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Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Taj Mahal | A Labour of Love

"You know Shah Jahan, 
life and youth, wealth and glory, 
they all drift away in the current of time.
You strove therefore, 
to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart.
Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish. 
Only let this one teardrop, 
this Taj Mahal, 
glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, 
forever and ever."

-Rabindranath Tagore

It was on the evening of January 31, 1666 that the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan passed away, after being sick from dysentery for about a fortnight. He had just turned 74 (on January 5). 

Emperor Shah Jahan

He had been confined to bed in the Shah Burj the past few days and had become extremely weak. Convinced that his end was near, he called the ladies of his harem, particularly Akbarabadi Mahal, and asked them to take care of his beloved daughter Jahanara. He recited the Kalima (the Islamic profession of faith) and verses from the Quran before he breathed his last. The gathered ladies broke into lamentations and changed into mourning dresses. 

Shah Burj - The Yamuna can be seen to the far left.
Jahanara Begum, who had tended to her father during his years in captivity, wanted a grand burial for her father, befitting that of an emperor. But Aurangzeb didn't want any kind of a grand public burial for Shah Jahan. He ordered Hoshdar Khan, the governor of Agra, to call the eminent ulema who had been Shah Jahan's spiritual guide during his years of captivity, Sayyid Muhammad Qannauji, and Qazi Qurban, the chief religious judge of Agra, to help with the funeral arrangements and the burial. The dead body was taken to one of the halls near the Shah Burj, washed according to Islamic rites and placed in a  sandalwood coffin. The door at the bottom of the Shah Burj that had been closed all these years of Shah Jahan's captivity was opened specially this night, so that the body could be taken from there to the Taj Mahal by boat. Here, the 2 ulemas (named earlier) recited the funeral prayers and the coffin was placed in the lower tomb chamber next to that of Shah Jahan's beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. 

Muthamman Burj / Shah Burj - This palace in the Agra Fort facing the Yamuna was home to Shah Jahan during his years in captivity. He died here and then his body was taken by boat to Taj Mahal and buried there. 

Later a Sarcophagus of white marble was constructed for him - a span higher than that of Mumtaz Mahal, as he was the Emperor. It was distinguished by the symbol of a qalamdan (pen-holder), which was covered with poppy flowers. An inscription bearing the date of his death was carved in relief. 

Sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal - The Sarcophagus of the Emperor is higher.

The inscription on Shah Jahan's Sarcophagus reads:

"The illuminated sepulchre and sacred resting place of His Most Exalted Majesty, dignified as Rizwan, having his abode in Paradise and his dwelling in starry Heaven, dweller in the regions of bliss, the second Sahib Kiran, the second Lord of the constellation, Shah Jahan, the King Valiant, may his Mausoleum ever flourish, and his abode be in the Heaven. He travelled from the transitory world to the world of eternity on the night of the 28th of the month of Rajab 1076 A.D. (1666 A.D.)."
Directly below the sarcophagi of the Emperor and his Empress are the real graves housed in the Mortuary Vault. According to Islam, the coffins containing the mortal remains are interred in the earth. An oblong opening in the antechamber between the central octagonal hall and the lofty apsed arch on the southern side of the mausoleum provides access to the real graves. Going down these flight of stairs resembles descending into an Egyptian pyramid. 

According to popular belief, the original door to the grave chamber was made of pure silver embossed with exquisite ornamental designs, which were so well-polished that they reflected some light on to the lower part of the descending passage. This lovely door was taken away by the invading Jat army of Surajmal, ruler of the neighboring Bharatpur, in 1764.         

The Sarcophagi of the royal couple is enclosed by fine and delicate textured marble screens and placed in the center of the Cenotaph or Sarcophagus Chamber. The Sarcophagus of the Empress lies in the center of the marble screen enclosure because the Mausoleum was specifically built for (interring) her (remains). The Sarcophagus of the Emperor lies about 6 inches to the west of the Empress because he was buried here due to an act of Fate. (It is believed that Shah Jahan wanted to build his own Mausoleum on the opposite side of the Yamuna, facing the Taj Mahal, and preferably of black marble.)

A Painting in the Mosque in the Taj Complex Shows a Plan to Have 2 Identical Taj Mahals on Opposite Sides of the Yamuna Joined by a Bridge of Black Marble

The walls of the Cenotaph Chamber are made of such pure marble that when light passing through the double-perforated marble screens falls on them, it appears as if the marble has been thinly coated with sang-i-tila (gold stone)!     

The front of the arches of this Cenotaph Chamber contain verses from the Quran in exquisite calligraphy. Even more stunningly, they are embellished with the most beautiful ornamentation in the form of plants, bouquets, buds (opening and closing), blossoms (partly blown or in full bloom) and leaves bent by the breeze. They look so natural and true to life that only  a close inspection reveals that they are composed of precious stones firmly and elegantly embedded in marble. A single bouquet of flowers may contain several hundred pieces to form the mosaic work. A single flower itself may contain 50 precious stones of bright and natural colours. These pieces are so closely and accurately embedded that it's impossible to pass even a needle through the partings.  

Just take a moment to appreciate the unparalleled delicate craftsmanship of the workers then who had no modern tools or technology or even proper lighting to aid their art and yet produced such a spell-binding example of Mughal architecture, combining elements from Persian and Islamic styles. Think about the accuracy required to produce the fragile, minute pieces of innumerable different shapes from precious and semi-precious stones that would fit perfectly into the cavity fashioned in the marble slab.

If you were to look at the marble panels, they seem as if entirely made from a single block. And yet, the ribs, veins and the pointed edges of the leaves are all life-like in natural colors! No wonder, the Taj Mahal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The citation read: 
"the jewel of Islamic art and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
The Taj Mahal
Indeed the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful and well-preserved tomb in the world. It was designed using an architectural style known as interlocking arabesque. Simply put, this means that each element of the structure can stand on its own and also integrate seamlessly with the composite structure. Another interesting aspect of the Taj Mahal is the way it seems to change colours depending upon the time of day and the season! This is likely due to the Yamuna reflecting light differently onto the marble at different times. The best time to view the stunning beauty of the Taj Mahal is at dawn or dusk. 

