hindu wedding altars and the altar set up for God Satyanarayan worship have pillars raised at the four corners.

38. The octagonal shape of the Tajmahal has a special Hindu significance because Hindus alone have special names for the eight directions, and celestial guards assigned to them. The pinnacle points to the heaven while the foundation signifies to the nether world. Hindu forts, cities, palaces and temples genrally have an octagonal layout or some octagonal features so that together with the pinnacle and the foundation they cover all the ten directions in which the king or God holds sway, according to Hindu belief.

39. The Tajmahal has a trident pinncle over the dome. A full scale of the trident pinnacle is inlaid in the red stone courtyard to the east of the Taj. The central shaft of the trident depicts a “Kalash” (sacred pot) holding two bent mango leaves and a coconut. This is a sacred Hindu motif. Identical pinnacles have been seen over Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Himalayan region. Tridents are also depicted against a red lotus background at the apex of the stately marble arched entrances on all four sides of the Taj. People fondly but mistakenly believed all these centuries that the Taj pinnacle depicts a Islamic cresent and star was a lighting conductor installed by the British rulers in India. Contrarily, the pinnacle is a marvel of Hindu metallurgy since the pinnacle made of non rusting alloy, is also perhaps a lightning deflector. That the pinnacle of the replica is drawn in the eastern courtyard is significant because the east is of special importance to the Hindus, as the direction in which the sun rises. The pinnacle on the dome has the word `Allah’ on it after capture. The pinnacle figure on the ground does not have the word Allah.

 


INCONSISTENCIES

40. The two buildings which face the marble Taj from the east and west are identical in design, size and shape and yet the eastern building is explained away by Islamic tradition, as a community hall while the western building is claimed to be a mosque. How could buildings meant for radically different purposes be identical? This proves that the western building was put to use as a mosque after seizure of the Taj property by Shahjahan. Curiously enough the building being explained away as a mosque has no minaret. They form a pair af reception pavilions of the Tejomahalaya temple palace.

41. A few yards away from the same flank is the Nakkar Khana alias DrumHouse which is a intolerable incongruity for Islam. The proximity of the Drum House indicates that the western annex was not originally a mosque. Contrarily a drum house is a neccesity in a Hindu temple or palace because Hindu chores,in the morning and evening, begin to the sweet strains of music.

42. The embossed patterns on the marble exterior of the centotaph chamber wall are foilage of the conch shell design and the Hindu letter “OM”. The octagonally laid marble lattices inside the centotaph chamber depict pink lotuses on their top railing. The Lotus, the conch and the OM are the sacred motifs associated with the Hindu deities and temples.

43. The spot occupied by Mumtaz’s centotaph was formerly occupied by the Hindu Teja Linga a lithic representation of Lord Shiva. Around it are five perambulatory passages. Perambulation could be done around the marble lattice or through the spacious marble chambers surrounding the centotaph chamber, and in the open over the marble platform. It is also customary for the Hindus to have apertures along the perambulatory passage, overlooking the deity. Such apertures exist in the perambulatories in the Tajmahal.

44. The sanctom sanctorum in the Taj has silver doors and gold railings as Hindu temples have. It also had nets of pearl and gems stuffed in the marble lattices. It was the lure of this wealth which made Shahjahan commandeer the Taj from a helpless vassal Jaisingh, the then ruler of Jaipur.

45. Peter Mundy, a Englishman records (in 1632, within a year of Mumtaz’s death) having seen a gem studded gold railing around her tomb. Had the Taj been under construction for 22 years, a costly gold railing would not have been noticed by Peter mundy within a year of Mumtaz’s death. Such costl fixtures are installed in a building only after it is ready for use. This indicates that Mumtaz’s centotaph was grafted in place of the Shivalinga in the centre of the gold railings. Subsequently the gold railings, silver doors, nets of pearls, gem fillings etc. were all carried away to Shahjahan’s treasury. The seizure of the Taj thus constituted an act of highhanded Moghul robery causing a big row between Shahjahan and Jaisingh.

46. In the marble flooring around Mumtaz’s centotaph may be seen tiny mosaic patches. Those patches indicate the spots where the support for the gold railings were embedded in the floor. They indicate a rectangular fencing.

47. Above Mumtaz’s centotaph hangs a chain by which now hangs a lamp. Before capture by Shahjahan the chain used to hold a water pitcher from which water used to drip on the Shivalinga.

48. It is this earlier Hindu tradition in the Tajmahal which gave the Islamic myth of Shahjahan’s love tear dropping on Mumtaz’s tomb on the full moon day of the winter eve.

