According to a popular legend. Shah Jehan decided to construct another Taj Mahal in black marble on the other side of the river Jumna and to connect the two by a bridge, It has been recorded almost contemporarily by Tavernier; ‘Shahjahan began to build his own tomb on the other side of the river but the war with his sons interrupted his plan and Aurangzeb who
reigns at present is not disposed to complete it’. ,Later gazetteers and guide books mention this story almost invariably. Particularly Moinuddin attached the greatest credence to the legend and went to the extent of pointing out traces of the unmatured plan on the other side. The Mehtab Burj and the wall which adjoins it opposite the Taj Mahal are generally said to be the foundations and remains of the proposed plan. This has been accepted even in the most recent times. J.B. Page spoke of it affirmatively: “Had the Emperor at first, intended this to be his own tomb he would have occupied the central position. We know that he intended his own tomb to be of a similar design to the Taj but in black marble, in a garden on the opposite side of the river and connected to the tomb of his consort by a bridge; there are indeed traces of the foundations for such a building across the Jumna”
This is a misconception : the idea belongs more to fiction than to history. Tavernier seems to have recorded a rumour. His own account is self-contradictory and is not reliable in view of the facts and figures of history . He was in India first on his second voyage to the East in A.D 1640-41 when the Taj was still under construction and a replica on the other side of the river could not have been begun. He was again at Agra in August/September 1665. The Taj was completed in A.D 1648. Obviously, if any construction had been undertaken on the second Taj, it could only be dated after A.D 1648 and much before 1658 when Shah Jehan was finally deposed and imprisoned. Tavernier falsely connected the three distinctly separated events: the supposed construction of a second Taj about A.D 1648, the war of succession in A.D 1658 and the allusion of the ruling monarch Aurangzeb in A.D 1665. The idea thus seems to be too fanciful and romantic to be historical. Lahauri & Kambo, the contemporary Persian chroniclers, do not make the slightest mention of such a plan. The traces which are identified as the foundations of the second Taj can least be associated this way. The masonry structure which extends to the west of the Mahtab Burj is not a foundation but the enclosing wall of the Mahtab Bagh which was founded by Babur. Plinths of some pavilions, water-channels, tanks, loose brackets, stone slabs, and other features are distinctly traceable in the adjoining area. As a matter of fact, they mark the site which was occupied and relaid as char-baghs by Babur and his nobles as his memoirs record. The Mosque of Humayun, which bears the date A.D 1530, is in its close vicinity. The Gyarah Siddi along with its beautiful baoli in the neighbourhood is another link in the same chain. The char-baghs extended to the Rambagh. The Mehtab Burj is only the south-east tower of the Mehtab Bagh, the other three have crumpled. It cannot be compared with the north-east tower of the Taj. which is of far larger dimensions. The Mehtab Burj is single-storeyed, crowned by chhatri and stands hardly 12 feet (3.66 metres) above the river. The north-east tower of the Taj, on the other hand, is multi-storeyed with a complex arrangement of rooms and verandahs and stands 43 feet (13.11 metres) above the river. The two widely differ in plan as well as in elevation and by no stretch of imagination can the former be considered a replica of the latter.
The irregular position of the cenotaph of Shah Jehan as compared to that of Mumtaz Mahal which occupies the exact centre of the hall is said to be a proof of this assumption. But this position is similar to that at the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, on the ground floor as well as in the upper hall. Thus, while the sarcophagus of Asmat Begum is in the exact centre, that of Mirza Ghiyas Beg occupies an unsymmetrical position to its right. But this irregularity of position is not easily discernible as the cenotaphs there are not enclosed within a curtain, while at the Taj Mahal the passage within the enclosing curtain is practically obstructed by the cenotaph of Shah Jehan and immediately attracts notice to the irregular positioning. It is only due to the presence of an enclosing curtain around the cenotaphs at the Taj that the irregularity is perceptible while it is not noticed easily at the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah. In either case, the wife preceded the husband to her heavenly abode; in either case she lies buried in the exact centre. The bodies according to Islamic Law are buried with their faces towards Mecca and legs towards the south, and the husband is placed on the right hand side of his wife. The interpretation thus that the cenotaph of Shah Jehan was not meant to be placed here appears to be superfluous.
The story of a second Taj is based on mere hearsay and seems to have been given currency by over-zealous guides with a view to multiply the magnitude of its magnificence as if that were needed !
(This piece is an excerpt from ‘The Immortal Taj Mahal’ written by R. Nath. Nath specializes in Mughal Architecture & is one of the leading Art Historian in India)