The Taj Mahal, a world-famous destination for connoisseurs and lovers. On 16th August 015, a documentary was running on history channel about the Taj Mahal. However, it was an excellent program, but one of the point raised by Dr. John Fritz, forced me to write this article. The point was related to the Black Taj Mahal.
Dr. John has spent 10 years in excavation of the ruins of Mahtab Bagh (the site of proposed Black Taj). He said standing in Mahtab Bagh, “it looks like foundation of Black Taj but it is not, it is wonderful magic story, we did not find any trace of black stone during excavation”. By pointing to the north at Mahtab Bagh, he further said “there was a place for the court, Shahjahan use to sit in a pavilion”.
Dr. John can refuse the concept of Black Taj on the ground that there was no trace of black stone. But, from where he got the information that there was a place for the royal court in Mahtab Bagh, and Shahjahan use to sit there? Can ruins speak, “who used to come and sit there”? As a historical fact, after completion of the construction, Shahjahan paid only few visits to the Taj mahal. During my research, I did not find any contemporary record that has any description about Mahtab Bagh except the one; a letter to Shahjahan from Prince Aurangzeb in December 1652.
By the time letter was written, neither Aurangzeb nor Shahjahan had visited the Taj Mahal for several years, and some maintenance problem had developed in the tomb which Aurangzeb managed to repair, the letter was intended to bring the issue to Emperor’s attention. In his letter, besides Taj’s problem, Aurangzeb also mentioned about Mahtab Bagh. Aurangzeb explained to emperor that how he had monitored the repair work in the Taj Mahal, and for Mahtab Bagh he simply explained its condition but there was no hint that any efforts were made to get it cleaned (at the so-called court of Emperor), even he was surprising that how tank and bungalow remained unaffected from the flood. Note the excerpts: “During the rainy season, water had completely submerged the Mahtab garden. Consequently, it has lost its tidiness; in the near future, it will attain renewed freshness. The octagonal tank and the bungalows all around it are pristine and unaffected; and from what had been heard of the floods of the water of the Yamuna, that is surprising! At present, the river has receded and now flows adjacent to it.” Complete letter can be seen in the book (W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai Taj Mahal; The Illumined Tomb, Cambridge; Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1989. Page 175)
The reference of Mahtab Bagh by Aurangzeb describes that the site was significant, but its submergence into the flood and leaving it to attain freshness by itself highlighted that by that time its structures were insignificant, which might have to be brought down for new construction. Probably, it remained in original form as it was acquired from Raja Jai Singh.
Another question emerges that why excavators of Mahtab Bagh are searching for black stone. Even, J. B. Tavernier who documented about another Mausoleum for Shahjahan in 1679 (30 years after the Taj Mahal completed) did not write that Black Taj Mahal ever constructed, but the construction stopped soon after it began. Note the excerpts: “I witnessed the commencement and accomplishment of this great work (Taj Mahal). Shah Jahan began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river, but the war which he had with his sons interrupted his plan, and Aurangzeb, who reigns at present, is not disposed to complete it.” – “Les six voyage de Jean Baptise Tavernier”, 1679 AD, France
The Taj Mahal complex contains cluster of buildings, all of them are made with red-sandstone except the main mausoleum. If we analyze the construction work of the Taj Mahal complex, we find that almost half of the work was done using red sand stone. Why not scholars realize that usage of black marble could have begun after completion of the preliminary construction using red sandstone? The thought of finding black stone at Mahtab Bagh itself is baseless. There are several other concerning points that can grab attention for researchers.
- Tavernier had written about the beginning of the construction of another mausoleum, and the site he described, contains some structures of Mughal era. Was his writing a pure myth?
- Shahjahan’s own mausoleum is missing. Taj Mahal was not the place of his burial as the material evidence in the funerary chamber makes it confirm. Where was Shahjahan intended to be buried?
- Shahjahan was deposed forcibly by his son. Had the mighty emperor Aurangzeb tried to hide what he did with his father by modifying the site of Mahtab Bagh?
Why not, scholars pay attention about the reason of the existence of Mahtab Bagh? The site’s perfect alignment with the Taj Mahal confirms that it was an integral part of the original scheme. Several historians including Archaeological Survey of India accept the fact. If story of Black Taj is categorised to be a myth then several complicated questions need to be answered:
- Why Mahtab Bagh was founded on the other side of the Taj Mahal?
- What is the base of ASI’s description that it was a garden and made to serve the purpose of green backdrop?
- What was actual site plan of Mahtab Bagh? Is the current layout original? And how it could be architecturally connected with the Taj Mahal?
- At present, the existence of Mahtab Bagh is insignificant and unconnected with the Taj Mahal. If it is restored to its older age, even then, it would not generate any significant connection with its counterpart. Million dollar question emerge that a perfectionist and a great builder like Shahjahan merely wanted to build an insignificant garden on the other side?
- Is it believable that Mahtab Bagh was constructed as a summer palace for Shahjahan as we heard in news time by time? Was it possible that he have had the pleasure pursuit in-front of the tomb where his most beloved dead wife was buried?
It would be the irresponsibility of historians if “Black Taj Mahal” is declared to be a myth without having any concrete ground. The research on this topic needs to be continued. Why not researchers think the way, the researchers of the following documentary did.
Iftakhar Nadime Khan (Arshi)