Yes, you read the title correctly! And no, I don’t mean the many small replicas of the Taj Mahal being sold as souvenirs in shops. During my recent visit to Agra, my awesome local host and sister, Chikirsha, took me around the city and I saw some of the lesser known versions of the Taj. Each of these versions were unique and beautiful in their own way and I thought of sharing this with all of you.
Taj Mahal – A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal does not need an introduction or my opinion of how it is one of the most beautiful and enthralling structure built by the Mughal empire in India. Synonymous with eternal love, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal in 1630 AD. Made of ivory white Makrana marble it took 20,000 workers 22 years to complete it. It has beautiful and intricate carvings in solid marble, stunning inlay work and beautiful jalis (carved work in windows) all over the structure with calligraphic inscriptions. The spires, the arch, the spandrel and the dome leaves me spellbound everytime I see it (this was my third visit and I am not an architect). It has lost some of its shine over the years due to pollution but the government is doing some restoration work to restore its original color. The Taj Mahal leaves me with a surreal sense of love everytime I visit it.
Red Taj Mahal or the Hessing’s Tomb – Located inside an old Roman Catholic Cemetery, this tomb was built by the wife of British Colonel John Hessing as his final resting place. Story goes that John William Hessing was a mercenary in the Dutch East India Company and employed by a number of Indian kingdoms. He died in a battle defending the Agra fort and his wife built a miniature replica of Taj Mahal in red sandstone for his tomb. The tomb is mounted on a platform, with a simple square building in the centre and the characteristic Mughal dome on the top. There are decorative chattris (smaller domes) at each corner with simple decorations on the façade. There are loads of other interesting smaller tombs around including a Church. Though lacking the grandeur, carvings and scale of the Taj Mahal, this tomb is beautiful in its simplicity and backdrop. I also felt this tomb is Agra’s best kept secret.
Baby Taj or the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah –Regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal, this mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan, wife of Emperor Jehangir for her father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, a Persian Amir in exile, who had been given the title of I’timād-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state). The tomb is made of white marble with exquisite peitra dura inlay work, intricate jali (window) work (I felt these were better than the jalis at the Taj Mahal) and stunning decorative work on the ceilings. I loved the colors used in the inlay work here and the geometric design work all around the exterior. According to the local guide, this was the first Mughal structure built using marble (thus it is white in color), was the first to use stone inlay work and the first tomb on the banks of the river Yamuna.
Black Taj Mahal – While exploring Agra I also heard about the legend or the myth of the Black Taj Mahal. Legend has it that Shah Jehan planned to make another Taj Mahal in black stone opposite the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the river, as his own masoleum. This story originated in the writings of a European traveler, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who visited Agra in 1665, and wrote that Shah Jehan had began building this Black Taj Mahal as his own tomb but could not complete it as he was deposed by his son, Aurangzeb. There are no remains of any such structure and scholars, historians and archeologists believe that the Black Taj Mahal is a myth for various reasons. But what’s an old city or history without its share of the myths and fables.
Overall I loved all the versions of the Taj Mahal and definitely recommend a visit to see them all on your next trip to Agra.