Written by Sulaiman Razvi
Taj Mahal is a marvellous structure built by Shahjahan in memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. The word Taj means Crown and Mahal means Palace hence Taj Mahal means Crown of the Palace but in the Mughal period Taj Mahal wasn’t called by that name, its original name is Rauza-i-Munawwara which means The Illumined Tomb and this name also occurs in Mughal documents. The Taj Mahal is a beautiful display of the Islamic architecture in India with minarets and tombs. In 1983, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Taj Mahal attracts 2-4 million visitors annually, with more than 200,000 from overseas. 21.23 crores is collected by the Central government from Taj Mahal’s entry fees as per 2015 Ministry of Tourism. It always remains in top 10 landmarks of the world. But some people in India cannot digest the greatness of this magnificent palace. Undoubtedly Taj Mahal is the pride of India and instead of taking pride in this Indian monument some right wingers claim the Taj Mahal to be a Shiva temple. I researched about this some 4 years ago and went through all the articles written by right wingers on Taj Mahal but didn’t find even a single evidence or historical document proving that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple. Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said that ‘No evidence to prove Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple’. And it’s not just the minister from Hindu nationalist party but even the Archaeological Survey of India told an Agra court that the ‘Taj Mahal is a tomb, not a Shiv Temple’. Right Wing historian P.N. Oak even took this matter to the Supreme Court in 2000 where it was thrown out as no more than a “bee in his bonnet“. So this claim has been rejected by the Judiciary, Government and Archaeological Survey of India. Right Wingers’ basis for this argument is not any historical document but a book written by a right wing historian named P.N. Oak. P.N. Oak is popularly known as a “Mythistorian” who put forth some ridiculous and pathetic claims like the Vatican City has Hindu origin and the Vatican is a distorted Sanskrit term for Vatika, The word Islam too is a distorted Sanskrit word for Ishalayam and Christianity is a distorted term for Kishan Neeti. You can ascertain his reliability and knowledge from these claims alone but for right winger historians, he is their role model who ‘exposed’ many lies. I went through many of right wing articles which is based on P.N. Oak’s work and didn’t find a single evidence about Taj being a Hindu temple rather they try to prove it as a palace of Raja Jai Singh and rather than providing evidence they indulge in questioning the existing evidence of Taj Mahal being a tomb. In this article I shall try to refute some of the main claims of right wingers.
Mumtaz Mahal’s original name was Arjumand Banu Begum and Mumtaz Mahal was a title was given by Shahjahan which means Jewel of the Palace. She had been accompanying her husband while he was fighting a campaign in the Deccan Plateau where she died due to some delivery complications. Mumtaz Mahal died in the year 17 June 1631 and was buried temporarily in Baradari pavilion in Zainabad garden at Burhanpur before shifting her body to Akbaradabad (Agra) permanently in the place known today as Taj Mahal. It is said that it was difficult to transport white marbles from Makrana (Rajasthan) to Burhanpur hence Akabarabad (Agra) was chosen as the final destination of the queen. Mumtaz Mahal’s body was taken to Agra escorted by her son Shah Shuja.
It is ridiculous to claim that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple because the structure of Taj Mahal with domes and minarets itself is a foolproof evidence of Taj Mahal being an Islamic structure. It were Muslims (especially Mughals) who introduced such architecture in India, there exists no such structure that predates the Mughals or other Muslim rulers.
The land on which Taj Mahal is built originally belonged to Raja Jai Singh which was purchased by Shah Jahan prior to the construction after exchanging four palaces for the land. Though Raja Jai Singh voluntarily gifted the land but Shahjahan awarded him 4 other Havelis for it,
From the Farman of Emperor Shah Jahan of 1633-34 AD
The extract of the Farman taken from page 53 and 54 the book “Mughal Documents AD.1628-59”, Volume-II compiled and translated by S.A.I. Tirmizi and published by Manohar Publishers, Delhi, 1995 Edn., reads as follows: “56. Farman of Shah Jahan addressed to Raja Jai Singh informs the Raja that in lieu of the plot of land acquired for the construction of the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal the following four Havelis have been granted to him (Jai Singh):
1. Haveli of Raja Bhagwan Das.
2. Haveli of Madhav Singh.
3. Haveli of Rupsi Bairagi.
4. Haveli of Chand Singh, son of Suraj Singh. The zimn on the reverse bears the risala of Afzal Khan and waqia of Makramat Khan. (MIM.IV,p.165; DLFMN,p.55,CHDKD.pp.176-177).”
Some mentions that four Havelis were exchanged for the Haveli, and some say that Khana (House) of Jai Singh (originally belonging to Man Singh) was exchanged with four Haveli. And that’s the whole basis of this so called Tejo Mahalya. Had some common sense been applied here then such questions wouldn’t have arose in the minds of right wingers. There’s a huge difference between Haveli/Khana and Mahal. As I said earlier that right wingers claim it to be Hindu temple and then tries to prove it as a palace of Raja Man Singh. Whether it is Man Singh’s palace or a mausoleum built by Shahjahan will be proved in this article.
Now let’s read what Mughal court historians of Shah Jahan period wrote. Muhammad Amin Qazwini a Mughal court historian of Shah Jahan’s time wrote,
“In short, after six months her blessed corpse was dispatched to the Abode of the Caliphate, Akbarabad, escorted by the branch of the tree of sovereignty and caliphate…As there was on the southern side of Akbarabad, adjoining the city, on the bank of the river Jumna, a tract of land (zamini), which formerly (sabiqa) was the house (khana) of Raja Man Singh, but at this time was in the possession of his grandson Raja Jai Singh, and which from the point of view of eminence and pleasantness appeared to be worthy of the burial of that one whose residence is Paradise, it was selected for this purpose. And the Raja as a token of his sincerity and devotion, donated the said land (zamin) and considered this to be the source of happiness. Howeer, His Majesty, in exchange (iwad) for that, granted to the Raja a lofty house (khana-i-‘ala) which belonged to the crown estate. And even though the Raja’s consent was obvious, the Emperor obtained permission for the repose of that companion of the Houris of Paradise.
