Taj Mahal is one of the most famous monuments in India. It is considered to be one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’, besides being on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. In popular folklore across the world, Taj Mahal is considered almost as a synonym for India and all things Indian. Almost anybody, who knows about India, is sure to know something about Taj Mahal too and about the popular legend regarding its origin, i.e. about the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan and his divine love for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
However, it is intriguing that no one knows about the origin of the name ‘Taj Mahal’. The contemporary court records and history of the Mughal Empire are silent on the issue. At best, the court histories mention a ‘rauza’ (tomb) for the departed queen, who expired in 1631 AD during a difficult childbirth.
If one tries to look around for some original historical sources, one has to lean upon ‘Badshahnama’ composed by Mullah Abdul Hamid Lahauri, the official court historian of Emperor Shah Jehan, as published by the Asiatic Society of Kolkata. It duly records the site of Taj Mahal as full of magnificent, verdant gardens south of Agra city, but does not contain much information about the day-to-day, or periodic progress of the actual construction of the mammoth project, accept for the information that the site was originally owned by Raja Jai Singh, grandson of Raja Man Singh, who was persuaded to hand over the property for the burial of the deceased queen.
Apart from this fragmentary narration of contemporary history, the only other important surviving sources are four directives (firmaans) issued by the emperor to the same Raja Jai Singh of Amber, Rajasthan for supply of makrana marble from Nagaur quarries of Rajasthan.
These records together indicate that Mumtaz had expired at Burhanpur (Madhya Pradesh) on 17 June 1631 and was originally buried there. Her body was later shifted to Agra on 11 December 1631, where she was again buried on 8 January 1632 in the absence of the Emperor. Soon after, when Shah Jehan returned to Agra with his royal cavalcade on 11 June 1632, his return was witnessed by European traveler Peter Mundy who was present as a representative of the East India Company. Later, Shah Jehan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb on 8 June 1658 and put under house arrest at Agra Fort, where he lived as a prisoner till his death in 1666 AD, finally to buried by the side of his beloved wife.
Apart from these information sources, we come across the later travelogues left behind by another major European traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who visited Agra the first time during 1640 AD. This source informs that construction of Taj Mahal was completed in twenty-two years.
Thus, in view of the absence of many credible and substantial historical resources, it appears that the popular legends associated with the construction of this most celebrated building are based more on myths and metaphors, instead of on hard facts.