Who Built the Taj Mahal?

AGRA, India — Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, an Indian of Persian descent, has been most commonly cited as the likely architect of the 17th century mausoleum complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Taj Mahal.

But history is often less cut and dried than we in the modern era are often used to.

Lahauri’s son, Lutfullah Muhandis, mentioned two architects by name in his writings — his father (who was also known as Isa Khan and is credited with designing the Red Fort at Delhi), and Mir Abd-ul Karim, who had been the favorite architect of the former Emperor Jahangir.

Karim and Mukrimat Khan were cited as supervisors who oversaw the creation of the Taj Mahal — the memorial commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife, 38-year-old Arjumand Banu Begum, more commonly known as Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen of the Palace”), who died giving birth to their 14th child.

Lahauri was a pupil of Ustad Isa Khan Effendi, a Persian architect, who has also been mentioned as the designer of the iconic structure, assigning detail work to Ustad Ahmad.

The list goes on, according to PBS:

  • Ismail Afandi (a.k.a. Ismail Khan) who had worked for the great Ottomans in Turkey as a designer and builder of domes;
  • Qazim Khan, a goldsmith from Lahore who cast the gold finial that crowns the dome;
  • Chiranji Lal, a lapidary from Delhi chosen as the chief mosaicist;
  • Amanat Khan from Shiraz, the master calligrapher whose signature is inscribed on the Taj gateway;
  • Mohammed Hanif, Multan and Quandhar, master masons from Delhi.

There have been suggestions that Geronimo Verroneo,an Italian in the service of the Mughal court, was the designer, although no serious scholarship seems to support this claim.

Art historian Milo C. Beach dismisses the idea:

First of all, I can’t imagine that there was one architect for the Taj Mahal or for any of these buildings. I mean, it had to have been a team effort for such an enormous undertaking. Second of all, a building like the Taj grows out of the earlier artistic traditions in India, and in Iran as well, traditions that a European architect would know virtually nothing about. So I think it’s extremely unlikely — there’s certainly is no historical evidence whatsoever — that there was a European architect.

For what it’s worth, I’d agree, even as it’s important to note that the actual builders — the laborers — were many and anonymous.

“In all, more than 20,000 workers from India, Persia, Europe and the Ottoman Empire, along with some 1,000 elephants, were brought in to build the mausoleum complex,” History.com writes.

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