THE FOREIGN CONNECTION
On the 17th of June 1631, as Arjumand Banu Begum, aka Mumtaz Mahal, the most favourite wife and Empress Consort of the Mughal Emperor Badshah A’la Azad Abul Muzaffar Shahab ud- Din Mohammad Khurram, aka Shah Jahan died, the Mughal Court started planning for the grand burial of the late queen. She left the mortal world while giving birth to her 14th child in Burhanpur, where her husband the Emperor was fighting with rebels. She was buried in a pleasure garden called Zainabad, originally constructed by Shah Jahan’s uncle Daniyal on the banks of the River Tapti. The Emperor went into secluded mourning for almost a year and when he came out of it, he was a changed man with all the sadness reflecting from his face and attire. Meanwhile, in December the same year, her body was taken out from her grave and transported in a golden casket to the then capital of the Mughal Empire, Agra. There the body was buried in a garden on the banks of the Yamuna and as the Emperor reached Agra after finishing his campaign in Deccan, the garden was taken from the king of Jaipur, Raja Jai Singh, in exchange for a prestigious piece of land within the city. In 1632, the construction of the grand mausoleum began, which later came to be called “The Taj Mahal.” While there are numerous things to talk about the great Taj Mahal, this article focusses on the foreign connection of the Taj. In coming editions, I will try to write more about the Taj and unveil more secrets of this magnificent wonder of the world.
Taj Mahal was not built overnight. It took decades to reach the final finial and plant the last tree. Architects, Masons and material from different countries was sourced to construct this finest piece of Mughal Architecture. The structure was built using rubble masonry, covered with a layer of bricks, which were baked locally. The sandstone used in the tomb was sourced from Fatehpur Sikri, which is around 40-45 Kms away from Agra. The famous white marble for the Taj Mahal was brought from Makrana in Rajasthan (some 400 Kms away). The marble of Makrana is known to be the finest and decorates many other famous buildings, including the Victoria Memorial of Kolkata, the National Assembly of Pakistan, the Jain Temples of Mysore & Dilwara, the Ambedkar Park of Lucknow, the Birla Mandir of Jaipur, and the Makrana Emitra Campus. Jasper for the building was sourced from the region of Punjab. This building is decorated with Jade and Crystal, which were imported from China and the turquoise came from Tibet. The Lapis Lazuli was sourced from Afghanistan, Sapphire from Sri Lanka and Carnelian from the Arabian region. Onyx and Amethyst came from Persia. It is said that in all, 28 types of semi-precious stones were used on the Taj Mahal, which were sourced from all over South Asia. Some say that the cost of the construction of this building was around 50 Lakh Rupees, while some debate that it might have gone up to 6 Crore (Which sounds a little impractical, given the state of the royal treasury back then). Heritage :: Did You Know ?
Ustad Isa, an architect from Shiraz, Iran, is considered by some to have been the chief architect of the Taj Mahal, while this claim was challenged by others, who named Ustad Ahmed Lahauri (also from Iran) as the chief architect. The claim of Ustad Ahmad being the chief architect was put forth by his son Lutfullah Muhandis and was verified by many modern research scholars. Abd ul- Karim Ma’mur Khan and Makramat Khan were the Imperial Supervisors for the construction. Ismail Afandi was bought in from Ottoman Empire to design the dome. QazimKhan from Lahore was asked to cast the solid gold finial. Amanat Khan from Shiraz (Iran) was the chief calligrapher of Tomb. Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz were incharge of finances and management of daily production. Puru from Benarus in Iran was the supervisor of all architects. Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi was the chief sculptor and mosaicist while Muhammad Hanif was the supervisor of masons Another interesting name that enters the scene is that of Geronimo Veroneo, an Italian who lived in Agra and died in Lahore in 1640. The European Scholars celebrate him as the chief architect of Taj Mahal. This claim was made by Father Sebastian Manrique, an Augustinian Friar whose purpose in India was to secure the release of Father Antony, who was being held prisoner by the Mughals in Lahore. And it was here in Lahore that he met the executor of Geronimo, named Father Joseph De Castro. It was Castro who told Father Sebastian about a famous Venetian jeweller who came to India in the Portuguese ships but died on his way in Lahore and was later buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery Padres Santos in Agra. However, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French gem merchant, who was travelling in India during the construction of the Taj Mahal has given the most accurate account of its construction and does not mention anything about Geronimo. Peter Munday, another traveller who has left a complete record of his travels, was also in Agra around that time. He knew Geronimo well and mentions that he met him several times, but does not state anything more than the fact that he was a goldsmith.
While there is a whole lot more that may be said and written about the Taj, I will reserve all that for future articles. No doubt, this marvel leaves its lasting impression on every spectator, and reminds us of the great artistic capabilities of the people back in 17th century.