 


 TREASURY WELL

49. Between the so-called mosque and the drum house is a multistoried octagonal well with a flight of stairs reaching down to the water level. This is a traditional treasury well in Hindu temple palaces. Treasure chests used to be kept in the lower apartments while treasury personnel had their offices in the upper chambers. The circular stairs made it difficult for intruders to reach down to the treasury or to escape with it undetected or unpursued. In case the premises had to be surrendered to a besieging enemy the treasure could be pushed into the well to remain hidden from the conquerer and remain safe for salvaging if the place was reconquered. Such an elaborate multistoried well is superflous for a mere mausoleum. Such a grand, gigantic well is unneccesary for a tomb.

 


 BURIAL DATE UNKNOWN

50. Had Shahjahan really built the Taj Mahal as a wonder mausoleum, history would have recorded a specific date on which she was ceremoniously buried in the Taj Mahal. No such date is ever mentioned. This important missing detail decisively exposes the falsity of the Tajmahal legend.

51. Even the year of Mumtaz’s death is unknown. It is variously speculated to be 1629, 1630, 1631 or 1632. Had she deserved a fabulous burial, as is claimed, the date of her death had not been a matter of much speculation. In an harem teeming with 5000 women it was difficult to keep track of dates of death. Apparently the date of Mumtaz’s death was so insignificant an event, as not to merit any special notice. Who would then build a Taj for her burial?

 


 BASELESS LOVE STORIES

52. Stories of Shahjahan’s exclusive infatuation for Mumtaz’s are concoctions. They have no basis in history nor has any book ever written on their fancied love affairs. Those stories have been invented as an afterthought to make Shahjahan’s authorship of the Taj look plausible.

 


COST

53. The cost of the Taj is nowhere recorded in Shahjahan’s court papers because Shahjahan never built the Tajmahal. That is why wild estimates of the cost by gullible writers have ranged from 4 million to 91.7 million rupees.

 


PERIOD OF CONSTRUCTION

54. Likewise the period of construction has been guessed to be anywhere between 10 years and 22 years. There would have not been any scope for guesswork had the building construction been on record in the court papers.

 


ARCHITECTS

55. The designer of the Tajmahal is also variously mentioned as Essa Effendy, a Persian or Turk, or Ahmed Mehendis or a Frenchman, Austin deBordeaux, or Geronimo Veroneo, an Italian, or Shahjahan himself.

 


 RECORDS DON’T EXIST

56. Twenty thousand labourers are supposed to have worked for 22 years during Shahjahan’s reign in building the Tajmahal. Had this been true, there should have been available in Shahjahan’s court papers design drawings, heaps of labour muster rolls, daily expenditure sheets, bills and receipts of material ordered, and commisioning orders. There is not even a scrap of paper of this kind.

57. It is, therefore, court flatterers,blundering historians, somnolent archeologists, fiction writers, senile poets, careless tourists officials and erring guides who are responsible for hustling the world into believing in Shahjahan’s mythical authorship of the Taj.

58. Description of the gardens around the Taj of Shahjahan’s time mention Ketaki, Jai, Jui, Champa, Maulashree, Harshringar and Bel. All these are plants whose flowers or leaves are used in the worship of Hindu deities. Bel leaves are exclusively used in Lord Shiva’s worship. A graveyard is planted only with shady trees because the idea of using fruit and flower from plants in a cemetary is abhorrent to human conscience. The presence of Bel and other flower plants in the Taj garden is proof of its having been a Shiva temple before seizure by Shahjahan.

59. Hindu temples are often built on river banks and sea beaches. The Taj is one such built on the bank of the Yamuna river an ideal location for a Shiva temple.

60. Prophet Mohammad has ordained that the burial spot of a muslim should be inconspicous and must not be marked by even a single tombstone. In flagrant violation of this, the Tajamhal has one grave in the basement and another in the first floor chamber both ascribed to Mumtaz. Those two centotaphs were infact erected by Shahjahan to bury the two tier Shivalingas that were consecrated in the Taj. It is customary for Hindus to install two Shivalingas one over the other in two stories as may be seen in the Mahankaleshwar temple in Ujjain and the Somnath temple raised by Ahilyabai in Somnath Pattan.

61. The Tajmahal has identical entrance arches on all four sides. This is a typical Hindu building style known as Chaturmukhi, i.e.,four faced.

 


THE HINDU DOME

62. The Tajmahal has a reverberating dome. Such a dome is an absurdity for a tomb which must ensure peace and silence. Contrarily reverberating domes are a neccesity in Hindu temples because they create an ecstatic dinmultiplying and magnifying the sound of bells, drums and pipes accompanying the worship of Hindu deities.

63. The Tajmahal dome bears a lotus cap. Original Islamic domes have a bald top as is exemplified by the Pakistan Embassy in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, and the domes in the Pakistan’s newly built capital Islamabad.

