Craftsmen who built Taj Mahal preserved their names in stone

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Indian archaeologists say they have discovered the names of some of the skilled craftsmen and masons who built the Taj Mahal.

Indian archaeologists say they have discovered the names of some of the skilled craftsmen and masons who built the Taj Mahal.

The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, heartbroken at the death in childbirth of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1630, ordered the monument to be built as a mausoleum to her, by the river Yamuna in Agra, the Mughal capital. It was made mainly of white marble and completed in 1648. The poet Rabindranath Tagore called it "a tear on the face of eternity" and said that it was Shah Jahan's attempt to defy the ravages of time, which he knew would destroy his empire, and preserve the memory of his pain at his wife's death.

But while his suffering and love for his wife have been memorialised long after the last vestiges of the Mughal empire were swept away, the lives of most of those who built the monument have been shrouded in obscurity - until now.

A list of 671 names has been found engraved in a sandstone wall in the complex that surrounds the mausoleum, according to The Asian Age newspaper. The list, found on the north side facing the river, is believed to have been inscribed by the same hands that fashioned the extraordinary decorative work of the building. If the archaeologists are right, it is the craftsmen's own attempt to preserve their memory down the centuries.

The list was stumbled upon by a team from the Archaeological Survey of India during a routine documentation of the building.

The chief architect is known to have been Ustad - or Master - Ahmad Lahori. Shah Jahan is said to have had his eyes put out on the Taj's completion so nothing could ever be built to rival it. Amanat Khan Shirazi was in charge of the calligraphy that adorns the Taj. Ismail Khan Afridi was in charge of building the dome, and Mohammed Hanif was superintendent of the masons.

These well-known names are included in the inscriptions that have been found. But they are believed to go much further, and identify some of the craftsmen who painstakingly built the Taj with their hands over a period of 17 years.

It took 20,000 labourers to build the Taj - so many that an entire town, Mumtazabad, was built for them next to the site. It survives as Taj Ganj, a suburb of Agra. Craftsmen were brought from as far away as Central Asia, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

The inscriptions reflect the diversity of those who built the Taj Mahal. Most are in Arabic and Persian, which would reflect the Islamic nature of Shah Jahan's court, but some are in the Devanagari script used by Hindi and other Indian languages. There are also traditional Indian symbols, such as swastikas, and geometrical patterns believed to have been used by illiterate artisans.

D Dayalan, leader of the team of archaeologists who found the list, told The Asian Age that experts were working to decipher the epigraphs and names engraved in the stones.

"Since many of them were illiterate, they denoted symbols as a mark of their identity. We call these guilt marks. We already have a team working to decipher the epigraphs and the names.

"The names have been meticulously divided into sections like dome makers, garden development department, furnishing workers and inlay artists.

"Other boundary walls of the monument are also being scanned for the names of workmen.

"Our interest lies in the unknown masons who never received publicity for their work."