Friday 15 March 2013

The Taj that was never to be

If Shahjahan, the Mughal Emperor, had his way the Taj Mahal would not have been at Agra in Uttar Pradesh but in another small town in Madhya Pradesh.
This town, which today more known for having lost out as a location of the Taj, is a modern day Necropolis which is surrounded by toms who are dead and gone. However, the town is even today haunted by the loss of what it feels was rightly its.
The place where the Taj Mahal was slated to come up still stands today as it was mote than four centuries ago. The river that flows by seems oblivious to the loss of history. Guides and localities still come to the vast expanse of the land that Shahjahan had chosen to bury his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.
Unfortunately, this place was found to be too far and too remote to bring or rather transport marbles and other construction equipment from Rajasthan. So Shahjahan chose Agra and allowed his beautiful wife, Mumtaz, to be temporarily buried here.
Today, the place where Mumtaz was buried temporarily is in shambles and the road to the monument is, well, barely tolerable. The monument is in no way comparable to the Taj and the only point of interest is that Mumtaz was buried here till her body was shifted to Agra for final burial.
This is the city of Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh. It is s city of tombs and graves and one of the most famous of them is that of Mumtaz Mahal or Anjuman Banu.
Mumtaz had come to Burhanpur for the delivery of her 14th child.   She died after child birth and a grief stuck Shahjahan rushed here and had her temporarily buried in Zainabad Garden here. Six months later she was taken to Agra, then called Dar-ul Khilafat Akbarabad, and reburied in the Taj on the banks of the Yamuna.
The land on which the temporary monument was built in Burhanpur belonged to Raja Jai Singh, the grandson of Raja Man Singh, who was a famed courtier of Emperor Akbar. Jai Singh offered the land, adjacent to the Tapto river, to the Emperor, and was compensated with another piece of land.
Mumtaz had extracted a promise from Shahjahan that he would build a monument of love. Shahjahan then selected the site at Nurhanpur and initially many wooden models for the proposed tomb were prepared and, after much consulting between the Emperor and his designers, the final design was approved.
However, architects and his advisors told Shahjahan that it would almost be impossible to transport marble from Rajasthan to this small town in Madhya Pradesh. Instead they suggested a nearer site for the burial.
Shahjahan then reluctantly settled down on Agra. The Taj then began taking shape in Agra and its construction started in 1632. The main mausoleum was completed by 1643 and work on other buildings in the Taj complex was finished only in 1653.
The French traveller, Tavernier, was one of the few outsiders to see the commencement and the completion of the Taj Mahal.
He says over  20,000 workers, Hindu as well as Muslim, from around India and abroad, worked for years on the building.
When the monument was completed, it had cost the treasury Rs. 41148826 and seven annas, six pies.
Coming back to Burhanpur,  Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 and she was initially buried in the King’s hunting lodge on the other side of the river from Burhanpur.
This building is known as Ahukhana and today it has become the favourite of  couples in love. Shahjahan builta small mausoleum over Mumtaz’s remains even as he ordered work o the Taj at Agra to commence.
Today the  Kabr of grave of Mumtaz Mahal is located eight km away from the small city. A signboard near the building proclaims it to be the burial place of Mumtaz.
The ruins of a masjid, built in her memory, are just across her grave. Locals say that the Emperor came here every Friday, knelt down before the grave and lit a lamp even as Maulvis recited verses from the Koran and Hindu Pandits recited shkolas.
Even today, we can find alcoves around the grave where the lamps were lit. They are known as chiraagdaan.
Burhanpur was an important outpost of the Mughals and Shahjahan constructed the Shahi Quila, a palace.
Though the palace is in ruins, parts still remain. The main attraction is the hamam or the royal bath. It was specifically built forMumtaz Mahal so that she could enjoy a luxurious bath. It is said that she died here after giving birth to her fourteenth child. Even today, the ceiling has many intricate paintings and one of them depict a monument which was the inspiration for the Taj at Agra.
The city has a number of  tombs, including Nizam-ul-mulk, the first of the Asaf Jahi Nizams of Hyderabad and Sawai Jai Singh of Amber. There are also mausoleums of the Farooqui kings, Aadil Shah and Nadir Shah.
One of the most beautiful tombs is that of Bilquis Begum. Locals call it Shah Shuja’s Tomb as he built this tomb for his wife Bilqis Begum. Shah Shuja was one of the several songs of Shahjahan.
Jai Singh, the Rajput Maharaja and a commander of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Aurangzeb built a small but beautiful memorial on the spot. It is today known as Raja ki Chhatri.
Burhanpur is 340 kms from Bhopal. IT is barely 20 kms from the Maharashtra border.

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