The reason why I mentioned all these details is to impress upon the readers just how much attention and effort went into the making of the Taj Mahal - a labour of love for an Emperor who never stopped mourning for his beloved wife, who left him untimely. It is my endeavor that after reading this post, readers may look at the Taj with renewed awe and admiration and be mesmerized by a man's obsession to create the perfect resting place for his beloved.  

Mumtaz Mahal - The Muse for The Taj Mahal

Mumtaz Mahal was born at Lahore on April 27, 1593 as Arjumand Bano Begum to Diwanji Begum and Khwaja Abul Hasan, also known by his titular name Yaminud Daula Asaf Khan, brother of Empress Nur Jahan and son of Mirza Ghiyas Baig Itimad-ud-daula. What was so special about her that Shah Jahan built one of the greatest Mughal monuments, indeed one of the finest in the world, for her? 

Court historians speak of Shah Jahan's great attachment to Mumtaz Mahal, who was his constant companion since the tender age of 14, sharing his misfortunes during the trials and tribulations of his pre-kingship years as well as the royal luxurious life. She was an extremely faithful and understanding wife, who showered love on him and exhibited sympathy for his aspirations. She was a much-needed calming influence on the Emperor.  

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan - A Tale of Eternal Love
The Taj Mahal was, in a way, conceived to testify to the power and glory of Shah Jahan for ages to come. But more than that, here was a glorious Emperor who had erected a magnificent mausoleum on earth for his wife that would reflect her heavenly abode in paradise. It was a promise he had made to her and he honored it beautifully.

Mumtaz Mahal passed away on Wednesday, 17th Ziqa'da 1040 A.H. (June 17, 1631 A.D.) at the young age of 37, only a few years after Shah Jahan became the Emperor. She had just given birth to a princess and thereafter, her condition became critical. She asked Jahanara to call her father, who immediately rushed to her side. Mumtaz Mahal requested him to be kind to her children and parents, and passed away in front of a helpless Emperor. 

She was laid to rest at Zainabad in Burhanpur, across the river Tapti in the form of amanat (temporary burial). Abdul Hamid Lahauri mentions that her body was buried in a tank in the garden of Zainabad. Shah Jahan was so shocked by her demise that he did not attend any festivity for 2 years.  

Note: It is a strange coincidence that Mumtaz Mahal should pass away in Burhanpur, the same place where Khusrau, Shah Jahan's elder brother, died mysteriously. They were both probably temporarily buried in the same garden at Zainabad. I wonder how Shah Jahan must have felt to return to Burhanpur to bury his wife.

Soon after the site for her mausoleum was leveled, Shah Jahan asked the Viceroy at Agra to transfer the embalmed remains of the Empress to the Mausoleum site. He further instructed that an appropriate place in the proposed garden (around the Mausoleum site) should be selected for her temporary burial till the Mausoleum was completed. Accordingly, she was buried in the south-east corner of the proposed mosque, which was to be built to the west of the Mausoleum. 

Shah Jahan personally supervised the preparations for the transfer of Mumtaz Mahal's remains. After due religious rites, the remains were carefully exhumed and placed in a sandalwood coffin. The coffin was kept in the royal apartments in the Badshahi Qila (Burhanpur) for a few days till it was transferred to Agra.

Ahukhana: Located in front of Shahi Qila at the Other Bank of River Tapti in Zainabad. The place was royal leisure pavilions during the Mughal time. Mumtaz Mahal was buried here for 6 months. 

On Friday, 17 Jumada I, 1041 A.H. (December 12, 1631 A.D.), a grieving Shah Jahan offered prayers for the soul of Mumtaz Mahal. He was surrounded by his equally tearful kids, Mumtaz Mahal's parents and Satiunnisa Khanam who had been the bosom companion of the Empress and who was now in charge of the royal household. After the ceremony, Shah Jahan asked his second son Prince Shah Shuja  to accompany his mother's coffin to Agra

As Prince Shuja was then just over 15 years old, the Emperor also assigned some responsible officials to accompany the young prince and the coffin on the long, hard journey from Burhanpur to Agra. They included the royal physician, Nawab Wazir Khan and Satiunnisa KhanamThe procession made its way out of the Badshahi Qila on the afternoon of December 12, 1631. Throughout the long route, alms were distributed among the poor and needy.

Prince Shuja arrived in Agra on 16 , Jumada II A.H. 1041 (January 9, 1632A.D.) He was received solemnly by the nobility amid showering of flowers in reverence by the populace on the remains of the deceased Empress, all the way to the Fort.   

For this pure lady, Shah Jahan got the 99 names of Allah inscribed above her Sarcophagus along with the inscription:
"The illuminated sepulchre of Arjumand Bano Begum, entitled Mumtaz Mahal, deceased in 1040 A.H. (1631 A.D.)"
On the north side, the inscription reads:
"The Almighty is the Everlasting. He is Sufficient."
"God is He beside whom there is no God. He knows what is concealed and what is manifest. He is the Merciful and the Compassionate."
Elsewhere the inscription reads:
"Nearer unto God are those who say 'our Lord is God'.
Incidentally, Shah Jahan had a sheet of pearls made for the tomb, valued at several lakhs of rupees. This sheet was spread on the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal on her anniversary and every Friday night. 

The Magnificent Architects Who Built This Wonder

Two architects are associated with the Taj. 

One is Ustad Ahmad Lahauri from Lahore. He was the one who laid the foundation of the Red Fort in Delhi also (1639-1648). Strangely, he is not mentioned in the official chronicles but is credited with building the Taj by his son Lutfullah Muhandis.  

The other architect is Mir Abdul Karim. He was the favorite architect of Jahangir (Shah Jahan's father). Lahauri mentions him as the supervisor of the construction, together with the administrator Makramat Khan. The latter also supervised the construction of the Red Fort at Delhi. 

Ground Plan of The Taj Mahal

Even today, the craftsmen who work on the restoration of the Taj Mahal use techniques that are almost similar to those used in Mughal times.

