The Story of a Second Taj
According to popular legend, Shah Jehan decided to construct another Taj Mahal in black marble on the other side of the river Yamuna and to connect the two by a bridge. This structure was intended to be his own tomb. It has been recorded almost contemporarily by Tavernier : "Shah Jehan began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river but the war with his sons interrupted his plan and Aurangzeb who reigns at present is not disposed to complete it". Later gazetteers and guide books mention this story almost invariably. The irregular position of the cenotaph of Shah Jehan as compared to that of Mumtaz Mahal which occupies the exact centre of the hall is said to be proof of this assumption. The Mehtab Burj and the wall adjoining it opposite the Taj Mahal are generally said to be the foundations and remains of the proposed plan.
Many scholars, however, believe that this idea belongs to fiction rather than history. The traces which are identified as the foundations of the second Taj are actually the enclosing wall of a garden founded by Baber. The irregular position of Shah Jehan's cenotaph in comparison to Mumtaz Mahal's, is similar to that at the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, and thus should not be of any striking significance. Besides, according to Islamic law, bodies are buried with their faces towards Mecca and legs towards the south, and the husband is placed on the right hand side of his wife. The interpretation that the cenotaph of Shah Jehan was not meant to be placed here appears to be superfluous.
The Taj was designed by an Italian Architect
Some European scholars held the view that the Taj was designed by an Italian - Geronimo Veroneo. This was first suggested by Father Manrique, an Augustinian Friar, who came to Agra in 1640 A.D. to secure the release of Father Antony who had been imprisoned by the Mughals. It was in Lahore that he met Father Joseph de Castro, the executor of Veroneo who died at Lahore in 1640 A.D., and it was Castro who told him about "the Venetian by the name Geronimo Veroneo who came in the Portuguese ships and died in the city of Lahore before he reached it..."
During the reign of Jehangir, a goldsmith named Veroneo did in fact come to India and, as mentioned by Father Manrique, did die on his way to Lahore. He lived for a time in Agra, and prospered there. He knew many influential Europeans throughout the North Indian provinces, and when he died, he was buried in the Christian cemetery of Padres Santos in Agra.
The theory that Veroneo designed the Taj is intriguing and still finds occasional champions, especially in Italy. But the scales of evidence weigh heavily against it. True there is the testimony of Father Manrique, but he was no more than a casual tourist who heard that the Taj had been built by an Italian. However, nowhere else is mention made of Veroneo's participation in planning the Taj Mahal. As a matter of fact, there is no record that Veroneo had any skill other than that of working gold. Other Europeans who saw the Taj under construction never mentioned his name, and furthermore, it is difficult to suppose that an artist trained in seventeenth century Italy, the Italy of Bernini, could build a mausoleum that would typify Indo-Persian architecture. The Taj is not an isolated phenomenon, the creation of a single mastermind but the glorious consummation of a great epoch of art.
The Basement Chambers and a probable Third Grave
Two staircases on the northern side of the red sandstone plinth of the Taj lead below into the basement chambers which are seventeen in number and have been laid out in a line on the riverside of a narrow through-corridor. The rooms and corridor are of arcuate construction in brick and plaster, with stucco and painting ornamentation, distributed aesthetically on the soffits. At the extreme points on both sides there are doors sunk in the northern wall. They were blocked up permanently and securely with thick masonry at some unknown date, undoubtedly for some well calculated purpose. As may be surmised, the set on the northern side could have been repeated on the sides below the marble structure, with a rotating corridor, chambers and probably a crypt in the centre - all being interconnected.
This crypt would have contained the third and the real set of graves. The custom of providing cenotaphs or replicas had been followed by the Turks and the Mughals alike as we meet with this practice at the tomb of Iltutmish at Delhi and at the tombs of Saqid Khan and Akbar at Agra. The tomb of Akbar has three tombstones, one on the grave and two as cenotaphs. The tomb of Itmad-ud-Dauhlah and Chini-ka-Rauza too had three tombstones each. The lowest of the former was contained in a crypt which was originally accessible from the riverside and has now been completely blocked up. These examples indicate that the Mughals liked to provide three tombstones in a mausoleum. At the Taj, the third is traditionally claimed to exist. It is only in these underground vaults that the third set could have been placed. The doors in the basement corridor no doubt exist and must have originally given entry to some underground arrangement of chambers and corridors. Though they are now impregnably blocked, their existence lends weight to the legendary version.
The Taj Mahal was a Rajput Palace!!
A group of Hindu fundamentalists which seeks to deny any positive role of Muslims in India disputes the claim that the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jehan. Instead, as outlined in the book The Taj Mahal Was a Rajput Palace, fourth-century Hindu rulers are given credit for its erection. The claim is without serious merit, but it has acquired something of a following in India.
The Taj is sinking!!
The architect of the Taj Mahal aimed at giving maximum strength and stability to the tomb and worked out the minutest details with utmost precision : the weight of the entire structure is uniformly distributed, extraordinarily massive piers and vaults were constructed to support this heavy load., the very best quality of bonding material helped combat the disrupted tensile stress etc. However, in spite of all these precautions and care, dangerous cracks and leakages developed in the substructure just four years after its completion. Aurangzeb in his letter to Shah Jehan in 1652 mentions these cracks. Some defects ere discovered about the same time in the dome. Though thorough repairs were undertaken, the nature of the cracks was not discovered. The cracks were again noticed to have developed to dangerous proportions in 1810. As a result an Advisory Committee on the restoration and conservation of the monument was set up and a survey with reference to the damage was undertaken.
Some very important facts resulted from this survey. It was discovered that the plinth of the mausoleum on the northern side (or the riverside) is lower than on the south by 3.5cms. Cracks were not noticed on the exterior wall, but they were definitely present on the second storey vaults of the marble structure and, on a much larger scale, in the underground vaults below the northern side. The long series of cracks in the underground vaults may be due to the crushing of lime on account of the excessive weight, or as seems more probable, this may be due to the sinking of the whole structure towards the riverside!! Such a sinking would shift the load out of balance slowly and gradually and the unequal settlement would crack the weak points, particularly the soffits of the vaults and arches, which is actually happening in the underground chambers. A structure which stands on the edge of water has a natural tendency to move towards the more open side, the higher edge always acting as a strong buttress, thrusting it in the opposite direction. It is the whole mass, and not a part of it, that is gradually sinking. This is what can justifiably be concluded from the available data.