Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The little known Taj of Bhopal

If you thought that the Taj Mahal is only at Agra in Uttar Pradesh, you would be way of the mark. This is so as there is a palace by that name and though it is as not as well known as its Agra counterpart, this too is a architectural masterpiece.
If the Taj at Agra was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shahajahan, as a resting place for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, this Taj was built as a residence.
Work on the Agra Taj commenced in 1632 and it was completed some twenty years later in 1653. This residence, also called the Taj Mahal, was built over a thirteen year period between 1871 and 1884.
Estimates of the cost involved in the construction of the Taj vary as Shahajahan spared no effort or money in constructing what he wanted to be a fitting memorial to his wife. If the Taj is today among the seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO recognised monument, no such honor is invested on the other Taj, so much so that it is in ruins.
This is the Taj Mahal, a residence built by a Begum in Bhopal. Though it is located besides the Taj-ud-Din mosque, it is among the least visited monuments of  Madhya Pradesh. Coincidentally, the name of the Begum who built this palace was Sultan Shah Shah Jahan, the Begum of Bhopal.
The Taj Mahal at Bhopal was built at a cost of Rs. 30 lakh and when completed it was one of the largest palaces of the world built at the time.
The building was originally named Raj Mahal or the royal palace. The then British Resident of  Bhopal was so impressed with the architecture that he suggested to the Begum that it be renamed the Taj Mahal of Agra.
The Begum, who was the eleventh ruler of Bhopal and reigned between 1868 and 1901, accepted the suggestion and the palace was renamed to Taj Mahal. The Begum ordered a three-year-long celebration called Jashn-e-Taj Mahal after the completion of the building.
After the partition of India in 1947, Nawab Hamidullah Khan allowed Sindhi refugees to stay in the palace. The refugees stayed on in Taj Mahal for four years, before shifting to Bairagarh and it was during this time that it suffered some damage.
Though some members of the royal family of  Bhopal stayed at the palace, they gradually moved away, as they had no money for the repairs. By 2008, large parts of the palace complex had collapsed.
The palace was declared a state heritage monument by the State Government in 2005 and the State Archaeology Department carried out restoration in parts. However, it was denotified in 2011 and the government now plans to transfer the property to the tourism department for its development as a heritage hotel.
What sets aside this building from others of its ilk is that it has British, French, Mughal Arabic and Hindu influences on it.
The palace is built in Indo-Saracenic style and it is huge. It contains 120 rooms- all different from one another in colour scheme and decoration-and eight large halls.
Besides, the palace had a hall of mirrors called sheesh mahal and the savon bhadon pavilion, which is a fountain like structure that simulated the effect of rain. This is 50 feet by fifty feet structure in the courtyard.
The main entrance is a seven-storied structure. The palace was part of a complex of buildings along the three lakes that includes the Benazir palace, which was the begum's summer palace, and the Taj-ul-Masjid mosque, which is one of Asia’s largest mosque.
The entrance dome of the palace was so large that a 12-horse buggy could turn under it with ease. The Begum would alight from the coach here as she observed purdah.

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