Ustad Isa Afaudi prepared the layout plan of the Taj. 

Abdul Haq Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi is credited with the stunning calligraphy of the inscriptions on the Taj. An example of his dazzling skill can be seen on the inverted U-shaped frame of the central arch of the main gate. Verses from the Quran have been inscribed with such elegance and finesse that the letters from the first line to the last line appear to be of the same size, though the 1st line is at a height of about 24m while the last line is at almost the eye-level of the observer. An inscription bears the name of this master calligrapher and the date of completion of the Taj in 1057 A.H. (1647 A.D.) on both sides. 

Evidence of Abdul Haq Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi Being Calligrapher at Taj
Jean Baptiste Tavernier visited Agra in 1640-41 and again in 1665. He claimed that 20,000 men worked incessantly on the tomb for 22 years. (Though the Taj was completed by 1647-48 - a period of 17 years.) Manrique says that a 1000 men were employed on it every day. 

Court historian Abdul Hamid Lahauri recorded:
"It may be observed that bands of sculptors, lapidaries, inlayers and fresco-makers came from different parts of His Majesty's dominions."
The first-grade engineer or an architect received Rs. 1000 per month. The second-grade ones received Rs. 500 per month - quite a large amount those days! Stone cutters and brick layers were called sangtrash and raj respectively. 

A variety of skilled people including artists, engineers, architects, craftsmen, calligraphers, sculptors and many others pooled their genius, blood and sweat to build this majestic mausoleum where the memory of Empress Mumtaz Mahal would be kept alive forever. 


A Miracle of Engineering  

Contemporary accounts confirm that 
"in the regnal year was laid the foundation of this towering edifice, overlooking the Yamuna River that sweeps past its northern side and far surpassing the Saba-i-Shidad - 7 heavens - in point of grandeur and magnificence. The foundation which were dug as deep as water level below, were rigidly filled by masons with stone and mortar and made level with the ground. upon it was erected the Tomb's base unique among buildings of this category for elegance, ornamentation and spaciousness - forming a single gigantic slab of tiles and lime plaster,..."    
The Taj is the heaviest structure over a river bank that has not sunk even an inch till nowThe riverside foundation is a miracle of hydraulic engineering of Shah Jahan's time. It contains a series of deep wells that are full of sal wood bands and masonry of blocks of stone and strong mortar. This kind of a hydraulic work-based foundation had never been constructed before!

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that the Yamuna has shifted in Delhi by miles but it still flows by the side of the Taj. Some 32 km from the Taj, continuous earth work on the banks of the river kept it tamed by the side of the Taj even after 365 years! 

The builders even took note of the highest water level of the Yamuna so that during the highest floods also, the river would flow below the first terrace of the Taj. Such floods would have meant water flowing above the nearby Mausoleum of Itimad-ud-Daula.    

The ingenuity of the civil engineering used to build this beautiful structure is unsurpassed. Imagine how heavy masonry, esp marble blocks, which could weigh up to a ton or more, must have been carried one by one to the top of the construction, which rose higher and higher steadily up to the apex of the dome. The height of the dome and the minarets indicates how difficult this task must have been, and the workers had to be extra cautious to ensure that they did not chip or scratch the marble on its way up.    

The builders must have initially used a scaffolding of wood up to a convenient height. Beyond this height, they might have used a scaffolding of vertical and cross members lashed together, with the cross members acting as rungs at suitable intervals. But such a scaffolding would have created not only difficulties but also obstacles for the workers who would not have been able to transport heavy materials to the higher levels of construction.

This is where the incredible ingenuity of the Mughal engineers is displayed. They evolved a spiral framework, commencing from the ground in an open space and rising in the direction of the Mausoleum and around it like a winding pathway. It's estimated that this pathway was 7 to 9 m broad and rose in a slope of 1 to 50. It rested on stout pillars. This framework had a structure that could bear heavy loads. The loads were conveyed on donkeys, mules and carts drawn by oxen, camels and elephants. There was a space of 6 to 7 m between the spirals. This allowed a constant 2-way traffic with ease.

The erection of this scaffolding was a task by itself. It had to be planned carefully and executed efficiently for 2 reasons:
  • To withstand foreseen loads
  • To guard the safety of workers, animals and valuable materials. 
A colossal amount of timber was required in the construction of this scaffolding. This demanded the involvement of a large number of craftsmen. 

According to one authority:
"special engineers were engaged to build the scaffolding and platform, and 500 carpenters and 300 blacksmiths were employed on this project alone. "
It is said that the task was coordinated by Ustad Pira, a carpentry expert hailing from Delhi.

That the edifice looks as fresh today as it did nearly 365 years back is testimony to its magnificent strength. Heavy material such as red sandstone came from Fatehpur Sikri while marble was brought from Makrana in the old Jodhpur kingdom, over 300 km away from Agra.

Another miracle of engineering in this awesome structure is the great central dome of the Taj. Contemporary historians described its shape as Gumbad-i-amrudi (shaped round like a guava).  

The Central Dome of the Mausoleum 
W. Emerson observes about this beautiful double-dome:
"In the center rises the huge bulbous dome which forms the grand central feature of the Taj. It springs from a plain straight circular shaft, which rises to about the height of the tops of the smaller domes. On an occasion, when the attendant of the Imperial tomb in the spacious central chamber uttered "Allah-O-Akbar" in a normal tenor of his voice, the effect was simply amazing. Within the fraction of a second, the sound waves of his voice reached the ceiling of the vault, and showered back in thousand echoes in a quick series of musical reverberations, as if they emanated from the other side of the world - almost as if from another dimension: they gave me an eerie feeling of make believe that the echoing voices were those of the ethereal domain."
The dome is clearly huge in size and its shape had to be maintained accurately. It is likely the engineers drew a sectional outline of the dome on the ground on a reasonably large scale, or they may have made a cut-out model of clay and mud to aid the masons.