64. The Tajmahal entrance faces south. Had the Taj been an Islamic building it should have faced the west.

 


TOMB IS THE GRAVE, NOT THE BUILDING

65. A widespread misunderstanding has resulted in mistaking the building for the grave.Invading Islam raised graves in captured buildings in every country it overran. Therefore, hereafter people must learn not to confound the building with the grave mounds which are grafts in conquered buildings. This is true of the Tajmahal too. One may therefore admit (for arguments sake) that Mumtaz lies buried inside the Taj. But that should not be construed to mean that the Taj was raised over Mumtaz’s grave.

66. The Taj is a seven storied building. Prince Aurangzeb also mentions this in his letter to Shahjahan. The marble edifice comprises four stories including the lone, tall circular hall inside the top, and the lone chamber in the basement. In between are two floors each containing 12 to 15 palatial rooms. Below the marble plinth reaching down to the river at the rear are two more stories in red stone. They may be seen from the river bank. The seventh storey must be below the ground (river) level since every ancient Hindu building had a subterranian storey.

67. Immediately bellow the marble plinth on the river flank are 22 rooms in red stone with their ventilators all walled up by Shahjahan. Those rooms, made uninhibitably by Shahjahan, are kept locked by Archealogy Department of India. The lay visitor is kept in the dark about them. Those 22 rooms still bear ancient Hindu paint on their walls and ceilings. On their side is a nearly 33 feet long corridor. There are two door frames one at either end ofthe corridor. But those doors are intriguingly sealed with brick and lime.

68. Apparently those doorways originally sealed by Shahjahan have been since unsealed and again walled up several times. In 1934 a resident of Delhi took a peep inside from an opening in the upper part of the doorway. To his dismay he saw huge hall inside. It contained many statues huddled around a central beheaded image of Lord Shiva. It could be that, in there, are Sanskrit inscriptions too. All the seven stories of the Tajmahal need to be unsealed and scoured to ascertain what evidence they may be hiding in the form of Hindu images, Sanskrit inscriptions, scriptures, coins and utensils.

69. Apart from Hindu images hidden in the sealed stories it is also learnt that Hindu images are also stored in the massive walls of the Taj. Between 1959 and 1962 when Mr. S.R. Rao was the Archealogical Superintendent in Agra, he happened to notice a deep and wide crack in the wall of the central octagonal chamber of the Taj. When a part of the wall was dismantled to study the crack out popped two or three marble images. The matter was hushed up and the images were reburied where they had been embedded at Shahjahan’s behest. Confirmation of this has been obtained from several sources. It was only when I began my investigation into the antecedents of the Taj I came across the above information which had remained a forgotten secret. What better proof is needed of the Temple origin of the Tajmahal? Its walls and sealed chambers still hide in Hindu idols that were consecrated in it before Shahjahan’s seizure of the Taj.

 


PRE-SHAHJAHAN REFERENCES TO THE TAJ

70. Apparently the Taj as a central palace seems to have an chequered history. The Taj was perhaps desecrated and looted by every Muslim invader from Mohammad Ghazni onwards but passing into Hindu hands off and on, the sanctity of the Taj as a Shiva temple continued to be revived after every muslim onslaught. Shahjahan was the last muslim to desecrate the Tajmahal alias Tejomahalay.

71. Vincent Smith records in his book titled `Akbar the Great Moghul’ that `Babur’s turbulent life came to an end in his garden palace in Agra in 1630′. That palace was none other than the Tajmahal. 72. Babur’s daughter Gulbadan Begum in her chronicle titled `Humayun Nama’ refers to the Taj as the Mystic House.

73. Babur himself refers to the Taj in his memoirs as the palace captured by Ibrahim Lodi containing a central octagonal chamber and having pillars on the four sides. All these historical references allude to the Taj 100 years before Shahjahan.

74. The Tajmahal precincts extend to several hundred yards in all directions. Across the river are ruins of the annexes of the Taj, the bathing ghats and a jetty for the ferry boat. In the Victoria gardens outside covered with creepers is the long spur of the ancient outer wall ending in a octagonal red stone tower. Such extensive grounds all magnificently done up, are a superfluity for a grave.

75. Had the Taj been specially built to bury Mumtaz, it should not have been cluttered with other graves. But the Taj premises contain several graves atleast in its eastern and southern pavilions.

76. In the southern flank, on the other side of the Tajganj gate are buried in identical pavilions queens Sarhandi Begum, and Fatehpuri Begum and a maid Satunnisa Khanum. Such parity burial can be justified only if the queens had been demoted or the maid promoted. But since Shahjahan had commandeered (not built) the Taj, he reduced it general to a muslim cemetary as was the habit of all his Islamic predeccssors, and buried a queen in a vacant pavillion and a maid in another idenitcal pavilion.

77. Shahjahan was married to several other women before and after Mumtaz. She, therefore, deserved no special consideration in having a wonder mausoleum built for her.