And it was decided that her auspicious body should be buried in that heart-pleasing land (zamin); but until its arrival at the Abode of the Caliphate, everywhere on the roads, there should be distributed food and drink and innumerable coins should be given in alms to the poor and the deserving…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.41-42, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
Muhammad Amin Qazwini also wrote,
“And in that bountiful and heart pleasing land (zamin) a Paradise like tomb (rauza) was laid out (tarah afgandand) and a dome (gumbad) of exalted foundation (buniyan) and a magnificent edifice (imarat) was founded (bina nihadand) the like and peer of which the eye of Age has not seen beneath these nine vaults of heaven…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.42, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
So it is clear from Muhammad Amin Qazwini’s account alone that Shah Jahan purchased a tract of land (Zamini). The translators have even given the Persian word Zamin and everyone may be familiar with this word. Another court historian named Abd al-Hamid Lahori wrote,
“As there was a tract of land (zamini) of great eminence and pleasantness towards the south of that large city, on which there was before this the mansion (manzil) of Raja Man Singh, and which now belonged to his grandson Raja Jai Singh, it was selected for the burial place (madfan) of that tenant of Paradise. Even though Raja Jai Singh considered the acquisation (husul) of this to be his good fortune and a great success, by way of utmost care, which is absolutely necessary in all important things, particularly in religious matters, a lofty mansion from the crown estates (khalisasharifa) was granted to him in exchange (‘iwad).”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.43, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
Abd al-Hamid Lahori also wrote,
“And plans were laid out (tarah afganand) for a magnificent building (‘imarat-i-alishan) and a dome (gumbadi) of lofty foundation (rafi-buniyan), which for height (dar bulandi) will, until the Day of Resurrection, remain a memorial to the sky high…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.43, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
Abd’al Hamid Lahori says the same as Qazwini that a Zamin (tract of land) was purchased which formerly had the house of Raja Man Singh and goes on to say that plans were laid out for a magnificent building with lofty foundation (Rafi Buniyan) and a tomb (Gumbad). Hindi speakers maybe familiar with the word Buniyad here.
Muhammad Salih wrote,
“When a period of six months had expired after this grief gathering event, prince Muhammad Shah Shuja was appointed to convey the holy dead body of that Queen of angelic temperament to the Abode of the Caliphate Akbarabad…After reaching Akbarabad, it was entrusted to earth in the heaven like tract of land (sarzamin-i-bihisht-a’in) situated to the south side of the Abode of the Caliphate, overlooking the river Jumna, which had belonged to Raja Man SIngh; and to acquire it, His Majesty, the Caliph ranked, had given in exchange (‘iwad) a mansion (manzil), loftier than the said mansion, to his grandson Raja Jai Singh. And on the top of the illumined grave, at first in haste (az ru-i-tajil), a small domed building…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.43, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
Muhammad Salih also wrote,
“Subsequently, in that heaven-like tract of land (sarzamin), the heavenly linth (asman asas was laid for a mausoleum (rauza) of lofty foundation (‘ala bunyan), which, in strength and loftiness and high dignity and magnificence of rank, is the honor of the terrestial world, which is completely of white marble slabs, and which has arranged round it a pleasing garden having the marks of Paradise. On one side of it, a lofty mosque was built and on the other side, a replica thereof, a guest house (mihman khana) of lofty expanse…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, p.44, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
Muhammad Salih implies the same that there was a house or mansion before there and it was exchanged with much loftier palaces and on that Sarzamin (heaven like tract of land) a Rauza i.e. mausoleum was laid of lofty foundation (‘Ala Bunyan). All these historians states that a mausoleum was built on that land, but the right wing has their answer ready to counter this, they claim that it may have taken 1-2 years to demolish the existing ‘Palace’ of Raja Man Singh. Right wingers should first prove that there stood a palace prior to the construction of Taj Mahal. Most of the sources proves that it was merely a Haveli not Mahal and there’s a huge difference between these two. A large land was purchased for the purpose of building a mausoleum, it could be that the Haveli stood somewhere in the corner which was either demolished or was in ruins before Taj Mahal was planned to be build there. The following topic clears every doubt which mentions the ‘Laying the foundations’ by digging down to ‘the water table’.
Abd al Hamid Lahori wrote,
“At the beginning of the fifth year of the exalted accession, the excavation was started for the laying of the foundation (Bunyan) of his sublime edifice which is situated overlooking the Jamuna river flowing adjacent to the north, and when the spade-wielders with robust, arms and hands strong as steak, had with unceasing effort excavated down to the water table, the ingenious masons and architects of the astonishing achievements most firmly built the foundation (Asas) with stone and mortar up to the level of the ground (sath i zamin).
And on top of this foundation, there was raised a kind of platform (chabutara-asa) of brick and mortar in one solid block (yak lakht), measuring 374 cubits (zira) long by 140 wide and 16 hihg, to serve as the plinth (kursi) of this exalted mausoleum.
And from all parts of the empire, there were assembled great numbers of skilled stonecutter, lapidaries, and inlayers, each one an expert in his art, who commenced work along with other craftsmen….In the center of the second platform, the building (imarat) of the heavenly lofty and Paradise like mausoleum was constructed on the plan of a Baghdadi octagon (tarah i musamman i bagdhdadi), 70 cubits in diameter, on a base plinth (kursi) one cubit in height.
