The Mughals: Shah Jahan: Part 2: (1627-1658 AD) & Aurangzeb (1658-1707 AD)

‘Henceforth, let the inhabitants of the world be divided into two classes-them as has seen the Taj Mahal and them as hasn’t.’ These words of 19th century British artist and poet, Edward Lear were recently popularised and echoed by the American president Bill Clinton.

Namaskar and Salam Waalekum. Welcome to the final episode of Saga In Stone.

But before Taj, there was something else. A river, some wild animals and a simple tomb.

Ahookhana, Burhanpur:

Burhanpur was an important seat of Mughal power. Mumtaz Mahal often used to come here with Shahjahan. She loved the place and the peace surrounding it. She loved to play with animals. She loved being here ,so much so that she wished to be buried here. When Mumtaz Mahal died on 7th june 1631, her wish was fulfilled. She was buried at Ahookhana, the deer park.


In an unassuming tomb. But then, the emperor had other ideas. He felt that his love was too deep and such a simple building did not do justice to it. Marble quarries were far from this place. And for Shahjahan who loved the romance of marble, nothing less would’ve done. And so what if the soul of Mumtaz Mahal had to travel 500 km for that?

Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known by her title Mumtaz Mahal or the ‘Chosen of the Palace’ died while delivering her fourteenth child.

Shah Jahan immortalised her memory by building the most magnificent tomb for her that was to become an epitome of love for all times to come.

Taj Mahal, Agra:

It is strange that a house of death can become a symbol of love so potent that 400 years later, it is still being used in advertising the world over in a highly successful manner. From a tea brand to a blues singer who named himself Taj Mahal- Taj has a brand equity unparalleled.


Poets down the ages have reacted emotionally to it. If Tagore has called it a tear on the face of eternity, the urdu poet Sahir, beseeched his beloved to meet him elsewhere since to him Shahjahan, had mocked their humble love through such an ostenntatious offering to his beloved. It has been called “the grandest alliance between man and nature…pregnant with the drama of love and death, those twin accompaniments of greatness in art."

Taj overshadows all the other creations of Shahjahan and, indeed Indian architecture. He called it Rauza-i-Munawwara or the 'Illuminated Tomb'. The name 'Taj Mahal', a corruption of Mumtaz Mahal (which means the chosen one of the palace), is unknown in Mughal chronicles. However, it was used by contemporary Europeans in India.

In his bid to get the best talent available in the country Shahjahan floated what was probably India’s earliest architectural competition. The end result was the certainly worth it.

That Ustad Isa was the architect of this masterpiece has been almost universally accepted. However, there is a view that the Taj was designed by an Italian - Geronimo Veroneo. However, not much credence is given to this theory.

The construction of the Taj began in 1632. Daily toil of twenty thousand men took about sixteen years to complete it.. Expert craftsmen from places like Delhi, Qannauj, Lahore, Multan and as far as Baghdad, Shiraz and Bukhara were employed.

It is said that Shahjahan later cut off the hands of entire workforce so that they could never again build a structure so beautiful.

It is said to have cost 32 Million Rupees. The best of the materials was used. The marble was brought from makrana, famous for its excellent quality.

Taj embodies the hadith saying that Allah is beauty and is pleased by all that is beauty. Taj has this amazing quality of changing its colors and moods according to the time of the day. At dawn, it’s dreamy. At midday, its milky white, and in the dusky afterglow, it is a pale and lovely rose.

According to a legend, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal met for the first time at Meena Bazaar. Shah jahan was 16 at this time and Mumtaz Mahal was 15. It was love at first sight for the teenagers. But they had to wait for another four years to get married. In the meantime, Shah jahan had to marry an Iranian princess due to reasons of the state.

Apart from its romantic appeal, the Taj is a masterpiece of architectural style in conception, treatment and execution. The plan of this whole conception takes the form of a rectangle, measuring an impressive 1900 ft by 1000 ft.

Taj Mahal continued the series of the Mughal tomb gardens, started by Humayun’s tomb. For twenty years, Mumtaz Mahal was buried in these gardens before being finally shifted inside when the elaborate mausoleum was complete.

But in a masterstroke, the central point of this Char Bagh scheme was shifted from the tomb to a beautifully raised lotus pond of white marble. For the first time in Islamic India, the tomb structure was placed at the head of a garden. With this one touch of genius, the architects succeeded in providing depth and perspective to the first distant view of this majestic mausoleum.

The Taj itself stands on a square 187 ft (57 m) side and 22 ft (6.7 m) high platform. The solid foundations and substructure of the terrace of the Taj are a testimony to the engineering skills of the time. The building technique is almost perfect.

One of the most surprising things about Taj is that it is as tall as a modern twenty storey building. Yet no one really notices its height. It doesn’t awe with its mass, its love beautifies everything.

The terrace on the riverfront has been raised on wall-foundations with fillings of rubble masonry in between.

The majestic entrance gateway on the south is a monument in itself. A series of eleven attached chhatris with marble cupolas, and flanked by pinnacles, adds charm to it.