78. Mumtaz was a commoner by birth and so she did not qualify for a fairyland burial.

79. Mumtaz died in Burhanpur which is about 600 miles from Agra. Her grave there is intact. Therefore ,the centotaphs raised in stories of the Taj in her name seem to be fakes hiding in Hindu Shiva emblems.

80. Shahjahan seems to have simulated Mumtaz’s burial in Agra to find a pretext to surround the temple palace with his fierce and fanatic troops and remove all the costly fixtures in his treasury. This finds confirmation in the vague noting in the Badshahnama which says that the Mumtaz’s (exhumed) body was brought to Agra from Burhanpur and buried `next year’. An official term would not use a nebulous term unless it is to hide some thing.

81. A pertinent consideration is that a Shahjahan who did not build any palaces for Mumtaz while she was alive, would not build a fabulous mausoleum for a corpse which was no longer kicking or clicking.

82. Another factor is that Mumtaz died within two or three years of Shahjahan becoming an emperor. Could he amass so much superflous wealth in that short span as to squander it on a wonder mausoleum?

83. While Shahjahan’s special attachment to Mumtaz is nowhere recorded in history his amorous affairs with many other ladies from maids to mannequins including his own daughter Jahanara, find special attention in accounts of Shahjahan’s reign. Would Shahjahan shower his hard earned wealth on Mumtaz’s corpse?

84. Shahjahan was a stingy, usurious monarch. He came to throne murdering all his rivals. He was not therefore, the doting spendthrift that he is made out to be.

85. A Shahjahan disconsolate on Mumtaz’s death is suddenly credited with a resolve to build the Taj. This is a psychological incongruity. Grief is a disabling, incapacitating emotion.

86. A infatuated Shahjahan is supposed to have raised the Taj over the dead Mumtaz, but carnal, physical sexual love is again a incapacitating emotion. A womaniser is ipso facto incapable of any constructive activity. When carnal love becomes uncontrollable the person either murders somebody or commits suicide. He cannot raise a Tajmahal. A building like the Taj invariably originates in an ennobling emotion like devotion to God, to one’s mother and mother country or power and glory.

87. Early in the year 1973, chance digging in the garden in front of the Taj revealed another set of fountains about six feet below the present fountains. This proved two things. Firstly, the subterranean fountains were there before Shahjahan laid the surface fountains. And secondly that those fountains are aligned to the Taj that edifice too is of pre Shahjahan origin. Apparently the garden and its fountains had sunk from annual monsoon flooding and lack of maintenance for centuries during the Islamic rule.

89. The stately rooms on the upper floor of the Tajmahal have been striped of their marble mosaic by Shahjahan to obtain matching marble for raising fake tomb stones inside the Taj premises at several places. Contrasting with the rich finished marble ground floor rooms the striping of the marble mosaic covering the lower half of the walls and flooring of the upper storey have given those rooms a naked, robbed look. Since no visitors are allowed entry to the upper storey this despoilation by Shahjahan has remained a well guarded secret. There is no reason why Shahjahan’s loot of the upper floor marble should continue to be hidden from the public even after 200 years of termination of Moghul rule.

90. Bernier, the French traveller has recorded that no non muslim was allowed entry into the secret nether chambers of the Taj because there are some dazzling fixtures there. Had those been installed by Shahjahan they should have been shown the public as a matter of pride. But since it was commandeered Hindu wealth which Shahjahan wanted to remove to his treasury, he didn’t want the public to know about it.

91. The approach to Taj is dotted with hillocks raised with earth dugout from foundation trenches. The hillocks served as outer defences of the Taj building complex. Raising such hillocks from foundation earth, is a common Hindu device of hoary origin. Nearby Bharatpur provides a graphic parallel.

Peter Mundy has recorded that Shahjahan employed thousands of labourers to level some of those hillocks. This is a graphic proof of the Tajmahal existing before Shahjahan.

93. At the backside of the river bank is a Hindu crematorium, several palaces, Shiva temples and bathings of ancient origin. Had Shahjahan built the Tajmahal, he would have destroyed the Hindu features.

94. The story that Shahjahan wanted to build a Black marble Taj across the river, is another motivated myth. The ruins dotting the other side of the river are those of Hindu structures demolished during muslim invasions and not the plinth of another Tajmahal. Shahjahan who did not even build the white Tajmahal would hardly ever think of building a black marble Taj. He was so miserly that he forced labourers to work gratis even in the superficial tampering neccesary to make a Hindu temple serve as a Muslim tomb.

95. The marble that Shahjahan used for grafting Koranic lettering in the Taj is of a pale white shade while the rest of the Taj is built of a marble with rich yellow tint. This disparity is proof of the Koranic extracts being a superimposition.