Situated in the exact center of the building, the domed hall (gunbad) over the sepulchre (margad) of that recipient of divine grace has been finished with white marble within and without. From the floor (Sath) to the curvature (Zih), the hall under the dome is octagonal in shape, with a diameter of 22 cubits. The curvature is ornamented with muqarnas motifs, while fro the cornice to the inner summit of the dome which is at a height of 32 yards from the floor of the building, there are arranged marble slabs cut in a geometric moulded pattern (galib kari)…- Badshahnama, By Abd al Hamid Lahori, Tr. Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, English excerpts taken from the book Taj Mahal: the illumined tomb : an anthology of seventeenth-century Mughal and European documentary sources, p.65-66.
Muhammad Salih wrote,
“In the fifth year of the exalted accession, the foundation of this edifice of heavenly foundations, compared to which, the solidity and height of the foundation of the seven heavens of Shaddad do not form even one-thousandth part, was laid overlooking the Jumna river, which flows to its north. And the bottom of its foundation (buniyad) have been excavated down to the water, wonder-working masons raised its foundation in utmost strength, [filling it] with stone and mortar, and brought it up to the ground level. And upon this foundation, the plinth (kursi) of that tomb whose equal among buildings, with respect to its plinth and height, profusion of decoration and ornamentation, and spaciousness and expanse, does not exist on the surface of the earth was constructed of bricks and mortar all in one piece (yak lakht), 374 yards long and 140 wide, and raised to [a height of] 14 yards. The front of this plinth was decorated with finely cut red stone, in which much craft of carving and inlay work had been employed; and its floor was also made of red stones joined edge-to-edge (girahbandi) with each other. And in the middle of this plinth (kursi), another platform was raised, which is faced with white marble, all in a single block (yak-lakht), even and square, 120 yards on a side and 7 cubits (zara’) high. And in the center of this second platform, the edifice of the sky-touching heaven like mausoleum, having a diameter of 70 cubits and a plinth of one yard, was constructed on the Baghdadi-octagonal plan. The dome (gumbad) over the illumined grave, which is in the exact center of this building, was finished wholly of white marble, both inside and outside. It is octagonal form the floor level (sath) to the curvature (zih), with a diameter of 22 cubits; and the curvature [of the dome] has been decorated with mauqarnas motifs…And above this has been raised a gauva-shaped (amrudi-shakl) dome, to estimate even the slightest degree of whose foundation (az qiyaz-i-qadar-i-asas), would confound even the engineer (muhandis) of Wisdom.” Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.78 by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Several travellers witnessed construction of Taj Mahal, I will be mentioning those travellers who visited Agra during and after the construction of the Taj Mahal. Among the travellers, Peter Mundy’s account is perhaps the most valuable, since he was the only European eyewitness to the first years of actual excavation and construction that began in early 1632. Peter Mundy arrived in India in 1628 and stayed about five years or eight years as per some historians. He was at Agra in 1631 from January 1 till the year 1632. Historians are unanimous on this account that he arrived in Agra in the year 1631 prior to the construction of Taj Mahal which means that he really witnessed the construction of Taj Mahal from its foundation. Thus with his account it can be easily proved that Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, Hence due to this reason, right wingers are questioning travellers’ accounts just like the lawyer of the villain questions eye witnesses in Bollywood movies. These travellers mentions “Taj Mahal” instead of Rauza-i-Munawwara which was the original name, according to modern historians, travellers probably picked this name from local residents of Agra who called it Taj Mahal. When they got to know the name from local residents, didn’t the local residents of Agra told them about a Hindu temple being converted into a Mausoleum? Were the travellers so dumb as to not distinguish between construction and remodelling or renovation? It is for this reason that right wingers questions about travellers has no weight and is appeasing only to the minds of people who subscribes to views of right wing ideology.
Peter Mundy wrote,
“The Kinge is now buildinge a Sepulchre for his late deceased Queen Tage Moholl (Mumtaz Mahal) (as much to say att the brighntess of the Moholl), whome hee dearely affected, haveing had by her 9 or 10 children, and thought in her life tyme to use noe other women (which is strange if true consideringe their libertie in that kinde). He intends it shall excell all other. The place appoynted [is] by the river side where shee is buried, brought from Brampore [Burhanpure] where shee dyed accompanying him in his warrs, as shee did all the tyme of his troubles.
There is alreadye about her Tombe a raile of gold. The buildinge is begun and goes on with excessive labour and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary dilligence, Gold and silver esteemed comon Metall, and Marble but as ordinarie stones. Hee intends, as some thinck, to remove all the Cittie hither, cawesinge hills to be made levell because they might not hinder the prospect of it, places appoynted for streets, shopps, etts. dwellings, commaunding Merchants, shoppkeepers, Artificers to Inhabit [it] where they being to repaire and called by her name, Tage Gunge [Taj Ganj].
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.291-2, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Spelling mistakes above are not made by me, it is reproduced as it is without any rectification. Right wingers claim that “Peter Mundy confirms that the “Tajmahal had been a noteworthy building even before Shahjahan”, I have mentioned passage by Peter Mundy, now you tell me where does he say that the Taj Mahal was a noteworthy building even before Shah Jahan? Works of Peter Mundy is available to all yet right wingers has this courage of distorting his words to prove their point. The fact that Peter Mundy arrived in Agra in January 1631 i.e. before the commencement of building of Taj Mahal itself is a proof of Taj Mahal been built by Shah Jahan. Had Shah Jahan merely remodelled it, Peter Mundy would’ve mentioned that the king is converting a palace or temple into a Mausoleum but he instead writes that “The Kinge is now building, a Sepulchre for his late deceased Queen Tage Moholl” and he also writes “The building is begun and goes on with excessive labour and cost” which proves that it was Shah Jahan who build the Taj Mahal and refutes the claim of right wingers. Another question raised is that Mundy writes there is already a rail of gold around her tomb which he is perhaps referring to the gold railing around her grave. In this way right wings are distorting and twisting facts instead of providing historical documents for their claim. The fact that right wingers are arguing about ‘gold railing about her tomb’ itself is a proof of poor research by them, railings are installed around grave not around tomb, one can Google railings around grave to get an idea of what they are and where they are placed. Mughal court historian Qazwini clearly mentioned that,
“And the gold railing, on which the inscription, knobs and most of the flowers are inlaid in enamel, and which required 40,000 tolas of gold, equivalent in cost to an amount of six lakhs of rupees, was brought by Bebadal Khan, the superitendent of the goldsmith…the railing was set up and aforesaid handing lamps and constellation-orbs were suspended above that descending place of divine pardon [i.e., the Queen’s grave].