Now consider this comparison of the elevation of the Mausoleum and the minarets by the ASI. Each gallery storey of the minarets is level with the equivalent floor of the Mausoleum. The 3rd storey gallery of the minarets is level with the top of the drum of the central dome. The chajja (eaves) of the cupola on top of the minarets is level with the starting of the curves of the dome. The pinnacle of the minarets is level with the maximum bulge of the dome. What superb planning of detail to achieve stunning perspective effect!!!

Just how perspective tricks have been used can be observed from the fact that the Taj Mahal is actually taller than the Qutb Minar of Delhi but due to its gradual elevation, it does not appear so. Another interesting point is that the 3rd storey of the minarets is the tallest and the 2nd the shortest among the 3 storeys of each minaret This was planned deliberately to achieve the best perspective as also balance of proportion. Some element of optical illusion is also present.

It's amazing to observe just how carefully the architects worked out the proportions to maintain balance, symmetry and perspective at all levels of the structure and to produce such a masterpiece edifice. This also ensured that there was adequate support at each stage of the Taj to help it withstand stress and strain.

Completion of the Taj Mahal

The construction of the elegant main gateway of the Taj Mahal enclosure was completed just before the 17th death anniversary of Mumtaz Mahal - whether it was planned or just a coincidence can only be imagined! (Personally speaking, I would say the Emperor, being the perfectionist that he was, planned it this way to the last detail.)

Note: The imposing main gateway towering over a 100 feet in height and located in the middle of the southern perimeter was the last edifice to be completed in the Taj Mahal walled enclosure

Main Gateway
An Example of Calligraphy on Main Gateway
A beautiful thulth (triangular style of calligraphy) inscription appears on the main gateway which contains the verse Wal Fajr, which ends with the words 
"now enter the paradise". 
This is to emphasize that a visitor who passes through the gateway is entering paradise, the abode of Mumtaz Mahal.  

Despite other pressing needs, the Emperor chose to be in Agra on this solemn occasion. A contemporary chronicler writes:

"On the occasion of the 17th anniversary of (Hazrat) Mumtaz-uz-Zamani's demise, an auspicious assembly distinguished by the attendance of many learned and pious personalities were convened within the resplendent Mausoleum (which had attained completion by then) of that lady of holy attainments. The Emperor himself graced that gathering with his presence and contributed to the peace of the soul of that chaste dweller of the garden of paradise with prayer and benedictions."
Note: Mumtaz Mahal was known then as Hazrat Mumtaz-uz-Zamani.  Just observe the compliments heaped on her by the writer. 

Preparations for such occasions were made with great care and involved much expenditure. This can be seen from Tavernier's observations shortly afterwards:

"they change the tapestries, candles, and other ornaments several times, and there are always Ulemas attending to pray."
The urs (death anniversary) of Mumtaz Mahal was observed religiously every year, but the 17th anniversary was the most ostentatious. Looking at the completed Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan must have felt elated that his dream for his angelic wife was achieved. As on previous anniversaries, he distributed half a lakh of rupees among the poor and needy.

A Garden for the Empress

Mughal architecture and gardens are inseparable. Moreover, Shah Jahan was famous for laying out several gardens. Then how could the Taj be completed without one?

But this had to be a special garden for a special woman. The Mausoleum nestles by the side of the Yamuna and the whole garden lies sprawled to the south of it. This is a major departure from other Mughal tombs, which generally lie in the center of a charbagh design. 

The Taj Garden
A raised square tank took the traditional place of the tomb. It had 5 fountains that seemed to be gushing forth tears for the departed Empress. Ahead and behind them are the north-south channels of water. These are further adorned by smaller fountains. Avenues of cypresses lined the sides of the channels. The rest of the garden is the typical charbagh design. 

Mrs. Villiars Stuart was struck by the beauty of the layout of the garden at the foot of the mausoleum. She wondered: 
"Did he build this tribute to his adored wife there, because from his balconies in the palace fort he could watch the sunrise and the sunset transfix its marble into rosy life?"
A most interesting detail here is the manner in which water was supplied to the garden. An ancient method was practised near the northern and western perimeter wall. 2 Persian wheel lifts run by bullocks raised water from an artificial channel connected with the river, to high-level tanks behind the western baradari from where pipes carried the water to the garden. 

Ornamentation of the Taj Mahal

The Mausoleum was built in brick and then covered with marble encasing. And then the ornamentation began in earnest. It included the lovely carvings in the relief particularly evident in the dados, the intricate and elegant inlay of 50 varieties of precious and semi-precious stones and the unsurpassed calligraphy. When we hear that it took several years to build the Taj Mahal, then we realise just how time-consuming this embellishment work must have been, involving as it did highly specialised and delicate craftsmanship.

It's not even possible to name all the precious and semi-precious stones used in the inlay work because no equivalent English names can be found for the medieval Persian names used then. No wonder the contemporary court historian, Muhammad Salih Kambo praised the inlay work effusively:

"In all the Mausoleum, both inside and out, skillful engravers have employed fine art, and a variety of coloured stones and valuable gems, the delineation of whose property and praise cannot be comprehended in the sea of language."
In the middle of the central hall is an octagonal perforated marble screen. A contemporary account describes this screen as:
"Over the grave is raised a parapet of marble with a Sarcophagus in the center, enclosed by an octagonal stone railing latticed and gorgeously decorated, with a door of jasper stone very much like the Turkish Chain or belt (band-e-Rusi) with its various parts linked with iron-hooks inlaid with gold and prepared at a cost of ten thousand rupees."

 This screen was known as the mahajjar. The history of this screen is interesting.  

During the 6th year of Shah Jahan's reign (1634-35), just before Mumtaz Mahal's death anniversary was to be observed, Bebadal Khan the darogha (superintendent) of the gold store prepared a fence or screen of gold with enamel work of 40,000 tolas gold for the grave of the Empress. The screen was adorned with the best jewelry work and inscriptions. It cost 6 lakh rupees then and was presented to the Emperor along with candles and lamps. As per the orders of the Emperor, the fence was arranged around the grave and the lamps and candles hung up. 