The profuse inlay of white marble and precious stones into the red sandstone surface give a luscious look to the Taj. The inscriptions inlaid with black marble on white marble surface are beautifully executed. The Arabic inscription from the Quran beckons the 'pure of heart to the Gardens of Paradise'. Most of these inscriptions are connected to the Day Of Judgement, an appropriate theme for a mausoleum.

The four white marble minarets, rising in four storeys and crowned by shapely domes which stand majestically at the corners of the terrace added a hitherto unknown dimension not only to the building art of the Mughals but to the very vocabulary of architectural design.

The entire façade is richly ornamented with flowers, arabesques and other patterns. The flowers here, roses, tulips and others are the ones which are used to describe the features of the beloved in the Persian mystical poetry.

An octagonal hall houses the replicas of the tombs of the Emperor and his beloved wife.

Mumtaz's coffin is directly below the point of the central dome, while that of Shah Jahan's is on its right side. It was the custom that the first to die took the central position – an arrangement that has its precedent in the tomb of Itimad ud Daula as well. Also, according to Islamic law, bodies are buried with their faces towards Mecca and legs towards the south, and the husband is placed on the right hand side of his wife.

Both the cenotaphs are beautifully decorated with stylized floral inlays and contain Persian inscriptions.

It is said that the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal was originally enclosed by a fence of gold studded with gems. This was removed in 1642, and replaced by the present octagonal exquisite screen of trellised marble. The real cenotaphs containing the remains of Shah Jahan and his wife are in a vault located immediately under their replicas in the octagonal central chamber above. Its walls, bereft of any decorations, stand in a sharp contrast with the elegance and grandeur of its upper storey.

Several factors have made the Taj astoundingly beautiful and dream-like. The chaste white marble of pure texture and delicate grain used in its construction. Highly artistic pietra dura ornamentations in floral and arabesque patterns. Extremely elegant marble-carvings in low relief, delicate traceries of marble railings. Beautifully executed inscriptions in black marble inlay on the white surface.

But this is a mechanical attempt to understand the mystique. And it won’t work. The Taj is magical in its entirety. Mystique doesn't come in bits and pieces.

It is said that Shah Jehan wanted to construct another Taj Mahal in black marble on the other side of the river Yamuna and connect the two by a bridge. This structure was intended to be his own tomb. His problems with Aurangzeb and subsequent imprisonment laid these dreams to dust.

On the either side of the Taj are two buildings of similar design, a mosque on the west and its exact replica on the east. These were built for maintaining symmetry. The second structure served as a Jamaat Khana or the 'Meeting House' for the congregation before the prayers. Both these structures are built in red sandstone with a liberal use of white marble for emphasis.

Taj marked the supreme moment in the development of the Indo-Islamic architecture, a stage from where it could only decline. Shah Jahan's reign came to an end in 1658, when his son, Aurangzeb, captured him. With his reign the period of unrestrained building activities that saw the golden era of Mughal architecture also ended. As did the golden age of Mughals itself.

Bibi ka Rauza, Aurangabad:

In the history of architecture Aurangzeb’s reign is marked by degeneration of architectural forms and designs and a rapid deterioration of taste. The most important architectural and representing monument of his reign is the tomb of his wife Rabia Daurani.

The tomb of Rabia Daurani was built in about 1678 at Aurangabad. Popularly known as Bibi ka Rauza, it is considered to be poor man’s Taj.

It has been sometimes suggested that this tomb was built by Aurangzeb’s son Azam Shah, but most probably he just oversaw the construction or got the repairs done.

Rabia Daurani’s real name was Dilras Banu Begum. When she died in October 1657, twenty years after her marriage, she was buried here in Aurangabad and given the title of Rabia Ul Daurani (Rabia of the age). Rabia was a Muslim saint, perhaps the only woman to reach this exalted postion in Islam.

It was intended as a replica of the Taj. But well, intentions seldom translate into reality.


One look at this monument is proof enough of the general and rapid deterioration of the brilliant Mughal architecture.

Set up in the traditional char bagh setting, this monument is a complete failure.

The decorative elements in the entrance is the worthwhile thing in this monument. Nothing could depict more graphically the decline in architectural ideals and political ideals that were taking place, than these two memorials-the highest achievements of two consecutive reigns. From Taj to Rabia Durani’s tomb is a mammoth slide to take place in an interval of less than forty years.

It must be said to the credit of Aurangzeb that he brought the Mughal Empire to its greatest extent. However, his wars helped weld the Marathas into a powerful enemy and exhausted imperial resources. Thus, in a way, he laid the foundation of the end of the great Mughals. He died in 1707. But the Mughal empire survived, at least on paper, for another 150 years. So did the Indo-Islamic school of architecture, but again only on paper.

With building activities touching the lowest ebb in the post Shah Jahan age, the master-builders, architects, stone-cutters, masons and other authors of the architectural wonders of the Mughal empire migrated to the regional patrons at places like Lucknow, Mysore, Hyderabad and the Rajputana.

The great Indo-Islamic school of architecture breathed its last along with the once glorious Mughal empire. But it still lives on as a part of our living culture in our houses, shops and markets throughout the country. Khuda Hafiz and Jai hind.

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