Written by Indranil Mutsuddi
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Evidence of the Double Taj in a mural on the walls of the Taj Mahal Mosque
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.
Debated foundations of an ancient pool or the fabled Black Taj found at the Mehtab Bagh
Written By: Rimi Mutsuddi
Snaps: Indranil Mutsuddi