Quest for the Black Taj at the mysterious Mehtab Bagh, Agra

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Written by Rimi Mutsuddi

Prologue

Possibly there are hardly any people in this known world who have not adored the marvellous Taj Mahal and the eternal romance between the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. The spectacular white marble monument is not only one of the Seven Wonders of the World, perhaps it is one of the best creations the human race had ever created on the earth. Have you had ever heard the myth of an another Taj? You must be thinking that I am joking with you guys! There are rumours that possibly emperor Shah Jahan might have thought of an another Taj Mahal – “The Black Taj” as his final resting place.

Well guys to have a feel of this story you all need to visit Agra; get to the other bank of the Yamuna just opposite to the Taj Mahal. This is where the famous moonlit garden known as Mehtab Bagh is located.

Way to the Mehtab Bagh

We had put ourselves at the Hotel Sai Palace located very near to the South Gate of the Taj Mahal (Tajganj). Having a cab booked early in the morning for the day’s trip around Agra – the mysterious Mehtab Bagh was our first destination.

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Our Car route to the Mehtab Bagh from Hotel Sai Palace, Tajganj, Agra (courtesy: Google Maps, 2015)

It was a chilly December morning and with little bit of fogs around we were anxious about the quality of the Taj view from the northern banks of the Yamuna. Yet we hoped for the best.

Mehtab Bagh looked like a dark green paradise covered with the sheer whiteness of the morning mist. This made it so special, mysterious and out of the world. My initial feeling was like as if we were about to enter a magical world. The aura near to the garden entrance with hardly any co-tourists around us was a little bit scary and romantic with so much green around us. We peeped around from where the ticket counter was located. The fogs were heavy enough to let us the first view of the Taj. A local kid with miniature Taj key rings was literally eating on us for having his first sale of the day. We promised to oblige him during our return from the Mughal garden. This small incident touched our heart like anything. The kid was almost of the same age that of our son. Yet he had a difficult morning compared to us with his day’s sales when he should have been in his school.

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The majestic Taj view from the Mehtab Bagh

The mysterious walkaway

A wide walkaway surrounded by lush green trees led us in. Suddenly the magic spell was enchanted somewhere. Amidst the slowly receding fog cover, above the tree lines located to our right, the bulbous dome of the Taj appeared in its full glory and majestic existence. With a step ahead, the outlines of the monument, the lofty plinth, and the four minarets were clearly drawn out in the backdrop of the white fog screen. This was heavenly! This was quite out of the world. It was the end of an eclipse. The Taj was slowly shaped free from the grasp of the fog screen. It was beautiful!

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Pictorial evidence of the similarity in the alignment of the Mehtab Bagh with that of Taj

We were happy that with the Taj on our opposite side, the lush green monotony in the Mehtab Bagh suddenly became more appealing. The mysterious aura of the Taj could be felt on the leaves of every flora and fauna. It was a moment of spellbound admiration.

Looking Back in the pages of history

If we look back in the pages of history Mehtab Bagh was possibly the last of the renowned gardens built by the Mughals in Agra. There are contradictions whether the garden was built by the emperor Babur or Shah Jahan. But the fact is that Shah Jahan (during 1631 to 1635) chose this unique garden located on a crescent site on the mud banks of river Yamuna exactly opposite to the Taj Mahal for beautification. The garden’s overall layout and design speaks itself that it was probably made as a pleasure garden. According to David S. (2004) in the Mughal times, the garden contained plastered/stoned walkways, decorated pavilions, pools, fountains, with a rich collection of flora and fauna from various parts of the country and the middle-east. The garden was probably built as an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex with its design and layout exactly similar to that of the Taj.

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The spectacular Taj View from the banks of the Yamuna, Mehtab Bagh

The Black Taj – was it just a legend or a mystery which was never revealed to us

Legend says that the peculiar similarity in the design of Mehtab Bagh with that of the Taj Mahal was made keeping in mind the foundation of the mythical “Black Taj Mahal”, the project of which was probably planned by emperor Shah Jahan as a site for his own mausoleum, which was later abandoned by his son and the next Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.