But this fence was removed in 1052 A.H. (1642 A.D.) because it was thought that such a costly thing should not be kept there. Another mahajjar with jalis of marble around the Sarcophagus was arranged at a cost of only Rs. 50,000. It had a door of yashab (jade stone) which itself cost Rs. 1000.  

One of the most beautiful objects of decoration in the Cenotaph Chamber is a lamp suspended from the ceiling directly above the Sarcophagus of Mumtaz Mahal. The Annual Progress Report of the Archaelogical Surveyor, Northern Circle, Agra for the year ending March 31, 1909, states on Pg 8:
"On the 16th February, 1909, His Honour the Lieutenant Governor installed within the Cenotaph chamber a handsome lamp of bronze inlaid with gold and silver, the gift of Lord Curzon. It is suspended centrally over the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal and is a worthy and fitting tribute to the wife of Shah Jahan."
Bronze Lamp Gifted by Lord Curzon Hangs Over the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal

I was really moved when I read this - that even a British officer was overwhelmed by emotion and paid a tribute to the memory of this beautiful woman in his own way. The Taj does that to the strongest of people - it exudes love so intensely that very few can remain untouched by it.


1. Abdu'l Hamid Lahori, Badshahnama (Persian), Vol I-II (Calcutta, 1867-68)
2. B.P. Saksena, History of Shahjahan (Allahabad, 1958)
3. C.M. Villiers Stuart , Garden of the Great Mughals (London, 1913)
4. David Caroll, The Taj Mahal (London, 1972)
5. Ebba Koch, The Complete Taj Mahal (London, 2006)
6. Maulavi Mo'inu'd-din Ahmad, The Taj and its Environments (Agra, 1905 and 1925)
7. Muhammad Salih Kambo, Shah Jahan Nama (Persian) , Shah Jahan Nama (Urdu cons.) Edited and Translated by Mumtaj Liyaqat (Lahore, 1982)
8. M.A. Chaghtai, 'Austin de Bordeaux and the Taj-Mahal of Agra', Proceedings and Transactions of the Ninth All India Oriental Conference (Trivandrum, 1937)
9 M.A. Chaghtai, 'Usad Isa the So-Called Architect of the Taj', Proceedings of Indian History Congress, (Allahabad, 1938)
10. M.S. Vats, 'Repairs of the Taj Mahal', Ancient India, No. 1 (Delhi, 1946)
11. Percy Brown, Indian Architecture (Islamic Period) (Bombay, 1975)
12. Percy Brown , 'Monuments of the Mughal Period', Cambridge History of India, Vol IV (Cambridge, 1937)
13. R. Nath, Some Aspect of Mughal Architecture (New Delhi, 1976)
14. S.M. Latif, Agra, Historical and Descriptive, (Lahore, 1896)
15. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai, Taj Mahal, The Illumined Tomb (Cambridge, 1989)

This topic was posted under the Miscellaneous section of history_geek's blog.

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  1. BTW, Radhika..The point where you mentioned that Khusrau and Mumtaz BOTH died at Burhanpur is note worthy. My heart goes to Khusrau here. I think Shah Jahan must have felt something related to this at her death. Even Khusrau and his wife loved each other a lot. He did not make a Taj Mahal but he somehow draws my attention.

  2. Radhika,

    Absolutely scintillating Post. The thing for which i like this post THE MOST is - The basic facts about this monuments which you have listed here. The bibliography speaks for the herculean effort put up in making this post. Also, you chose an apt time to make this post - End of January, when the maker of this imposing builder breathed his last.

    About Lord Curzon i would say, he loved monuments and he also played a pioneering role in maintenance of many archeological sites in our country during his tenure including the Ajanta Ellora Caves.

    All in all a wonderful post. I am short of words for this post. :)

  3. A post for the monument of love Abhay lovely write up and very touching story.

  4. Radhika Wowww what a breathtaking post.... All the pictures n referances speaks a lot about the effort you have put in... congratulations for that... , Thank you so much for refreashing my mind which was otherwise jammed with my law books n law theory... your post really refreshed my mind...

    The symbol of eternal love....the best tribute a morning husband can pay to his deceased Beloved Wife.... Indeed Beauty what Taj is...
    your post took me to that time of childhood when I visited Taj Mahal.,Agra , Fathepur Sikri, Mathura And Vrindavan.... As a child I was awestruck by the beauty of Taj.... those intricate designs n floral work are still fresh in my mind.... and the beautiful garden to compliment it's beauty.... I still remember people or rather our guide said that Taj's beauty increase many times during a full moon night.....

    Having said that.... I would like to say the even though Taj is very very beautiful and is referred to as the symbol of eternal love between Saha Jahan n Mumtaz still their love story had failed to touch my heart somehow...

    It's interesting that Mumtaz died in the same place where Khusrau died mysteriously. may be this is called Karma...

    Acha is it true the fingers of all the workers who had built Taj were cut so that they cannot make another Taj Mahal???

  5. Abhay

    Thanks :) You have noted the main points succinctly !

    Jan-Feb was a memorable period for Mughals - many events happened during this period, as you are well aware.

    Can you share a bit more about Lord Curzon's contribution to conservation of historical monuments in India? I read that the state government recently built replicas of Ajanta Ellora caves close to the real caves where people could look at and appreciate the ancient paintings. But though these replicas are manitained at a higher cost than the real caves, the footfall there is very low. It might have been better to have invested that money in the upkeep of the original caves.

  6. Thanks, Surochita :)

    You are right - the love story of Shah Jahan is not instantly touching though the beauty of the Taj, its perfection is magnificent.

    About the last statement - I would say it's not true because I didn't come across it in my reading. But I haven't read everything :)

  7. Preeti

    Thank you :) You are right about the Taj!

  8. Abhay

    That point touched me instantly. You know I am partial towards Khusrau and his devotion to his wife (mutual btw). Like Surochita also pointed out here, it may be Fate that Shah Jahan lost his beloved wife at the same place where he had treacherously done away with his own brother. The deeds we do always return to us - both the good and the bad. Did Shah Jahan feel this at all? That is what I wonder.