And on all the four sides of the platform of the plinth (chabutara-i-kursi) of the building of the holy tomb, the foundation (bunian) of whose dome (gumbad) had not yet come up above the ground (zamin), sky-wide tents and around them vast conopies (shamiyana-ha) were raised.”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.52, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
“And it was ordered that the screen, which had required 40,000 tolas of gold, and was worth six lakhs of rupees, should be set up round the grave (turbat) of that one enshrined in divine mercy, and the constellation-orbs and hanging lamps suspended above the resting-place (marqad) of that recipient of divine light.
And orders were also issued to erect, on the platform of the plinth (chabutara-i-kursi) of the building (‘imarat) of that tomb (mazar) having the vestige of Paradise, the foundation of whose dome (asas-i-gumbad) had not yet come above the ground…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.53, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Begley and Desai wrote that “Since Mundy left Agra for Surat on the 4th of March 1632 (N.S.), his mention of the gold railing suggests that it had been completed well before the Second ‘Urs at the end of May.
Father Sebastien Manrique was briefly in Agra in January 1641 when Taj Mahal was under construction. He wrote,
“The other Mausoleum, the work, as I remarked, of the Emperor Corrombo [Shah Jahan], dedicated to the unhappy memory of his chief and most beloved wife and Begoma, stands at the opposite end of the town. At this time it was still incomplete, the greater part of it remaining to be done, according to the plan drawn up and what was discussed, and I will therefore only deal with so much of it as was then finished. This consisted of a handsome, lofty, quadrangular wall of hewn stone of a reddish hue, the wall well proportioned as to height. The summit of the wall is crowned with strong spikes made of the same stone, instead of the usual battlements. At the four corners of the great wall stood four Palaces, built of great handsome blocks of white marble, which had been brought there from over forty leagues away, for the erection of these edifices. Some of these blocks, which I met on the way, when visiting Biana City, were of such unusual size and length that they drew the sweat of many powerful teams of oxen and of fierce-looking, big-horned buffaloes, which were dragging enormous, strongly made wagons, in teams of twenty or thirty animals.
This great wall embraced a huge square-shaped enclosure, in the center of which rose a vast, lofty, circular structure, from the middle of which this famous Geometer, by drawing equal lines, constructed a perfect circle with less trouble than Archimedes of Syracuse. This circular building is, moreover, made of glittering white marble.
On this building, as well as other works, a thousand men were usually engaged, overseers, officials and workmen…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.292-3, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Manriques makes the claim that the architect was Geronimo Veroneo which is now discredited and the claim was revised in this century by H. Hoste, “Who Planned the Taj?” Begley and Desai wrote about Francois Bernier that ‘As mentioned in the Introduction, the European sources on the Taj Mahal are both sparse and generally unreliable. The most detailed and sympathetic description is that of Bernier, but as his first visit to Agra was in 1659, he was not a witness to the actual construction. Dated July 1663, his description was first set down as a letter, guiding the reader through the different parts of the monument, which he felt deserves much more to be numbered among the wonders of the world than the pyramids’. Francois Bernier’s description of Taj Mahal is too long and by mentioning it I don’t think it will yield any benefit. It is just to show that traveller who visited Agra after completion of Taj Mahal wrote in their works, Francois Bernier wrote,
“I shall finish this letter [of July 1663] with a description of the two wonderful mausoleums which constitute the chief superiority of Agra over Delhi. One was erected by Jehan-Guyre [Jahangir] in honor of his father Ekbar [Akbar]; and Chah-Jehan [Shah Jahan] raised the other to the memory of his wife Tage Mehele [Mumtaz Mahal], that extraordinary and celebrated beauty, of whom her husband was so enamoured that it is said he was constant to her during life, and at her death was so affected as nearly to follow her to the grave…The last time I visited Tage Mehale’s mausoleum I was in the company of a French merchant, who, as well as myself, thought that this extraordinary fabric could not be sufficiently admired. I did not venture to express my opinion, fearing that my taste might have become corrupted by my long residence in the Indies; and as my companion was come recently from France, it was quite a relief to my mind to hear him say that he had seen nothing in Europe so bold and majestic…I leave you to judge whether I had not sufficient ground for asserting that the mausoleum of Tage Mehale is an astonishing work. It is possible I may have imbibed an Indian taste; but I decidedly think that this monument deserves much more to be numbered among the wonders of the world than the pyramids of Egypt…
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.295-8, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier visited Agra in the winter of 1640-41, and it is true that he didn’t witness the commencement as he visited Agra nine years after the construction began. But He was there during the construction. He wrote,
“…Of all the tombs at Agra, that of the wife os Shahjahan is the most splendid. He purposely made it near the Tasimacan, where all foreigners come, so that the whole world should see and admire its magnificence. The Tasimacan [Taj-i-Makan] is a larga bazar, consisting of six large courts all surrounded with porticoes, under which are chambers for the use of merchants, and an enormous quantity of cottons are sold there.
