The architecture of Rauza-e-Munawwara (Taj Mahal) also tells a tale

Taj Mahal was built not just as a mausoleum but also had space for religion and commerce...Raja Jai Singh was paid compensation in 1631 for the land, writes historian and blogger Rana Safvi

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
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Rana Safvi

Islamic laws are very specific regarding the rituals before burial, the burial itself and the grave. It is preferable that burial should ideally be done within 24 hours of death. The first of the funerary rituals is the ceremonial bath (ghusl) followed by the shrouding of the body in a simple white cloth (kafan), funeral prayers and then the lowering in the grave. The grave is perpendicular to the direction of the Qibla so that the body, placed in the grave lying on its right side, faces the Qibla.

Though simple, unmarked graves are indicated, many did build memorials with a cenotaph on top as a replica of the grave.

As the soul needs prayers for an easy journey into the hereafter, mosques were built next to it for prayers and recitation of the Quran, which could be consecrated for deliverance of the dead person’s soul.

The body is buried but it is the soul that is important for on the Day of Resurrection it will be called for judgment. Taking this as the cue, elaborate mausoleums were built over simple mud graves, housed underground in the edifice.

Some mausoleums could be simple with just an enclosure around them like Princess Jahanara and some as elaborate as her mother’s in Agra.

When Shah Jahan ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal it was in accordance to the chronogram taken out by Bebadal Khan, Jaaye-i-Mumtaz Mahal jannat bad (May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be paradise).”

This gave the Hijri Date of 1040 AH.

Paradisical tombs weren’t unknown to Shah Jahan since Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and Itmad-ud Daula tomb in Agra itself were built on paradisical themes set in Charbagh gardens.

A huge white marble mausoleum was planned which was called Rauza-e Munawwara The Illumined Tomb) and even Rauza-e Mutahaira (The Purified Tomb). The word Taj Mahal is a corruption of the name of Mumtaz Mahal and the local name Taj Bibi ka Rauza and it stuck.

Shariat laws were followed for acquiring of property and due compensation was given to Raja Jai Singh the owner of the property in 1631.

Let us now examine the Rauza or Taj Mahal as it was envisaged for the deliverance of a beloved wife.

The mausoleum complex was divided into two parts: one was the religious and the other secular and commercial.

Today they have been separated and thus we only see the love angle. Of course, the emperor was deeply devoted to his empress and that love shines through but it was also a deeply sacred space.

The commercial part of the tomb complex was the Taj Ganj where the descendants of the artisans and craftsmen still live. That their hands were cut is another myth.

Some were involved in construction of Red Fort in Delhi some in the tomb itself for inlay work continued longer.

The secular/commercial space ends in the jilaukhana/ forecort of the tomb. There are rooms and galleries surrounding the jilaukhana into which the entrance gates by which tourists enter is situated. Since redemption is also linked to prayers not only a mosque but also charity and recitation of the Holy Quran, it was from these rooms called khaspura taht charity was distributed and Hafiz-e Quran stayed.

We now enter the religious space , from the lofty South Gate called Darwaza-e Rauza, with words

"O SOUL, THOU ART AT REST. RETURN TO THE LORD AT PEACE WITH HIM, AND HE AT PEACE WITH YOU."


There are 22 passages in all, including fourteen whole chapters, some of which are read out as part of the Islamic funeral ceremony itself.

Once inside the sacred space, you walk across the charbagh gardens and climb onto the sandstone platform. The mosque is situated to the west of it and a replica building used as a mehmankhana to its east.

We enter the marble area via a narrow staircase which opens directly under verses the of Surah Yasin running around the tomb.

Surah Yasin is linked to death, forgiveness of sins of the deceased and redemption by Allah and is commonly recited over graves of their loved ones by Muslims. The emperor had it inscribed all around.

Verily We shall give life to the dead and We record that which they sent before and that which they leave behind and of all things have We taken account in a clear Book (of evidence) Surah Yasin :12

The main entrance to the Rauza has verses from Surah Takwir on it

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The northern door through which we exit the mausoleum has verses from Surah Al Inshiqaq ( the Rending Asunder)

"When the Sky is rent asunder

And hearkens to (the Command of) its Lord--and it must needs (do so)--"

Referring to Day o Resurrection

The emperor would come to recite the fatiha over his wife’s grave from the river and see these words inscribed in black jasper on marble, thinking of life and death.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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