    Not everyone needs a monument like the Taj to prove their love. Khusrau proved his love in a far grander gesture by rejecting the Mughal throne for his wife - when we know how many people's blood tainted that throne. Isn't that as monumental a gesture as building the Taj?

    There are innumerable love stories buried in the annals of Mughal history. Waiting to be discovered. You yourself revealed one such story - perhaps the greatest love story. :)

    Having said this, we cannot deny that India is inextricably linked with the Taj in world consciousness. The architecture, the engineering feats, the amazing durability cannot be ignored. Whatever be the story behind the construction, the Taj is the symbol of love the world over and all those nameless faces who were involved in its construction deserve our appreciation and respect and thanks. :)

  9. radhika - vry nice post. details r praiseworthy. i did not know many things b4 reading 'tis post. beauty of taj mesmerizes all who c it. me 2 included. thnk u dear.
    bt in my heart devotion of khusrau n his wife stands above shah jahan n mumtaz. esp aftr i came 2 knw d cruel manner in vich khusrau was killed. ur point of burhanpur brought bck khusrau 2 my memory. strange coincidence it iz. both died at same place.

  10. Iqra

    The irony of Burhanpur continues - the Taj reminds people more of Khusrau's love than Shah Jahan's.

    Btw see the difference between the place Mumtaz Mahal was temporarily buried and the Taj. That place is so run down - what a contrast between the 2 resting places!

  11. Awesome post, Radhika, really a tribute to all those even small workers, masons, who were responsible in the creation of one of the wonders of the world.Feel like visiting the Taj again with the copy of this post in the hand n enjoying it thoroughly. Thank u fr that minute description, Radhika.

  12. Ur seperate mention of Khusrau, was really wonderful.It made me also think how life came in full circle to Shahajahan.

  13. Very interesting post Radhika. The Taj is indeed the crown jewel of mughal architecture!

  14. Geeta,

    Really touched by your remarks :) Do visit Agra, FS and Ajmer again with the knowledge you have now. You will enjoy more :)

    Life always turns full circle. That's why Time is represented by a Wheel in Hinduism. Reason why we need to be careful of whatever we say or do. We never know how our words / actions may return to haunt us.

  15. Radhika, Not read Full post, But i can't stop, Own Writing.

    You Wrote About TAJ, Great, Seven wonders, in World, or One is Our Country,

    Feeling comes seeing Taj,;;;;;;;;;;;;;;Sabb Kuch Tahar Gaya, Means," Timeless."

    A Husband gifted his beloved wife, Memorable ,Gift, " Priceless."

    Only who can thought, from Heart,can give this type of Amaging Gift.

    Shahajahan thought from Heart, or He gave world, Symbol, of Love"Taj.He not give importance, who against this.But His Heart, which was thinking, that feelings, took shape . feelings spreading Day by Day, After completing, which came, That Was, Beautiful " Marvellous, Taj."

    Taj, beauty,on, Shard Purinma, Day,(Cause of full moon,,) Urdu World, using," Full Shabab" Means Extreem beautiful. Moon Rays refelect, On Taj cause of that
    refelection, Taj, looks at its best during "Shard, Purinma"

    Sond dedicated to Taj;

    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaa Ke Hasin Taajamahal (hasin=beautiful)
    Saarii Duniyaa Ko Muhabbat Kii nishaanii Dii Hai
    Isake Saaye Me Sadaa Pyaar Ke Charche Honge (sayee mein=in the shadow; behind)
    Khatm Jo Ho naa Sakegii Vo Kahaanii Dii Hai
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

    (2) Taaj Ik Zindaa Tasavvur Hai Kisii Shaayar Kaa (tasavvur=imagination)
    Isaka Afasaanaa Hakiikat Ke Sivaa Kuchh Bhii nahii
    Isake Aagosh Me Aakar Ye Gumaan Hotaa Hai (agosh=embrance)(guman=distrust, doubt)
    Zindagii Jaise Muhabbat Ke Sivaa Kuchh Bhii nahii
    Taaj ne Pyaar Kii Maujon Ko RaVaanii Dii Hai (rawani=sharpness)
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

    (3) Ye Hasin Raat Ye Mahakii Huii Puranur Fazaa
    Ho Ijaazat To Ye Dil Ishq Kaa Izahaar Kare (izhar=demonstration)
    Ishq Insaan Ko Insaan Banaa Detaa Hai
    Kisakii Himmat Hai Muhabbat Se Jo Inakaar Kare
    Aaj Takadir ne Ye Raat Suhaanii Dii Hai (takdir=fate)
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

  16. Radhika, Not read Full post, But i can't stop, Own Writing.

    You Wrote About TAJ, Great, Seven wonders, in World, or One is Our Country,

    Feeling comes seeing Taj,;;;;;;;;;;;;;;Sabb Kuch Tahar Gaya, Means," Timeless."

    A Husband gifted his beloved wife, Memorable ,Gift, " Priceless."

    Only who can thought, from Heart,can give this type of Amaging Gift.

    Shahajahan thought from Heart, or He gave world, Symbol, of Love"Taj.He not give importance, who against this.But His Heart, which was thinking, that feelings, took shape . feelings spreading Day by Day, After completing, which came, That Was, Beautiful " Marvellous, Taj."

    Taj, beauty,on, Shard Purinma, Day,(Cause of full moon,,) Urdu World, using," Full Shabab" Means Extreem beautiful. Moon Rays refelect, On Taj cause of that
    refelection, Taj, looks at its best during "Shard, Purinma"

    Sond dedicated to Taj;

    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaa Ke Hasin Taajamahal (hasin=beautiful)
    Saarii Duniyaa Ko Muhabbat Kii nishaanii Dii Hai
    Isake Saaye Me Sadaa Pyaar Ke Charche Honge (sayee mein=in the shadow; behind)
    Khatm Jo Ho naa Sakegii Vo Kahaanii Dii Hai
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