The tomb of Begam, or sultan queen, is at the east end of the town by the side of the river in a large square surrounded by walls, upon which there is a small gallery, as on the walls of many towns in Europe. This square is a kind of garden divided into compartments like our parterres, but in the places where we put gravel there is a white and black marble. You enter this square by a large gate, and at first you see, on the left hand, a beautiful gallery which faces in the direction of Mecca, where there are three or four niches where the Moufti comes at fixed time to pray….I witnesses the commencement and accomplishment of this great work, on which twenty two years have been spent, during which twenty thousand men worked incessantly; this is sufficient to enable one to realize that the cost of it has been enormous. It is said that the scaffoldings alone cost more than the entire work, because, from want of wood, they, as well as the supports of the arches, had all to be made of brick; this has entailed much labour and heavy expenditure. Shahjahan began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river, but the war with his sons interrupted his plan, and Aurangzeb, who reigns at present, is not disposed to complete it…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.298-299, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Niccolao Manucci another European traveller wrote,
Shahjahan gave orders for the construction of the mausoleum [of Mumtaz Mahal] opposite the royal palace at Agrah with great expenditure. It is in two stories, in the lower being deposited the body of his beloved wife. No one may see this sepulchre, for it is in charge of women and eunuchs.
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.299, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Jean De Thevenot wrote,
King Gehanguir caused one to be built for King Ecbar his Father, upon an eminence of the Town. It surpasses in magnificence all those of the Grand Signoirs, but the fairest of all, is that which Cha-Gehan Erected in honour of one of his Wives called Tadhe-Mehal, whome he tenderly loved, and whose death had almost cost him his life. I know that the Learned and curious Mr. Bernier hath taken memoirs of it, and therefore I did not take the pains to be exactly informed of that work. Only so much I’ll say that this King having sent for all the able Architects of the Indies to Agra, he appointed a Council of them for contriving and perfecting the Tomb which he intented to Erect, and having settled Salaries upon them, he ordered them to spare no cost in making the finest Mausoleum in the World, if they could. They completed it after their manner, and succeeded to his satisfaction.
The stately Garden into which all the parts of that Mausolum are distributed, the great Pavillions with their Fronts, the beautiful Porches, the lofty dome that covers the Tomb, the lovely diposition of its Pillars, the raising of Arches which support a great many Galleries, Quilochques and Terrasses, make it apparent enough that the Indians are not ignorant of Architecture. It is true, the manner of it seems odd to Europeans; yet it hath its excellency, and though it be not like that of the Greeks and other Ancients, yet the Fabrick may be said to be very lovely. The Indians say that it was twenty years in building, that as many Men as could labour in the great work were employed, and that it was never interrupted during that long space of time.
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.299-300, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Right wingers makes arbitrary claims about these travellers and want us to believe that these travellers were tricked into believing the remodelling of Taj Mahal as construction. I mean were all these travellers to naïve that they couldn’t distinguish between construction and converting a temple into a tomb? Many travellers inquired about the Taj Mahal with the locals who told them details about the Taj Mahal such as time period of its construction etc. and even picked the name “Taj Mahal” from local residents. So didn’t the local residents told them about a temple or Rajput palace being converted into a mausoleum?
Giles Tillotson wrote,
”An altogether more desperate bid to assign a new meaning to the Taj has been made by P.N. Oak in a book with the intriguing title The Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace (1968). In this startling piece of pseudo-scholarship, Oak soberly protests that the Taj is not a, as we have all supposed, a seventeenth-century Muslim tomb but a much earlier Hindu structure, ‘Perhaps built in the 4th century to serve as a palace’.
His starting point is the passage in the Padshanama describing Shah Jahan’s purchase of the site for the Taj, land that belonged through inheritance to the maharaja of Amber, Jai Singh I (the same ruler who was later required to assist with the supply of marble and masons). The passage clearly states that there was a house or mansion on this land, which had been built by an ancestor of Jai SIngh’s, so the Maharaja received compensation in the form of comparable properties. Oak interprets this to mean that the existing house became the tomb: with the addition merely of a few Quranic inscription over its doorways, the older palace was converted to its new use. So the universally admired Taj is not, after all, one of the greatest glories of Islamic civilization but further proof of the wonders of ancient Hinduism.
No evidence is offered in support of its redating by thirteen centuries. Jai Singh’s ancestor who built the Manzil, Raja Man Singh, lived in the sixteenth century and was a contemporary and colleague of Akbar’s, but this evidently keeps the whole matter too close to the Mughals for Oak’s comfort. The fourth century is safely pre-Islamic. Of course this is preposterous: the only stone architecture surviving in India from such an early date is either rock cut or monolithic, not structural. The technical know how to create a building with the structural form of the Taj simply did not exist in pre Mughal India. It would be like assigning a fourth century date to a photograph, or a combustion engine. Later in his book Oak seems to drop this claim, giving the building instead a twelfth century date, and an original functions as a Shiva temple.
Whatever date and use he opts for (and the argument has shifted about quite a bit with successive editions of the book) he meets the same objection on the basis of the building’s style. If it is not a Mughal building, how does it come to bear such strong affinities with other Mughal buildings, such as their earlier tombs and Shah Jahan’s palaces in Agra and Delhi? Oak has his answers ready: the fact that it looks like them is proof that they too are all converted Hindu buildings. ‘Muslim rulers in India did not raise even a single mansion, canal, fort, palace, tomb or mosque whether of red stone or marble. They only appropriated Hindu buildings and misused them.’ If we still have the breath and energy for further argument, we might ask how he accounts for the similarities between those buildings in India generally thought to be Islamic and the buildings of west Asia. Those, he says, are all ‘products of Hindu architecture’ as well, evidence that Hindu architecture was the first international style.
