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Published by petermalakoff, 2019-12-21 17:04:46

The Man Who Created the Taj Mahal

The Man Who Created the Taj Mahal

Keywords: Taj Mahal

An incredible story from the Oral Tradition of India
about the man who designed the Taj Mahal
for the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan

The Man Who Created

Taj Mahal


The Man Who Created the Taj Mahal

By: Peter Malakoff


© The Man Who Created the Taj Mahal
Copyright © 2014 by Peter Malakoff
All rights reserved.
Title ID:


For my mother
who told me my first story

and my father
who told me what it meant




In India, stories gather round extraordinary events, places and

people like insects attracted to light in the dark; especially if
much time has passed, which it has in the oldest civilization in
the world. There are so many stories it is impossible to know
what is really true.

Still, the light of any particular story can be beautiful and

revealing and it was the light of this story that attracted me and
inspired me to write it down.

In 2004, I was visiting Benaras, the oldest still living city in the

world. One evening, out on the stone ghats that run for miles
along the Ganges, I heard this story about the man who designed
the Taj Mahal.

As far as I know, this tale exists only in the oral tradition of

India and has never been written down before. It tells us of the
nature of the man who created the Taj Mahal and the incredible
drama of how he came to design the building. It went like this:



The Man Who Created the Taj Mahal

When Shah Jehan was at the height of his power, it was

brought to his attention that there existed in his kingdom a great
architect who was an especially gifted artist and sculptor; a man
who could create the exact likeness of person merely from seeing
their hands. It was said that from a moments study of a persons
hands this artist could create the exact likeness of them in stone.

Shan Jehan ordered the man be brought before him. “Is this

true?” Can you really see and create the image of a person from
the sight of their hands only?” the Shah asked. The man, who
was very proud of his ability, replied, “This is indeed true O’
Shah. All things are connected to one another and I have the
ability to read some of them!” As the artist spoke to the Shah he
presented the Shah with a challenge, “Let all the unmarried
woman of your court be brought forth in front of me, all
together. From their midst, I will select the most beautiful and
carve her likeness in stone.

If I succeed in your eyes and the eyes of the court in creating

the perfect image of this woman with all her subtlety and
manner, then, that woman shall be given to me as my wife for
reward. If I fail to create the perfect image, then, let me be


SShhaahh JJeehhaann


Shah Jehan was amazed at the boldness of the sculptor and

filled with excitement for his proposal. He immediately ordered
an assembly to be gathered together.

In little more than an hour, all the unmarried women of the

court were brought before the artisan, each one heavily veiled as
was the custom of the day and all in anticipation. They held out
their hands for the artisan to inspect as he walked slowly by.

Now, the Royal Princess, the daughter of Shah Jehan, had

heard of the incredible challenge of the artisan and being greatly
excited had inserted herself into the line of the assembled
women. And, as fate would have it, it was in front of this most
beautiful young girl that the artisan stopped and said, "This is the
woman I will sculpt in stone!" He had seen her perfectly in her
hands and had fallen in love.


Jehannara Begum the daughter of Shah Jehan


Immediately, Shah Jehan was told that the woman the artisan

had chosen was his daughter. The Shah was deeply concerned
about this but decided to do nothing for the time being, and
instead sent spies to watch and note the progress of the artisan.

The artisan was given a suite of rooms at the palace and he set

to work. After a week, the Shah’s spies reported back to him that
indeed the artisan was sculpting an exact likeness of Shah Jehan's
daughter. Again, the spies were sent out and the news returned
that the image in stone was without a doubt the princess in all
her beauty and radiance.

Finally, the image was completed and in front of the whole

assembled court, unveiled, with gasps of admiration and wonder
at this man who could sculpt the every detail of a woman from
looking only at her hands.


Mumtaz Mahal
Young Mogul Girl


But Shah Jehan was deeply troubled. His daughter had been

secretly promised to the general of his army. He could not give
her to this poor artisan! Shah Jehan spoke: "I am deeply
impressed with your skill, artistry and intuition. You have,
indeed, created an exact and most beautiful image of this woman
who happens to be my daughter. But you must take another
woman! You cannot marry the Princess. She has been promised
to another man.”

The whole assembly stood without breathing. All were deeply

troubled. Their ruler could not honor his promise. Many among
them felt deeply embarrassed.

   But the artisan replied, "Great Shah, I have picked the most

beautiful candle from the tapers of your court. It is her flame
that lights the lamp of my heart. It is her face that delights my
eyes. It is in her form that I revel. It is her and her alone. If you
will not honor your promise, then I have nothing to do but leave
and wait upon the will of Allah."


Shah Jehan – the ruler of the world
Shah Jehan: the ruler of the world


Upon saying that, the artisan bowed and proudly walked from

the assembled gathering.


Many years passed and Shah Jehan grew older. It was then,

that the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz, eclipsed the bright
sun of his life. His heart was broken and his soul fell into despair.

The horse of his love-desire grew wild with the remembrance

of his wife, and the yearning to eternalize her presence in the
most beautiful and perfect mausoleum came to fill his life. He
was inflamed with a desire: to build a tomb for his wife to rest in,
a grand celebration of Love and God in which he, himself,
would be laid one day by her side.

But who would design this building? Who could create in

stone and form, the intense feelings of his heart? Shah Jehan's
thoughts went again to the artisan he had summoned many
years before. The artist had gone on as an architect to design
many of the most beautiful mosques and buildings in the land.
Everywhere he was spoken of with admiration and praise.
Surely, this was the man to take on this extraordinarily special
and emotionally laden project.


