Sunday, October 29, 2006
No Architects Were Killed or Maimed in the Making of this Masterpiece
I did a long post about the Taj Mahal earlier today but Blogger went down and it got lost. This is the first time that ever happened to me. Anyhow, it's hard to get the energy to type the whole thing again. In a nutshell, I had heard from my kids, who had learned it in their Islamic history classes, that the guy who had the Taj Mahaj built, Shah Jahan, a Moghul emperor, killed the architect after the building was completed so that he could not make anything more beautiful afterwards.
This story always bothered me. It did not seem to match the rest of the story, which is about how much Shah Jahan loved his wife and how he had the Taj Mahal built as her mausoleum because of this love and his abiding grief over her death. I suppose it is possible that a person can be capable of both great love and great cruelty/inhumanity, but it still jarred with me.
After a bit of searching on the internet for information on the building, I found that there are a fair number of legends about the Taj Mahal that seem to be false.
* The Taj Mahal was actually a Hindu temple! (Propagated by some Hindu Indians who are sort of upset about Muslims getting any credit for anything good about India, apparently)
* There was going to be another black building built opposite to the white Taj Mahal! (No, apparently not; there's a preexisting garden in the spot they refer to and there seems to be no evidence that Shah Jahan wanted to do this.)
* An Italian goldsmith actually was the chief architect for the Taj Mahal! (This rumor was started by an Italian priest who apparently went to the trouble of finding a real Italian goldsmith who really did live in India at the time in question - but of course would not have been capable of doing this, since he was not an architect, and since there is absolutely no evidence he was involved at all.)
* Shah Jahan killed/blinded/cut the hands off of the architect(s) who built the Taj Mahal! (All apparently completely false.)
The real story is interesting enough: Shah Jahan did in fact build this mausoleum to house the remains of his late second wife who he had loved very much. His son deposed him shortly after the building was completed. The son had him buried next to his wife, the only detail in the entire shrine that is asymmetrical. The shrine is absolutely gorgeous and there's a fascinating site that allows you to navigate it and see various panoramic views of its interior and grounds (here).
Why did someone invent the story of the punishment of the architect(s)? I wonder who started that legend and how. Unfortunately, it appears to be a complete mystery. (Someone is very welcome, however, to come here and teach me something about it, much like the Air Force in Cyberspace discussion the other day, which was completely fascinating.)