    (2) Taaj Ik Zindaa Tasavvur Hai Kisii Shaayar Kaa (tasavvur=imagination)
    Isaka Afasaanaa Hakiikat Ke Sivaa Kuchh Bhii nahii
    Isake Aagosh Me Aakar Ye Gumaan Hotaa Hai (agosh=embrance)(guman=distrust, doubt)
    Zindagii Jaise Muhabbat Ke Sivaa Kuchh Bhii nahii
    Taaj ne Pyaar Kii Maujon Ko RaVaanii Dii Hai (rawani=sharpness)
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

    (3) Ye Hasin Raat Ye Mahakii Huii Puranur Fazaa
    Ho Ijaazat To Ye Dil Ishq Kaa Izahaar Kare (izhar=demonstration)
    Ishq Insaan Ko Insaan Banaa Detaa Hai
    Kisakii Himmat Hai Muhabbat Se Jo Inakaar Kare
    Aaj Takadir ne Ye Raat Suhaanii Dii Hai (takdir=fate)
    Ek Shahanshaah ne Banavaake

  17. Surochita,
    There is NO contemporary record to the hands of workers being cut. This was a later addition to the "tale" of Taj Mahal. :)

  18. I agree Sunram. Indeed a beautiful post with flawless narrative. By the way, this post is written by Radhika. She has even scanned the images herself from the records she collected. :))

  19. Radhika,
    I will reply later about Lord Curzon. Till then reading the comments on this post. :)

  20. Hi Radhika,
    You have an eye for detail and have covered so many aspects related to this magnificent monument.Your post and the list of references speak about the amount of sweat and hard work you've put in. Truly commendable!

    Whatever little I know about Shah Jahan, I've never exactly liked him.But the level of consistent thoughts and efforts made by him and others for years, for building this monument for his beloved wife,is something good.

    Can u or Abhay tell me something about Khusrau and his wife's mutual love?

  21. Sorry Radhika excellent referencing loved the pictures and different aspects oops s sorry did not see that it was posted by you

  22. Ayushi

    Beautiful words and beautiful song. It's from the movie Leader, isn't it? I think it was picturised on the 'original Salim' in our collective memory - Dilip Kumar.

    Taj woh shamma hain ulfat ke sanamkhaney ki
    Jiske parvaanon mein muflis bhi hain, zardaar bhi hain,
    Sangemarmar mein samaaye huey khwaabon ki kasam
    Marhaley pyar ke aasaan bhi hain, dushwaar bhi hain,
    Dil ko ek josh, iraadon ko jawani di hain...

    I completed the song for you :)

  23. Hi Aashrita

    I think we should separate the Taj from Shah Jahan so that we can appreciate this national treasure better. :) Thanks for your lovely words!

    What to say about Khusrau and his wife? :) She was with him thru the years of captivity, even though Jahangir had told her that she was free to live as she liked. Her devotion to her husband never wavered. And Khusrau regarded her in equal measure. He could have married Nur Jahan's daughter and become the next Emperor with Nur's backing. But he refused because he could not "ignore" his wife's devotion to him all these years. What noble thoughts for a man of the 17th century when polygamy was the norm! There can be no greater proclamation of love than turning down the throne for a woman. Even his wife begged him "on bended knees" to consent to the marriage because it would mean freedom for him but he refused. This kind of mutual regard for each other is extremely rare. I read about it in "The Gift of the Magi" and then here about Khusrau and his wife. :)

    Wait a while. Abhay will post the 2nd part of his series on Khusrau soon. Then you can read more. :)

  24. Thanks Radhika, completing Song,Yes its from Leader, Picturised, on
    Yes Dilip, Kumar or Vazanimala.but after reading you, i recalled, latest song,
    Suno na sangemarmar ki yeh minaare
    Kuch bhi nahi hai aage tumhaare
    Aaj se dil pe mere raaj tumhaara
    Taj tumhara
    Suno na sangmarmar ki yeh minaare

  25. Radhika,well said, I completely agree with u.At least in Mughal khandaan, it's one of a kind thing. i.e. to sacrifice a kingdom that too fr the wife at the time when polygamy was was the way of life.
    Radhika, it will be an interesting debate, if we were to compare all these kings' love fr their better half.Salim, Shahjahan, Akbar, Khusrau Dara sukhau.I will rate Salim the lowest, may be Khusrau the highest, though there was no such test fr the other emperors:
    Khusrau's wife was Rahim khane khana's daughter? I get confused sometime

  26. Geeta

    Love cannot be compared so easily. :)

    Salim loved his wives in his own way. Akbar loved MUZ passionately. Shah Jahan loved Mumtaz Mahal in his own way. Yes, Khusrau's love story will always be special and unique among these. :)

    Khusrau was married to Mirza Aziz Koka's daughter. :)

  27. Iqra,

    Did you know then that the Taj was inspired most by the tomb of Khan-i-Khanan Abdur Rahim Khan in Delhi (near Nizam-ud-din railway station), built in 1627? :)

    The other monuments which also inspired the design of the Taj include Humayun's tomb(Delhi, built in 1565), Itmad-ud-Daula's tomb, Hoshang Shah's tomb (Mandu, built in 1435), and even the 4 corner minarets on the outer gate of Akbar's tomb.

    Shah Jahan took Mughal architecture to new heights. Earlier buildings had been made of red sandstone. He started the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.

  28. radhika - it iz true.shah jahan n mumtaz remind me of khsurau. bt i enjoy beauty of taj separately. its wonderful monument. yes u r ryt. mumtazs 2 burial places r contrasting. initial 1 is widout maintanence. govt shud consider restoration measures dere 2.
    keep writing such posts. 'tis was a vry beautiful 1. i came 2 knw of many things 4rm ur post.

  29. thnks 4 sharing radhika. i had no clue abt 'tis dear. nice 2 know 'tis.

  30. iqra, I wanted to ask u, what is the exact meaning of 'iftedar ishq' .the song Kailash kher singing in the background.:Pl.correct me if I hv pronounced it wrongly.

  31. Radhika, Bibi ka Maqbara' in Aurangabad, in Maharashtra is also a replica of Tajmahal. It was built by Auranzeb's son Azam shah fr his mother Rabia begum. U will be surprised to see the similarities.
    One in Karnataka also is called mini Taj built by some Muslim ruler only.Unfortunately, I hv forgotten the name n place.

