One of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal inspires everyone with its magnificent proportions and appearance. One of the most intriguing myths surrounding this grand edifice is that of an unfinished second black Taj Mahal. According to this legend, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan planned to construct a replica of the Taj Mahal in black marble on the opposite side of the Yamuna River.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, in memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum or Mumtaz Mahal in 1631 AD, and finally completed by 1653 AD. This second Taj was to serve as the emperor’s mausoleum. The story goes that Shah Jahan even began the construction of this tomb, but left it incomplete after he was deposed and imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra Fort. It is said that he spent the last few years until his death as a prisoner, gazing at the Taj Mahal from a window in the Agra Fort. After his death in 1666 AD, Shah Jahan was buried in the same mausoleum with Mumtaz.
The story has its roots in French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier’s travelogue Les Six Voyages De Jean Baptiste Tavernier. Tavernier, who visited the Mughal capital Agra in 1640 and 1655 AD, wrote that Shah Jahan had started constructing his own tomb on the opposite side of the river but was stalled because of wars with his sons. Local legends also add that Shah Jahan intended to connect the two tombs with a bridge across the Yamuna River, possibly made of silver. In the 19th century, a British archaeologist called ACL Carlleyle wrongly identified a pond for the mythical marble twin.
Research has shown that Shah Jahan asked his architects to modify the Mahtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) built by his great-grandfather emperor Babar, to incorporate it within the Taj Mahal complex. It is suggested that this was the site of the second Taj Mahal. It is also pointed out that while the Taj Mahal was built in perfect symmetry, Shah Jahan’s cenotaph appears to be an exception. It is irregularly positioned on the western side of the burial chamber, while Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph lies at the centre. It is also much larger in comparison to Mumtaz Mahal’s and almost seems to be an afterthought. So did Shah Jahan never intend to be buried along with his wife?
It might seem so at first but historians have dismissed the idea of a second Taj because, except Tavernier, there is no reference to it in the other contemporary accounts of the time. Archaeological excavations on the area have also not found any trace of the construction of such a building. While ruins of black marble were found in the Mahtab Bagh, further research led to the conclusion that they were white stones that had discoloured over the years.
Nonetheless, the story has inspired many artists to create sand replicas and miniature versions of the black Taj Mahal. Irrespective of whether Shah Jahan intended to build a black Taj Mahal or not, the image of two Taj Mahals facing each other on either side of the Yamuna River continues to fire the imaginations of many.