I was once gently reprimanded by a senior colleague for paying Oak the compliment of bothering to engage with his book at all. It is plainly a work of fantasy and they author’s barely concealed motive to denigrate Islamic civilization is distasteful. The convoluted passages in which he quotes and wilfully misinterprets texts and inscriptions might be useful as an illustration, to alert students to the methods of phoney scholarship. It contains nothing else that is instructive…It is of course a sort of compliment to the Taj that it spawns polemics like Oak’s. So many people seem to want to claim it for their own, because it is so obviously worth having, and they will happily be misled by the slightest clue that seems to bring it closer to them.” Taj Mahal, by Giles Tillotson, p.112-15, Published Harvard University Press, 12-Nov-2012
Giles Tilotson on the issue with the name ‘Taj Mahal’,
“But then, one might ask, just how Mughal is the name ‘Taj Mahal’ anyway? It is usually said that the name derives from Mumtaz Mahal, the title given to the empress, which means ‘select of the palace’. There is room for doubt about this: ‘Taj’ need not be an abbreviation of ‘Mumtaz’ since it is itself perfectly good Persian word meaning ‘crown’. It is also worth noting that the building is not called ‘Taj Mahal’ in the contemporary Mughal sources. Abdul Hamid Lahauri, the author of the Padshanama, the official history of Shah Jahan’s reign, calls it ‘Rauza i Munawwara’, meaning ‘the illumined or illustrious tomb’ (where rauza implies specifically a tomb in a garden).
It was Francois Bernier and other Europeans observers who witnessed its construction who first called it the Taj Mahal. It seems unlikely that they invented te same name: perhaps they picked it up from the residents of Agra. They called the empress ‘Taj Mahal’ too, which suggests they believed the tomb was named after her.” Taj Mahal, by Giles Tillotson, p.14, Published Harvard University Press, 12-Nov-2012
Another historian named Diana Preston wrote,
“Yet all accounts of the construction of the tomb, whether by court historians or by European observers such as Peter Mundy who were present when building started, make clear that work started from the foundations up. The chronicler Lahori talked of ‘Laying the foundations’ by digging down to ‘the water table’. Peter Mundy noted that ‘the building is begun…’ if there had been any previous major structure on the site, other observers who had visited Agra before Mumtaz’s death would have recorded it. Europeans such as the Jesuit Father Monserrate, who visited Agra several times in 1580-82, or Sir Thomas Roe, who gave such a detailed description of Agra and court life in the early seventeenth century, and Francisco Pelsaert, the Dutch trader who visited Agra in 1620-27 and enumerated the gardens and palaces along the Jamuna, made no mention of any pre-existing building. Although the royal archives of the raja of Amber, who donated the land for the building, refer to building projects, including temples, elsewhere, they contain no reference to any such construction in Agra. Furthermore, the Hindu architectural features of the Taj, such as the chattris, are more likely to derive from the synthesis of Hindu and Islamic styles so apparent in Moghul architecture from Akbar’s time onward.
The claim that the building was a Shiva temple particularly puzzles India scholars, both because temples cannot be sold after construction and Shah Jahan would not have committed such an inauspicious act as seizing the land, and because the rajas of Amber belong to a particular branch of the Hindu religion that would not have worshipped at a Shiva temple. Perhaps even more conclusively, no know Hindu temple looks at all like the Taj Mahal.” Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, Diana Preston, p.279, Published by Walker, 12-Feb-2008
Renuka Nath wrote,
“Many European travellers came to Agra between 1580 and 1668. Their accounts help us in reconstructing the history of medieval India, particularly when the Persian chronicler is branded as a biased courtier and is rejected as unreliable. Father Monserrate who was at Fatehpur Sikri for about three years (1580-83) visited Agra several times but he does not make the slightest mention of a Taj Mahal or any such similar construction. Ralph Fitch came to Agra in 1585 and has left a detailed description of the city but he too does not speak of the Raj Mahal or a Taj mahal. William Hawkins stayed in Agra for about five years (1608-13). He has described the tomb of Akbar at Sikandara which was then under construction but he does not allude to any building of the Taj-Mahal’s stature on the river-side.” Agra and Its Monumental Glory, by Renuka Nath, p.94, Published by Taraporevala, 1977 – Agra (India)
“The Jesuits established a church, a school, a hospital and a graveyard at Agra and their transactions supply valuable information. But no mention of a Taj Mahal has been made by them in any of their communications.” Ibid
She also wrote,
“In view of the Persian sources and the accounts of foreign travellers, particularly Peter Mundy, Travernier, Manucci, and Bernier, reinforced by the unmistakable architectural evidence, the assumption that the Taj Mahal was originally a Rajput palace and was converted into a tomb as claimed by some, is completely absurd and without warrant.” The Immortal Taj Mahal, by Renuka Nath, p.94, Published by D.B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private LTD, 1972
Royina Grewal wrote,
“A friend of a friend, makes an astonishing comment. ‘The Taj Mahal, he announces, ‘was in fact a Hindu temple built by Raja Man Singh. Shah Jahan simply converted it into a tomb for his wife by adding few Islamic elements such as calligraphy.’ I have heard of this completely untenable theory but never dreamt I would meet an adherent. In the year 2000, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition that sought to declare that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple and issued a reprimand…He goes on to inform me that the Taj Mahal is actually Tej o Mahalya, a temple consecrated to Shiva in his manifestation as Agreshwar Mahadev, Lord of Agra. ‘This,’ he says, ‘has not been much publicized because the government did not want to hurt the feelings of the Muslims. But there are 109 points that prove this was so. First of all, the name Taj Mahal is not found in any Mughal document.’
