On June 17, 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died, after delivering her fourteenth child "Gauharar". Shahjahan stood dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. She had died leaving all her children, mother, and relations to his care. But he had promised her never to remarry and to build the grandest mausoleum over her grave. Her body received a temporary burial in the Zainabadi Garden in Burhanpur and in six months time removed to Agra. Shahjahan had already acquired from Raja Jai Singh a plot of land on the riverside. Here was to be built the Taj Mahal. Work on the tomb started in a frenzy with thousands of artisans and laborers toiling ceaselessly. The first anniversary urs was held in June 1632 amid royal pomp and show, attended by Shahjahan and Jahanara. The Mughal Emperor was a picture of grief.
On the second urs on May 26, 1633 the mausoleum had taken shape and the crypt chamber and the surrounding works accomplished. Peter Mundy's eyewitness
account relates: "There is already about her Tomb a rail of gold. The building is begun and goes on with excessive labor and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence. Gold and silver esteemed common Metal, and Marble but as ordinary stones. He intends as some think, to remove all the City hither, causing hills to be made level because they might not hinder the prospect of it, places appointed for streets, shops, etc. Dwellings, commanding Merchants, shopkeepers, Artificers to Inhabit (it) where they begin to repair and called by her name, Tage Gunge 'Taj Ganj". This fabulous gold railing made of 40,000 tolas of gold and encrusted with precious gems and diamonds, enclosed the grave lying under magnificent golden constellation of orbs and lamps.
Shahjahan issued farmans to Raja Jai Singh ordering immediate and constant supply of the Makrana marble for the tomb. An inclined two and a half mile long road ramp was built to carry huge marble slabs to the top. In absence of wood, the scaffolding was of brick. The mausoleum rose higher with every sunset. In nearly six years time the main edifice of the tomb was complete. In the words of Ustad Ahmad Lahori, chief architect of the project: " And above this inner dome, which is radiant like the heart of angels, has been raised another heaven-touching, a guava-shaped (amrudi shakl) dome…crowning this dome of heavenly rank, the circumference of whose outer girth is 110 yards high flittering like the sun with its summit rising to a total height of 107 yards above the (level of the) ground."
The legendary gold railing was subsequently replaced by an octagonal latticed screen (Mahajar-i-mushababbak) of the most marvelous craftsmanship with an entrance fashioned of jasper after the Turkish style, joined with gilded fasteners. It costed 10,000 rupees but is the most splendid work of art, well worth its weight in gold. It stands enclosing the two cenotaphs.
Humayun's Tomb and the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana in Delhi had served as model for the Taj with their dome-topped structure raised on a high platform. Akbar's tomb at Sikandara lent its dominant four-pillar design. Its splendid calligraphic ornamentation by Amanat Khan inspired Shahjahan to entrust the Taj ornamentation to the same artist. The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula at Agra, built by Nurjahan for her father, had the most innovative and grand pietra dura decoration, a mosaic of exquisitely colored hard precious stones inlaid into the white marble. The lyrical rhythm of the floral motifs had an amazing beauty, which the Taj greatly emulated. The crypt and the cenotaphs at the Taj carry pietra dura decoration of a fabulous unexcelled elegance. In those days the cost of the Taj worked out to 50 lakhs and the annual revenue of 30 villages was earmarked for the regular maintenance of the mausoleum.
Unwilling to allow the native artisans all the credit for this excellence, Father Manrique in 1641 advanced the preposterous claim of the Italian jeweler Geronimo Veroneo as the architect. But this claim could never be proved and remained a legend only.
The Taj Mahal or Taj Mahal derives much of its charm from the sprawling garden laid out in the Persian Char Bagh style. The fountains and canals provide a grand reflection of the Taj Mahal, accentuating the Paradise imagery. In this death-inspired monument rows of cypresses lead the eye to the tomb in white marble standing at the extreme end of the garden, rather than in the center as at other Mughal tombs.
The Taj Mahal mausoleum was nearly completed within ten years around 1643. Tavernier claimed to have seen the commencement of work at the Taj Mahal- a falsehood. The Taj Mahal had started in 1632. It did not take 22 years and twenty thousands men for workers. In fact, Tavernier first arrived in Agra in 1641 when the Taj was nearly finished. Later on the tomb of Satti-ul-Nisa, chief maid of Mumtaz and later on of Jahanara and the mosques built by Sirhindi Begam and Fatehpuri Begam were added to the Taj Mahal complex.