96. Though imaginative attempts have been made by some historians to foist some fictitious name on history as the designer of the Taj others more imaginative have credited Shajahan himself with superb architechtural proficiency and artistic talent which could easily conceive and plan the Taj even in acute bereavement. Such people betray gross ignorance of history in as much as Shajahan was a cruel tyrant ,a great womaniser and a drug and drink addict.

97. Fanciful accounts about Shahjahan commisioning the Taj are all confused. Some asserted that Shahjahan ordered building drawing from all over the world and chose one from among them. Others assert that a man at hand was ordered to design a mausoleum and his design was approved. Had any of those versions been true Shahjahan’s court papers should have had thousands of drawings concerning the Taj. But there is not even a single drawing. This is yet another clinching proof that Shahjahan did not commision the Taj.

98. The Tajmahal is surrounded by huge mansions which indicate that several battles have been waged around the Taj several times.

99. At the south east corner of the Taj is an ancient royal cattle house. Cows attached to the Tejomahalay temple used to reared there. A cowshed is an incongruity in an Islamic tomb.

100. Over the western flank of the Taj are several stately red stone annexes. These are superflous for a mausoleum.

101. The entire Taj complex comprises of 400 to 500 rooms. Residential accomodation on such a stupendous scale is unthinkable in a mausoleum.

102. The neighbouring Tajganj township’s massive protective wall also encloses the Tajmahal temple palace complex. This is a clear indication that the Tejomahalay temple palace was part and parcel of the township. A street of that township leads straight into the Tajmahal. The Tajganj gate is aligned in a perfect straight line to the octagonal red stone garden gate and the stately entrance arch of the Tajmahal. The Tajganj gate besides being central to the Taj temple complex, is also put on a pedestal. The western gate by which the visitors enter the Taj complex is a camparatively minor gateway. It has become the entry gate for most visitors today because the railway station and the bus station are on that side.

103. The Tajmahal has pleasure pavilions which a tomb would never have.

104. A tiny mirror glass in a gallery of the Red Fort in Agra reflects the Taj mahal. Shahjahan is said to have spent his last eight years of life as a prisoner in that gallery peering at the reflected Tajmahal and sighing in the name of Mumtaz. This myth is a blend of many falsehoods. Firstly,old Shajahan was held prisoner by his son Aurangzeb in the basement storey in the Fort and not in an open,fashionable upper storey. Secondly, the glass piece was fixed in the 1930’s by Insha Allah Khan, a peon of the archaelogy dept.just to illustrate to the visitors how in ancient times the entire apartment used to scintillate with tiny mirror pieces reflecting the Tejomahalay temple a thousand fold. Thirdly, a old decrepit Shahjahan with pain in his joints and cataract in his eyes, would not spend his day craning his neck at an awkward angle to peer into a tiny glass piece with bedimmed eyesight when he could as well his face around and have full,direct view of the Tjamahal itself. But the general public is so gullible as to gulp all such prattle of wily, unscrupulous guides.

105. That the Tajmahal dome has hundreds of iron rings sticking out of its exterior is a feature rarely noticed. These are made to hold Hindu earthen oil lamps for temple illumination.

106. Those putting implicit faith in Shahjahan authorship of the Taj have been imagining Shahjahan-Mumtaz to be a soft hearted romantic pair like Romeo and Juliet. But contemporary accounts speak of Shahjahan as a hard hearted ruler who was constantly egged on to acts of tyranny and cruelty, by Mumtaz.

107. School and College history carry the myth that Shahjahan reign was a golden period in which there was peace and plenty and that Shahjahan commisioned many buildings and patronized literature. This is pure fabrication. Shahjahan did not commision even a single building as we have illustrated by a detailed analysis of the Tajmahal legend. Shahjahn had to enrage in 48 military campaigns during a reign of nearly 30 years which proves that his was not a era of peace and plenty.

108. The interior of the dome rising over Mumtaz’s centotaph has a representation of Sun and cobras drawn in gold. Hindu warriors trace their origin to the Sun. For an Islamic mausoleum the Sun is redundant. Cobras are always associated with Lord Shiva.

 


FORGED DOCUMENTS

109. The Muslim caretakers of the tomb in the Tajmahal used to possess a document which they styled as “Tarikh-i-Tajmahal”. Historian H.G. Keene has branded it as `a document of doubtful authenticity’. Keene was uncannily right since we have seen that Shahjahan not being the creator of the Tajmahal any document which credits Shahjahn with the Tajmahal, must be an outright forgery. Even that forged document is reported to have been smuggled out of Pakistan. Besides such forged documents there are whole chronicles on the Taj which are pure concoctions.