I attempt to explain that the mausoleum was originally referred to as ‘Rauzah i Mumtaz Mahal’, a name certainly occurs in Mughal records of the time. The appellation Taj Mahal came into common use under the British when Taz or Taje Mahal, based on abbreviations of the empress’s name common among Europeans, was corrupted into the present form…’So you see, ‘He concludes triumphantly, ‘Shah Jahan did not build the Taj Mahal. He desecrated the Tej o Mahalya temple, removed the idols and replaced them with cenotaphs and only add the inscriptions from the Koran, which took twenty two years to inscribe.’
I bring up the obvious objection to this theory. If such a magnificent structure existing at such an early date, there would have been mention of it in some chronicle, Hindu, Mughal or even in the accounts of earlier European travellers…there is no doubt whatsoever that work on the mausoleum began from the excavations of its foundation. A court historian summed it up, ‘…Plans were laid out for a magnificent building, and a dome of lofty foundation which…will, until the day of resurrection, remains a memorial to the sky high aspiration of his Majesty…and which for strength will display the firmness of the intentions of its builder…” In the Shadow of the Taj: A Portrait of Agra, Royina Grewal, p.177-79, Published by Penguin Books India, 2007
There are two Farmans of Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh, one is dated 20 September 1632 and requests Raja Jai Singh to expedite shipments of marble, almost certainly intended for Akbarabad, by advancing wages to the stonecutters and rental for carts, against reimbursement from the state treasury; the Raja is further enjoined to cooperate fully with the Emperor’s designated agent, Mulukshah, who has been dispatched to Amber. Construction of Taj Mahal had already begun months before this Farman, it was ordered to Jai Singh so as to ease the supply of white marbles from Makrana which was under Raja Jai Singh.
Another Farman is dated 3 February 1633, or less than five months after the preceding document. The Emperor again urges Raja Jai Singh to expedite the shipment of large quantities of marble from Makrana quarries, here specified as being for the ‘buildings’ (ba-imarat-ha) at Akbarabad. A different agent, Sayyid Ilahdad, was been appointed to proceed to Amber to arrange for some 230 carts on reverse of the farman.
“To the best of equals and grandees, the pride of peers and contemporaries, worthy of attention and favors, the sincere, loyal and devoted servant Raja Jai Singh. Having been distinguished and exalted by imperial favors, he should know that we have dispatched Mulukshah to Amber to have white marble brought out from the new quarry (kan-i-jadid).
And We hearby order that, whatever the number of stone-cutters (sang-bur) and cart-on-hire (araba-i-kiraya) for loading the stone that may be required by the aforesaid Mulukshah, the Raja should make them available to him; and the wages of the stone-cutters and the rent-money of the carts, he will provide with funds from royal treasurer (tahwildar). It is imperative that the pride of peers and contemporaries should assist Mulukshah in all ways in this regard; and they should consider this a matter of utmost importance, and not deviate from this order.”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.163, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
“To the best of equals and grandees, the pride of peers and contemporaries, worthy of attention and favors, the sincere, loyal, devoted high-born (khanazad) servant Raja Jai Singh. Having been distinguished and exalted by imperial favors, he should know that, since large numbers of carts are required to transport white marble to the buildings (ba-imarat) at the Abode of the Caliphate Akbarabad, and since before this, an exalted and auspicious imperial order was issued addressed to the cream of equals concerning this, at this juncture, as added emphasis, We have appointed Sayyid Ilahdad to proceed to Amber and other places, as detailed herewith in the endorsement (dimn) [on the reverse side], and engage the required carts on hire (arab-i-kiraya), in accordance with the list written under each place (mahal). And whatever number of carts the Raja has previously made available from those places for carting the white marble from the Makrana quarry, having adjusted it against the total number, he should make the balance available to the aforesaid [Sayyid Ilahdad], who will escort them to the Makrana quarry…”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.165, by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Now the question is, if the palace was merely remodelled then why such large quantities were required as if building a completely new palace?
Another allegation put forth by right wingers is that a letter dated 1652 of Hazrat Aurangzeb mentioning that some repairs were needed for the tomb. And this is misrepresented by right wingers to show that why repairs were needed for the newly built Taj Mahal? Begley and Desai had clarified this long ago in their book that,
“Also published in this anthology is a new translation of the well-known letter of Prince Aurangzeb, dated Muharram 1063/December 1652, mentioning that some repairs were needed to the tomb, which had leaked in several places during the previous rainy season. When certain lapses in the Persian text of this letter are corrected, it seems clear that the problem with the dome was water leakage and not cracks, as some writers have construed this passage.”
Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of seventeenth century Mughal and European Documentary Sources, Introduction xxxi, by Wayne Edison Begley, Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989.
The Farman shows that,
The Farman translated by Begley and Desai reads as follows,
“…The building (‘imarat) of this shrine enclosure (hazira) of holy foundation are still firm and strong (ustwar), exactly as they were completed under [His Majesty’s] illumined presence, except that the dome over the fragment sepulchre (marqad) leaks during the rainy season in two places on the north side. Likewise, the four arched portals (pishtaq), several of the recessed alcoves (shahnashinam) of the second story (martaba), the four small domes, the four northern vestibules (suffa) and subchambers of the seven arched plinth (kursi-i-habtdar) have become dampened (darnarn). The marble-covered terrace of the large dome has leaked in two or three places during this past rainy season, and has been repaired. Let us see what happens in the coming rainy season. The domes of the mosque and the assembly-hall (jama’at-khana) leaked in the rainy season as well, and have also been repaired.”
as mentioned in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb, p.175 by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din A. Desai, Published by Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989
Now it clearly states that everything is same as it was completed under Shah Jahan. And except for some leakage there was no crack or major repair needed as presented by right wingers. There is also one important sentence which you may have missed, it’s the mention of leakage of mosque and assembly hall. Do right wingers claim that the mosque too was built by Raja Man Singh? If not then its leaking along with the Taj Mahal proves that they were constructed at the same time.