The debate on the existence of the Black Taj Mahal was started by the famous European traveller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier in 1665 during his visit to Agra. His fanciful chronicles first presented the idea of the fabled Black Taj. This debate continued in the year 1871 by the excavations made by A.C.L. Carlleyle, a British archaeologist at the Mehtab Bagh site. Carlleyle excavated the relics of an ancient pool at the Mehtab Bagh and came up with a theory that this was probably the foundation of the fabled Black Taj.

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Layout of the Taj & the fabled Black Taj

Arguments against the existence of the Black Taj

Although flooding of the river Yamuna had washed away many such evidences, but latest re-excavations and their preservation made by the Archaeological Survey of India hold the theory that these relics were actually the foundations of some ancient pools and not another Taj. Several researchers have also abandoned the theory of the Black Taj with the argument that emperor Shah Jahan got five more years after the completion of the white Taj in the year 1653 before he was taken for home-arrest (8th June, 1658) by his rebel son Aurangzeb.

Arguments justifying the existence of the Black Taj

While visiting the Taj Mahal if we carefully observe and study the paintings on the red sandstone walls of the Taj Mosque, one can easily collect the evidence of the two identical Taj Mahals residing over the extreme left and right branches of a tree with a vase (signifying the Yamuna?) in between separating the two Taj. This mural also portrays the existence of two identical gardens located on the either side of the two Taj Mahals, one of which is obviously the garden we see in the white Taj. The other could definitely be the Mehtab Bagh located on the opposite banks of Yamuna. This unique and valuable evidence (Siddiqui, W.H., 2009) is shown in the book Taj Mahal (World Heritage Series) published in the year 2009 by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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Evidence of the Double Taj in a mural on the walls of the Taj Mahal Mosque

Epilogue

Looking at the Taj from the Mehtab Bagh, one may imagine or feel that probably the Taj is incomplete without the Black Taj on the other side of river Yamuna. This theory could be further established if we look at the disoriented positioning of the real sarcophagus of emperor Shah Jahan compared to that of the empress, located in the basement mortuary chamber of Taj Mahal. Perhaps the emperor was buried against his wish. Was it that he wished to be buried at his long cherished mausoleum Black Taj? Emperor Shah Jahan might have had dreamt his mausoleum Black Taj as the symbol of eternal union with his wife (resting in peace at the White Taj) in his after-life. Probably the truth behind this mystery could have been only witnessed by the river Yamuna herself. But her symbolic silence through ages could be the melancholic portrayal of Shah Jahan’s unfulfilled last mortal wish.

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Debated foundations of an ancient pool or the fabled Black Taj found at the Mehtab Bagh

 Written By: Rimi Mutsuddi

Snaps: Indranil Mutsuddi

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3 thoughts on “Quest for the Black Taj at the mysterious Mehtab Bagh, Agra

  1. Reblogged this on mytravelnama and commented:

    Dear Readers we are reblogging Black Taj with the valuable Research Inputs from the eminent researcher Sri. Iftakhar Nadime Khan …winner of National, State level (Govt. of Uttar Pradesh) awards and the prestigious Yash Bharati Samman…

    Like

  2. It is the immense pleasure and honor for mytravelnama.com and our esteemed readers to have the valuable research inputs of the eminent researcher Sri. Iftakhar Nadime Khan (Arshi) on the mystery of the Black Taj. His book titled “Black Taj Mahal: The Emperor’s Missing Tomb” is based on 30 years of dedicated hard work and research on the Black Taj. He had been the proud recipient of National and State level (Uttar Pradesh) awards including the prestigious “Yash Bharati Samman” for his research contribution on this topic…

    We are indeed thankful and indebted to Sri. Iftakhar Nadime Khan (Arshi) for his valuable inputs to enlighten our readers….

    Thank you Sir…

    Team mytravelnama.com

    Hyperlink for the book Black Taj Mahal: The Emperor’s Missing Tomb
    http://www.amazon.in/Black-Taj-Mahal-Emperors-Missing/dp/9382951350

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  3. 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)

    Liked by 1 person

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