Again, the Shah had the architect brought before him and

spoke to him as follows: "Noble man," he began, "In the name of
Allah, please accept my request for your help in designing a
mausoleum for my now deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal, on
whom there may be peace. You were dishonored by me at our
last meeting together. I now wish to set that matter aright.

Shah Jehan

My daughter, the very same one whose image you carved so

exactly in stone, is still unmarried. My general, the man she had
been promised to, was slain in battle. As a token of my sincere
wish to engage your services, accept my daughter in marriage.
She is yours upon the fulfillment of my proposal:  Design the
mausoleum for my now deceased wife, Mumtaz, on whom there
may be peace, and for myself."


Mumtaz Mahal: the beloved wife of Shah Jehan


The architect was astounded, greatly pleased and highly

honored all at the same time. Indeed, no one had ever seen Shah
Jehan so in need before anyone. He exclaimed to the Shah,
"Noble Ruler, Glory of Islam, I am honored to accept your gift
and will immediately begin the design of the mausoleum. By the
grace of Allah it shall be done!"

  The architect was given a suite of rooms in the palace and in

a state of great excitement, immediately began drawing up plans
for the mausoleum. Within a few days, the first plans were ready
and were brought before Shah Jehan. But he was not at all
pleased. The feeling of the building was not right. Undaunted,
the architect drafted yet more plans, this time of several different
styles of buildings. His energy was great and shining, touched by
the future promise of the princess as his bride.


Interior Rooms and Corridors


Again, the plans were brought before the Shah and again

they were rejected. Several times more this process repeated
itself until the architect began to despair. He would never be
able to have the princess as his bride unless Shah Jehan accepted
his plans, and it seemed to him as if that would never happen.

Now, the Vizier, one of the wisest aides to Shah Jehan,

approached him and offered a suggestion: "Oh noble Shah,
please give your attention to my humble idea. By the grace of
Allah, I have seen a way to attain your desires.


Presently, your architect is unable to produce a suitable plan

because of his inability to feel what you feel and to taste what
you now are tasting. There is a vastly different state of mind and
emotion between you and your architect. You, my Lord, are in a
state of grieving for your wife Mumtaz, on whom there may be
peace. The architect is in a state of joyful anticipation, of seeing
his future wife, your daughter, and entering into the happy state
of marriage.

I believe this disparate state of emotions is at the root of the lack

of a suitable building plan for the Mausoleum.


This is what I suggest be done: Let it be known to the architect

that the princess is sick, indeed, let it be known that the princess
is sick unto death. Bring this news to the ears of your architect.
Let his heart be filled with grief and sorrow.
This will bring balance to his now expectant heart. This will
allow the emotional state of the architect to taste in accord with
your own."



Shah Jehan was well pleased with the proposal and gave his

Vizier full authority to do as had been suggested. Immediately,
the Vizier, himself, went to the rooms of the architect and spoke
as he had proposed.

The architect was heart-rent by the news, he was saddened,

shocked and humbled by the tragic sense of his life and life itself.
So much beauty, so much sorrow, so much hope, so much
despair. His heart broke open and tears ran freely from his eyes.
He did not know whether he was crying in sadness or in ecstasy.

All his life he had remembered the young woman whose

hands he had seen, whose image he had created, whose heart he
cherished. He must be with her before she passed beyond this


Ceiling Design in Taj Mahal


He threw himself into the plans with a broken heart. He

worked in a frenzy of yearning. Tears fell upon the pages of
drawings and his heart coursed with feeling. His hands gave
form to his wounded heart, and in this way the Taj Mahal was

In the end, Shah Jehan received the plans for the most beautiful

mausoleum in the world; the architect was joined in marriage to
his beloved; and all of them, now dead, live on in the story and
the building of the Taj Mahal.

Ehvam - Thus I have heard.



Shah Jehan wrote the following description

of the Taj Mahal:

“Should the guilty seek asylum here

Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin
Should a sinner make his way to this exquisite building

All his past sins will be washed away
The sight of this palace creates sorrowing sighs
And here, the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes

In this world this edifice has been made
To display God's Glory”


Near the end of his life, Shah Jehan was captured and imprisoned by
his son Aurangzeb in the Agra Fort. From there he could still see the
Taj Mahal, the resting place of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, far in the
distance. After the death of Shah Jehan, Aurangzeb had his father
buried in the Taj alongside his beloved wife, Mumtaz.

“The Taj Mahal is a vision of Samadhi, an image of the body in

–Adi Da Samraj

About the Author

I am a Religious Studies Scholar, Poet, Storyteller, Ayurvedic
Consultant, Ghee Maker, Teacher and Woodworker, living in the

foothills of the Himalayas.

In 2011 I left the United States and came to live in India – whose
ancient culture I had studied in school.

All my life, I loved the stories of India, which offer up the
'Truths' of life in such profound, memorable and delightful ways.

These ancient tales carry the Wisdom of the oldest, still-living
culture on earth. Impossible to fully understand and endless in

their wisdom, they are the vehicles that have brought the
teachings of this land to its generations for aeons.

I have been in India only a few years and already I am drowning
in the abundance of songs one can hear of the great Beings who

lived here and the stories they have told.

This, is but one of them. . .

Peter Malakoff

Peter Malakoff in Benaras

Other Books, my Blog and Contact:

Peter Malakoff Books

A site for books I have previously published as well as future book projects:

My personal Website: Peter Malakoff

I have written stories, poems, articles, recorded audio tales and made small
movies for nearly forty years. You can find them here:

My Blog: India my Walden Pond

Essays and stories on miscellaneous topics, composed since I came to India:
India my Walden Pond

Contact me:

I would be happy to hear from you:
email: [email protected]

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