110. There is lot of sophistry and casuistry or atleast confused thinking associated with the Taj even in the minds of proffesional historians, archaelogists and architects. At the outset they assert that the Taj is entirely Muslim in design. But when it is pointed out that its lotus capped dome and the four corner pillars etc. are all entirely Hindu those worthies shift ground and argue that that was probably because the workmen were Hindu and were to introduce their own patterns. Both these arguments are wrong because Muslim accounts claim the designers to be Muslim,and the workers invariably carry out the employer’s dictates.

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.

It is hoped that people the world over who study Indian history will awaken to this new finding and revise their erstwhile beliefs.

Those interested in an indepth study of the above and many other revolutionary rebuttals may read this author’s other research books.

 


Tajmahal The True Story authored by Shri P.N. Oak can be ordered from :

A. Ghosh Publisher, 5720 W. Little York # 216, Houston, Texas  77091

31
Jul
09

An Architect Looks at the Taj Mahal Legend

AN ARCHITECT LOOKS AT THE TAJ MAHAL LEGEND

by

Professor Marvin H. Mills

Pratt Institute, New York

In their book TAJ MAHAL-THE ILLUMINED TOMB, Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din Ahmad Desai have put together a very commendable body of data and information derived from contemporary sources and augmented with numerous photo illustrations, chroniclers’ descriptions, imperial directives plus letters, plans, elevations and diagrams. They have performed a valuable service to the community of scholars and laymen concerned with the circumstances surrounding the origin and development of the Taj Mahal.

 

But these positive contributions exist within a framework of analysis and interpretation that distorts a potential source of enlightenment into support for fantasy and misinformation that has plagued scholarship in this field for hundreds of years, thus obscuring the true origin of the Taj Mahal complex. The two basic procedural errors that they make is to assume that the dated inscriptions are accurate and that court chroniclers are behaving like objective historians.

 

As an architect, my principal argument with the authors is their facile acceptance of the compact time frame that they uncritically accept for the coming into being of the Taj from conception to its first Urs (anniversary) of the death of Mumtaz and the completion of the main building. Construction processes that had to consume substantial blocks of time are condensed into a few months. They feel justified in relying on what evidence is available, but fail to consider the objective needs of construction. They regret the loss of what, they say, must have been millions of Mughal state records and documents produced each year on all aspects of the Taj’s construction. They do not consider that the lack of drawings, specifications and records of payment may be due to their not being generated at the time. Nor do they consider Shahjahan’s potential for deception as to when and by whom it was built. Yet they point out Shahjahan’s careful monitoring of the contents of court history:

 

“Shajahan himself was probably responsible for this twisting of historical truth. The truth would have shown him to be inconsistent and this could not be tolerated. For this reason also, the histories contain no statements of any kind that are critical of the Emperor or his policies, and even military defeats are rationalized so that no blame could be attached to him. … effusive praise of the Emperor is carried to such extremes that he seems more a divinity than a mortal man.” (p. xxvi)

 

With the court chroniclers’ histories carefully edited, and with the great scarcity of documents we are fortunate to have four surviving farmans or directives issued by Shahjahan to Raja Jai Singh of Amber-the very same local ruler from whom the Emperor acquired the Taj property. On the basis of these farmans, the court chroniclers and a visiting European traveler, we learn that: (i) Mumtaz died and was buried temporarily at Burhanpur on June 17, 1631; (ii) her body was exhumed and taken to Agra on December 11, 1631; (iii) she was reburied somewhere on the Taj grounds on January 8, 1632; and (iv) European traveler Peter Mundy witnessed Shahjahan’s return to Agra with his cavalcade on June 11, 1632.

 

The first farman was issued on September 20, 1632 in which the Emperor urges Raja Jai Singh to hasten the shipment of marble for the facing of the interior walls of the mausoleum, i.e., the Taj main building. Naturally a building had to be there to receive the finish. How much time was needed to put that basic building in place?

 

Every successful new building construction follows what we call in modern-day construction a “critical path”. There is a normal sequence of steps requiring a minimum time before other processes follow. Since Mumtaz died unexpectedly and relatively young (having survived thirteen previous child-births), we can assume that Shahjahan was unprepared for her sudden demise. He had to conceive, in the midst of his trauma, of a world class tomb dedicated to her, select an architect (whose identity is still debated), work out a design program with the architect, and have the architect prepare designs, engineer the structure and mechanical systems, detail the drawings, organize the contractors and thousands of workers, and prepare a complex construction schedule. Mysteriously, no documents relating to this elaborate procedure, other than the four farmans have survived.

 

We cannot assume that the Taj complex was built additively with the buildings and landscaping built as needed. It was designed as a unified whole. Begley and Desai make this clear by their analysis of the grid system that was employed by the designer to unite the complex horizontally and vertically to into a three-dimensional whole. If one did not “know” that it was a solemn burial grounds, one would believe that it was designed as a palace with a delightful air of fantasy and secular delights of waterways and flowering plants. Could it be that this is Raja Jai Singh’s palace, never destroyed, converted by decree and some minimum face-lifting to a Mughal tomb?

