In their book TAJ MAHAL-THE ILLUMINED TOMB, Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din Ahmad Desai have put together a very commendable body of data and information derived from contemporary sources and augmented with numerous photo illustrations, chroniclers’ descriptions, imperial directives plus letters, plans, elevations and diagrams. They have performed a valuable service to the community of scholars and laymen concerned with the circumstances surrounding the origin and development of the Taj Mahal.
But these positive contributions exist within a framework of analysis and interpretation that distorts a potential source of enlightenment into support for fantasy and misinformation that has plagued scholarship in this field for hundreds of years, thus obscuring the true origin of the Taj Mahal complex. The two basic procedural errors that they make is to assume that the dated inscriptions are accurate and that court chroniclers are behaving like objective historians.
As an architect, my principal argument with the authors is their facile acceptance of the compact time frame that they uncritically accept for the coming into being of the Taj from conception to its first Urs (anniversary) of the death of Mumtaz and the completion of the main building. Construction processes that had to consume substantial blocks of time are condensed into a few months. They feel justified in relying on what evidence is available, but fail to consider the objective needs of construction. They regret the loss of what, they say, must have been millions of Mughal state records and documents produced each year on all aspects of the Taj’s construction. They do not consider that the lack of drawings, specifications and records of payment may be due to their not being generated at the time. Nor do they consider Shahjahan’s potential for deception as to when and by whom it was built. Yet they point out Shahjahan’s careful monitoring of the contents of court history:
“Shajahan himself was probably responsible for this twisting of historical truth. The truth would have shown him to be inconsistent and this could not be tolerated. For this reason also, the histories contain no statements of any kind that are critical of the Emperor or his policies, and even military defeats are rationalized so that no blame could be attached to him. … effusive praise of the Emperor is carried to such extremes that he seems more a divinity than a mortal man.” (p. xxvi)
With the court chroniclers’ histories carefully edited and with the great scarcity of documents we are fortunate to have four surviving Farmans or directives issued by Shahjahan to Raja Jai Singh of Amber-the very same local ruler from whom the Emperor acquired the Taj property. On the basis of these farmans, the court chroniclers and a visiting European traveler, we learn that: (i) Mumtaz died and was buried temporarily at Burhanpur on June 17, 1631; (ii) her body was exhumed and taken to Agra on December 11, 1631; (iii) she was reburied somewhere on the Taj grounds on January 8, 1632; and (iv) European traveler Peter Mundy witnessed Shahjahan’s return to Agra with his cavalcade on June 11, 1632.
The first farman was issued on September 20, 1632 in which the Emperor urges Raja Jai Singh to hasten the shipment of marble for the facing of the interior walls of the mausoleum, i.e., the Taj main building. Naturally a building had to be there to receive the finish. How much time was needed to put that basic building in place?
Every successful new building construction follows what we call in modern-day construction a “critical path”. There is a normal sequence of steps requiring a minimum time before other processes follow. Since Mumtaz died unexpectedly and relatively young (having survived thirteen previous child-births), we can assume that Shahjahan was unprepared for her sudden demise. He had to conceive, in the midst of his trauma, of a world class tomb dedicated to her, select an architect (whose identity is still debated), work out a design program with the architect, and have the architect prepare designs, engineer the structure and mechanical systems, detail the drawings, organize the contractors and thousands of workers, and prepare a complex construction schedule. Mysteriously, no documents relating to this elaborate procedure, other than the four farmans have survived. |…|