In 1652, Aurangzeb pointed out the leakage in the dome on the northern side. The garden also was water logged during the rains. These defects were immediately attended to by Shahjahan. There is no truth in the familiar tale that Shahjahan had the hands of his chief architect chopped off to prevent building him another building of Taj's reputation. Before he met his fate, this architect, it is said, was allowed to take in the last look to ensure perfection. At this moment he hammered the dome at the point, which caused leakage. This only adds to the legendary perfection of the Taj Mahal in all details.
In 1648 Shahjahan had shifted capital to Shahjahanabad. He already had the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. He never remarried but his lust for life continued unabated. Bernier,
Tavernier, and Niccola Mannuci provide salacious details about the Mughal Emperors private indulgences. As prisoner in the Agra fort during his last days, Shahjahan fell terribly ill. His parched throat could hardly swallow a few drops of sherbat. Nicola Manucci relates a tale that a faqir in Bijapur had warned Shahjahan that the day his hands stopped smelling of apples he would die. Shahjahan recalled the words and smelt his hands. A sigh escaped his dry lips. He casted his last lingering glance at the Taj Mahal from his bed in the Musamman Burj. His tired eyelids closed on a shattered heart forever. And so died on January 31, 1666 "Abu'l Muzaffer Shihab-al-Din Muhammad Sahib-i-Qiran-Sani, Shahjahan Padshah Ghazi son of Nur-al-Din Jehangir Padshah, son of Akbar Padshah, son of Humayun Padshah, son of Babar Padshah, son of Oma Sheikh Mirza, son of Sultan Abu Sa'id son of Sultan Muhammad Mirza, son of Miraza Shah, son of Amir Timur Sahib-i-Qiran."
Jahanara planned a funeral procession befitting the grand Mughal. She was herself a prisoner hence she couldn't order people. A small number of insignificant menials carried the body through the small Watergate to the river. Quietly Shahjahan's body left the fort where he had embellished the magnificent marble palaces and pavilions. In the early hours of the day his body was entered into the crypt. A rather poignant end for the fifth Mughal Emperor. It is said Shahjahan's favorite elephant Khaliqdad sensing the tragedy also died as the burial was in progress.
icola Manucci adds a spicy tale of Aurangzeb's reaction to Shahjahan's death. Aurangzeb "sent a trusted man to pass a heated iron over his father's feet, and if the body did not stir, then to pierce the skull down to the throat to make sure that he was really dead. Orders were sent to I'tibar Khan not to allow his burial until the arrival of Aurangzeb in person." Once Shahjahan had escaped Bijapur in a coffin to reach Agra. The son remembered the tricks his father could play. But court chronicles mention that Aurangzeb reached Agra 25 days after the burial when all he did was to enact a brief scene of simulated grief, and offer fake condolences to Jahanara as a ploy to snatch jewels in her possession.
Only Tavernier mentions the beginning of another tomb for Shahjahan, across the river. Historians and archaeologists dismiss this idea. However, the foundations of a mammoth building, deep huge wells on which stood plinth structures now exposed due to erosion of land under water, and lone cupola at the end of a long boundary wall replicating the Taj Mahal, are all too evident of the abandoned enterprises. For once Tavernier could be believed. His Majesty Firdaus Ashvani, (Shahjahan's posthumous title) was buried beside the Empress, the only asymmetrical work at the Taj Mahal.
Now more than three centuries have passed and the Taj seen by millions of visitors every year continues to retain a romantic aura about it "so like a fabric of mist and sunbeams…. a silvery bubble… you almost doubt its reality." Some women like Mrs. Sleeman would exclaim" I would die tomorrow to have such another rover me". The Taj Mahal is still "the grand passion of an Emperor's love," as Edwin Arnold wrote, or as Tagore said of the Taj" one solitary tear… on the Cheek of time." The subtle play of light on the white marble dome creates its own moods to which even the hardest cynic ultimately succumbs. Millions and millions of photographs taken fail to capture the quintessence of the Taj Mahal.