 

Assuming that Shahjahan was galvanized into prompt action to initiate the project on behalf of his deceased beloved, we can safely assume that he needed one year minimum between conception and ground-breaking. Since Mumtaz died in June 1631, that would take us to June 1632. But construction is said to have begun in January 1632.

 

Excavation must have presented a formidable task. First, the demolition of Raja Jai Singh’s palace would have had to occur. We know that the property had a palace on it from the chronicles of Mirza Qazini and Abd al-Hamid Lahori. Lahori writes:

 

“As there was a tract of land (zamini) of great eminence and pleasantness towards the south of that large city, on which before there was this mansion (manzil) of Raja Man Singh, and which now belongs to his grandson Raja Jai Singh, it was selected for the burial place (madfan) of that tenant of paradise.[Mumtaz]” (p. 43)

 

Measures would have to be taken during excavation of this main building and the other buildings to the north to retain the Jumna River from inundating the excavation. The next steps would have been to sink the massive foundation piers, put in the footings, retaining the walls and the plinth or podium to support the Taj and its two accompanying buildings to the east and west plus the foundations for the corner towers, the well house, the underground rooms, and assuming the complex was done at one time, all the supports for the remainder of the buildings throughout the complex. To be conservative in our estimate, we need at least another year of construction which takes us up to January 1634.

 

But here is the problem. On the anniversary of the death of Mumtaz, each year Shahjahan would stage the Urs celebration at the Taj. The first Urs occurred on June 22, 1632. Though construction had allegedly begun only six months earlier, the great plinth of red sandstone over brick, 374 yards long, 140 yards wide, and 14 yards high was already in place! Even Begley and Desai are somewhat amazed.

 

Where was all the construction debris, the piles of materials, the marble, the brick scaffolding, the temporary housing for thousands of workers, the numerous animals needed to haul materials? If “heaven was surpassed by the magnificence of the rituals”, as one chronicler puts it, then nothing should have been visible to mar the exquisite panorama that the occasion called for.

 

But by June 1632, it was not physically possible that construction could have progressed to completion of excavation, construction of all the footings and foundations, completion of the immense platform and clearing of all the debris and eyesores in preparation for the first Urs.

 

Begley and Desai have little use for the testimony of the European travelers to the court of Shahjahan. But they consider Peter Mundy, an agent of the British East India Company, to be the most important source on the Taj because he was there shortly before the first Urs at the new grave site, and one year later at the second Urs.

 

It was Mundy who said that he saw the installation of the enameled gold railing surrounding Mumtaz’s cenotaph at the time of the second Urs on May 26, 1633. But there is no way that construction could have moved ahead so vigorously from January 1632 to May 1633 as to be ready to receive the railing. After all, the railing could not have stood forth in the open air. It means that the Taj building had to be already there. It must have been immensely valuable since the cost of the Taj complex was reported to be fifty lakhs, while the cost of the gold railing was six lakhs of rupees. The gold railing was removed by Shahjahan on February 6, 1643 when it was replaced by the inlaid white marble screen one sees now.

 

An alternate interpretation of events regarding the railing is that Shahjahan revealed the gold railing of Raja Jai Singh at the first or second Urs. In 1643 he appropriated it for himself and put in its place the very fine marble screen with its inlaid semi-precious stones, a screen that was not nearly as valuable as the gold railing.

 

If Shahjahan’s construction and interior adornment of the Taj are in question, what rework of the Taj can we attribute to him? The inscriptions were undoubtedly among the few rework tasks that he was obliged to do. He may also have removed any obvious references to Hinduism in the form of symbolic decor that existed.

 

The book’s plate illustrations show that the inscriptions are almost always in a discrete rectangular frame which renders them capable of being modified or added to without damaging the adjascent material. In my judgement the black script on the white marble background seems inappropriate esthetically in the midst of the soft beige marble that surrounds it. By adding the inscriptions Shahjahan probably sought to establish the credibility of its having been his creation as a sacred mausoleum instead of the Hindu palace that time will undoubtedly prove that it was.

 

Based on the latest inscriptions dated 1638-39, which appear on the tomb, the authors estimate a construction period of six years. Six years in my judgement is simply not enough time. As reasonable approximation of the total time required to build the Taj complex, we can consider Tavernier’s estimate of twenty-two years. Although he first arrived in Agra in 1640, he probably witnessed some rework or repair. The time frame of twenty-two years may have been passed on to him by local people as part of the collective memory from some previous century when the Taj was actually built.