Another claim made by right wingers is that there are 22 rooms which are sealed with a purpose and if opened will prove the theory of Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple. ABP News made a expose on this issue in their show named Viral Sach in which they questioned two historians and a former director of Archaelogical Survey of India and all of them said that there are no rooms in Taj Mahal however former director of Archaelogical Survey of India Dr. Amrendra Nath said that there are no such rooms but there exists cells in the plinth which are closed for security purpose and they are opened daily for cleaning. Watch the video,
Link for the video
If it took approx. 20 years for Shah Jahan just to convert it into a mausoleum then it may have taken nearly a century for Man Singh to build such marvellous palace. Around 30 villages were endowed for the maintenance of Taj Mahal which includes monthly salaries, expenses of food and drink which have been set apart for the keepers, attendants, inmates and servants of the palace. So how Raja Man Singh or Jai Singh maintained their ‘Tejo Mahalya’? How many villages did they endow for its maintenance? This needs to be answered by right wingers. The whole argument of right wingers is based on the sentence of Abd al-Lahori that four palaces were given for the Manzil or Haveli of Raja Jai Singh, though we have already read that a tract of land (zamini) was chosen for the construction of Taj Mahal and foundation was dug up to the water table, in Badshahnama page 403 he says that ‘va zamin-e dar nihayat rifat va nuzzat hat ki junoob roya aan mishra jame ast’, which roughly translates as a piece of land was selected for her [Mumtaz Mahal] burial.
Europeans such as Jesuit Father Monserrate visited Agra several times between the years 1580-82 but never mentioned about a building like Taj Mahal. Sir Thomas Roe who gave detailed description of Agra never mentioned about Taj Mahal. Franciso Pelsaert the Dutch trader who visited Agra in 1620-27 enumerated the gardens and palaces made no mention of any building like Taj Mahal. Ralph Fitch came to Agra in 1585 and left a detailed description of the city and he too doesn’t speak of the Tejo Mahalya or Taj Mahal. William Hawkins stayed in Agra for about five years 1608-13, He described the tomb of Akbar at Sikandara but makes no mention to any building of the Taj Mahal’s stature.
Peter Mundy lived in Agra between 1631-2 that is prior and during the construction of the Taj Mahal and witnessed its construction. Father Sebastien Manrique who visited Agra in 1641 witnessed the construction of Taj Mahal and says that it was still incomplete. Jean Baptise Tavernier visited Agra in 1640-1 and witnessed the construction of Taj Mahal.
Niccolao Manucci though I am not sure, he visited Agra after the completion of Taj Mahal. Francois Bernier visited Agra after the completion of Taj Mahal and mentions about it in detail. Jean De Thevenot who also visited Agra after completion of Taj Mahal mentions about it and he inquired about the Taj Mahal from the locals who told him that it took twenty years to build it but no one told about any such thing like a temple being converted into a tomb.
So we see that, foreign travellers who visited Agra before construction of Taj Mahal makes no mention about it, while those who visited Agra during and after the construction of Taj Mahal mentioned about it. As I said earlier, right wingers are questioning the account of these travellers just like the lawyer of villain in a Bollywood movie questions eye witnesses rather than providing historical documents or any evidence for their claims. They need to answer exactly when Tejo Mahalya was build? Even P.N Oak changed his own statement on this issue, who were the architects? In exact which year was the construction commenced? How many labours it took to build Tejo Mahalya? How much it did it cost? Mughal documents even mentions the name of calligraphers, supervisors, goldsmith, artisans, cost of specific structure and in which year it was build why no such document exists about Tejo Mahalya? From where did Raja Man Singh get the marble for the construction of Tejo Mahalya? Mughal documents about large quantities of marble being transported from Makrana exists, why such large quantities were required just for remodelling of a Hindu temple into a tomb? Why Raja Jai Singh was silent about a temple being converted into a tomb? Why didn’t he revolt? Did Raja Jai Singh come from a branch of Hinduism who worshipped Shiva? Why didn’t he mention about his ancestral palace or a temple being converted into a tomb? Why no foreign traveller mentions about Taj Mahal before Shah Jahan started building it? Why Tejo Mahalya’s architectural style is so strikingly similar to Islamic architecture? Why no Hindu building such as Taj Mahal exists prior to the advent of Muslim rulers? And most important question, Why no historical document exists about Tejo Mahalya?
Right wingers need to answer these questions before even claiming the Taj Mahal to be a Hindu temple or Rajput palace. Right wingers have stooped so low of doing character assassination of Shah Jahan with fake stories like he killed Mumtaz Mahal’s first husband to marry her, whereas Shah Jahan was the first husband of Mumtaz Mahal. They fell in love and their marriage was fixed when Shah Jahan was 15 and Mumtaz was 14 and they were engaged on 5th of April 1607 and marriage took place 5 years after i.e. on 10th May 1612. Mumtaz was his third wife and he married 2 wives to strengthen political ties. Another allegation is that Shah Jahan married the sister of Mumtaz Mahal after her death which is not true, according to historians, Shahjahan gave up all lavish food, clothes, he wept so much that he got eye problems, even one of the traveller Thevenot writes that his grief over his dead wife almost cost him his life. And one more allegation in order to depict Shah Jahan as a ruthless ruler is that he cut off the hands of 20 thousand workers so that no such palace shall be made after that. The fact is that this is nothing more than a tale which has no truth in it. So all these facts only proves that the Taj Mahal is indeed a mausoleum build by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.