  32. Surochita, the same story is doing the rounds with respect to temples of South India.

  33. Bibi Ka Maqbara - Aurangabad

    It does look like the Taj :)

  34. Geeta, thanks for sharing this interesting info :)

  35. Geeta

    This is the building you were talking about, I believe :)

    Ibrahim Rauza, Bijapur, Karnataka

    Apparently rauza is the tomb of a king and makbara is the tomb of a queen. (Abhay, Iqra, pls correct me if I am wrong)

    This is the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II. It is also said to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Incidentally it is known as the Black Taj Mahal and we already saw in the post that Shah Jahan wanted to build a black Taj Mahal for himself. Coincidence or what? :)

    Here you can see 2 structures - one is the black Taj Mahal and the other is a mosque. There is a tank and a fountain in the middle.

    The interesting part of this is that if a person speaks something softly in the mosque, it can be heard inside the tomb. May be such acoustics were designed so that prayers in the mosque could reach the king resting in his tomb.?

    This is also seen in the Golconda fort. If a person says something near the gate of the fort, it can be heard at the very top of the fort, near the Diwan--Khas. This was done to warn the king from near the gate.

    The architecture of medieval India is simply amazing!

  36. Radhika,
    Rauza is for Queens . Thanks for sharing this info. :)

  37. Radhika, amaging post, if feeling comes, seeing Taj, Timeless, reading this post feeling coming,Timeless.Suppose, these things happening, in front of our eyes.
    you Binded the post such amaging words, Person automatcally enters,Unforgettable world.When you +Abhay, writes, sometimes, feeling comes, we entered, Mughal Era,
    or if you both are writing another topic, feeling also same comes. Its writer, Achievements, or this achievement, gives Growth to the Writers.

    After reading, Half post, Shahjahan was aware his Last time.But his last time, Aurangzeb, not wants, Big, burial for shahajahn. it means, Realtionship, not cured, After End of Shahajahn.

    When Mumtaz, was taking her last breathing, so she was not at Agra fort.She was in Zainabad, Barhanpur,Zainabad,What was the role, of zainabad, in Mumataz,s Life, or Mughal's Life.

    Feeling coming, Shahjahan +Mumtaz, Love, was, Dissloving Love. after death of Mumtaz. After death of her Beloved, He not came out for two years, or Captavity time, His Heart only thought for, Mumtaz.when i was reading Zeb, Post, When she was in Zail, She ,wrote poems, or growth in poems cleary shows.Shahjnahan Growth sees, Seeing Taj, It means,Internal travel, reached, him also, Purity level,
    Because, Taj, Which, feels shows After seeing, Colur or Looking wise,World feels less, But Beauty, Rising day by day. or After so many years, Taj, giving ex, to World, True Love., But If base was shahjahan thoughts,Taj is a big ans, His Love, or his thoughts.

  38. Thank u so much Radhika, yes, it's Bijapur. n if it's Bijapur then it has to be Adil shahi.Ur post also reminded me that Bijapur is also famous fr it's Golgumbaz, huge tomb,mausaleum of Mohammad Adil shah.Though it cannot be called as very beautiful, it's an architectural marvel.
    one fr the huge dome which is not supported by any pillar.Secondly, it's more famous fr the whispering gallary which runs allround the inner periphery of the dome. A finest whisper can be heard at the distance of 37m. It also has echo effect, each sound is echoed 9 times.
    Sometimes when I see these monuments,I am at loss of words .What kind of single mindedness, passion, dedication must hv gone thru to achieve such kind of architectural height. Todays architects need to unravel the secrets of these monuments thru proper research.
    Btw, Radhika, the black tajmahal above is blackenned due to lack of maintainance or made of black stone?

  39. Radhika,
    Lord Curzon - As i said, i would shar something. So here it is. >>

    1. He provided financial support and institutional autonomy to the Archaeological Survey of India.
    2. He passed the Conservation of Ancient Monuments Act.
    3. He sanctioned Rs. 1 Lacs(110 years back), for conservation of Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra and personally visited them.
    4. He created the post of Director General of Archaeological Survey of India.
    5. He introduced a course of Epigraphy in Indian Universities.

  40. Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur, Karnataka
    Mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah (1626-1656 AD)

    Took 20 years to complete its construction.

    2nd largest dome in the world, next only to the dome at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. As Geeta said, the dome stands without the support of pillars.

  41. Geeta

    I think the black Taj Mahal was constructed black only. The use of black stone in south is common. Even many idols in temples are made of black stone :) In fact, I learnt about this monument from you only. :)

    Yes, Golgumbaz is another architectural marvel.But I didn't know about the whispering gallery.

    You are right - we have lost great architects today. All the buildings these days are made to look impersonal and stereotypically plain. Look at the heritage monuments. Each building has a unique style and bears the signature of its maker.

    Further these old buildings had such beautiful calligraphy and inlay work as also lovely acoustics. Sadly all these features are totally absent in present buildings. :(

  42. Gol Gumbaz, Bijapur, Karnataka

  43. Abhay

    Thanks! So Lord Curzon was quite aware of the rich monumental heritage of India and the need to conserve it. Wish the Indian government too would be as serious about conservation of monuments.

  44. Yes Radhika,South temples of Belur n Halebidu r made of black stones. Black stone is soft stone. It's comparatively easy to carve in this stone. But to carve fine inlays in marble or red stone is simply awesome. We shud hail the no of artisans put into this work, n their honesty in doing so..! I wish even their names were recorded somewhere in order to make their generation feel proud.:)

  45. Agree Geeta - such artisans are a dying breed now :(

  46. so sorry geeta. i was busy in my job. it is ibteda ishq. ibteda means starting or beginning. so dear d song means beginning of ishq.

  47. iqra dear,there is so much to thank each other in this blog, there shudn't be any place fr sorry.:) If somebody hasn't answered, it's understood that she/he has other imp. work to do. ;)
    But fr u i would not hv known it's meaning n pronounciation.:) This word ibteda has been used in many old hindi movies also.:)