 

The issue of repairs is taken up by the authors in their translation of the original letter of Aurangazeb to his father dated December 9, 1652. He reports serious leaks on the north side, the four arched portals, the four small domes, the four northern vestibules, subchambers of the plinth, plus leaks from the previous rainy season. The question the authors do not raise is: Would the Taj, being at most only thirteen years old, already have shown symptoms of decay? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to believe that by 1652 it was already hundreds of years old and was showing normal wear and tear.

 

Who built the Taj? The authors say it was Ahmad Ustad Lahori, chief architect for Shahjahan. They base this belief mainly on the assertion by Luft Allah, the son of Lahori, in a collection of verses, that Shahjahan commanded Lahori to build both the Taj and the Red Fort at Delhi. As evidence this is quite weak.

 

The court historians are unfailing in their praise for the Emperor’s personal participation in his massive architectuaral projects and they are never lacking in glorifying his sterling character. But the European travelers have other things to say about his personality and his inability to focus on anything for long except his lust for women. Nor is the object of his supposed great love either tender or compassionate. It seems that both “lovers” were cruel, self-centred and vicious. To believe that out of this relationship, with the support of Shahjahan’s alleged great architectural skills, came what many consider to be the most beautiful building complex in the world, is sheer romantic nonsense.

 

While Begley and Desai are sceptical of the Taj Mahal’s being a consequence of romantic devotion, they yield not an inch in asserting its Mughal origin. They support this traditional view by overlooking some key problems:

 

1. Consider the identical character of the two buildings on either side of the Taj main building. If they had different functions-one a mosque, the other a guest residence-then, they should have been designed differently to reflect their individual functions.

 

2. Why does the perimeter wall of the complex have a Medieval, pre-artillery, defense character when artillery (cannons) was already in use in the Mughal invasions of India? [Why does a mausoleum need a protective wall in the first place? For a palace it is understadable.]

 

3. Why are there some twenty rooms below the terrace level on the north side of the Taj facing the Jumna River? Why does a mausoleum need these rooms? A palace could put them to good use. The authors do not even mention their existence.

 

4. What is in the sealed-up rooms on the south side of the long corridor opposite the twenty contiguous rooms? Who filled in the doorway with masonry? Why are scholars not allowed to enter and study whatever objects or decor are within?

 

5. Why does the “mosque” face due west instead of facing Meccah? Certainly, by the seventeenth century there was no problem in orienting a building precisely!

 

6. Why has the Archaeological Survey of India blocked any dating of the Taj by means of Carbon-14 or thermo-luminiscnece? Any controversy over which century the Taj was built could easily be resolved. [Radiocarbon dating of a piece of wood surreptiously taken from one of the doors gave 13th century as a possible date. But more data is needed.]

 

If Shajahan did not build the Taj for the love of Mumtaz, then why did he want it? His love for Mumtaz was evidently a convenient subterfuge. He actually wanted the existing palace for himself. He appropriated it from Raja Jai Singh by making him an offer he could not refuse, the gift of other properties in exchange. He also acquired whatever was precious within the building including the immensely valuable gold railing.

 

By converting the complex into a sacred Moslem mausoleum he insured that the Hindus would never want it back. Shahjahan converted the residential quarters to the west of the main building to a mosque simply by modifying the interior of the west wall to create a mihrab niche. He added Islamic inscriptions around many doorways and entries to give the impression that the Taj had always been Islamic. Sure enough, the scholars have been silent or deceived ever since.

 

Yet, we must thank Begley and Desai for having assembled so much useful data and translated contemporary writings and inscriptions. Where they failed is in accepting an apocryphal legend of the Taj for an absolute fact. Their interpretations and analyses have been forced into the mold of their bias. It would be well to take advantage of their work by scholars and laymen interested in deepening their knowledge of the Taj Mahal to read the book while keeping an open mind as to when and by whom it was built.

 

Added note:

A leading Indian architect, former professor of architecture at Mysore University adds:

There are fundamental problems with the current theory of Islamic Architecture in India of which the following may be noted.

 

(1) Unlike in the case of Hindu architecture, where there are literally hundreds of works on Vastu in several Indian languages, there seem to be almost no texts or manuals on Islamic architecture. It is difficult to see how a great school of architecture lasting 600 years could flourish without any technical literature.

 

(2) Hindu architectural practices and traditions are maintained by thousands of mason families, especially in South India. These are known as Vishwakarmas or Vishwa Brahmanas. They are greatly in demand all over the world. No such Muslim families are known.

 

(3) There are no standards of units and measurements for Islamic architecture in India. It is inconceivable that great works of architecture could come up without them. This is an objective requirement.

 

TAJ MAHAL-The Illumined Tomb, an anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European documentary sources, by W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai: Published by the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1989 (The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture).

The reviewer Marvin Mills is a leading New York architect and professor of architecture at the Pratt Institute.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.