Eighth wonder? Bhopal too has a Taj Mahal!

By Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS,

Bhopal : Did you know there is a second Taj Mahal in India? While the imposing Taj in Agra has captivated the world for centuries, its less famous counterpart here is lying in ruins.

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Nawab Shah Jahan Begum, Bhopal’s 11th ruler, was a connoisseur of art. Reigning between 1868 and 1901, the Begum built several buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal included.

However, unlike Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal of Bhopal was built as the Begum’s residence, not as a mausoleum for her spouse.

The huge palace took 13 years to come up, from 1871 to 1884, at a cost of Rs.70 lakh.

Situated besides Taj-ul-Masajid, one of Asia’s largest mosques, the Begum was so overwhelmed after its completion that she ordered a three-year-long celebration Jasha-e-Taj Mahal.

The palace’s architecture is a unique combination of British, French, Mughal, Arabic and Hindu influences. It has 120 rooms, including a Sheesh Mahal and a Sawan Bhado pavilion.

“Post-independence, the last ruler of Bhopal, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, had allowed Sindhi refugees to stay in the palace. They stayed here for almost four years before shifting to Bairagarh and damaged the palace and its beauty,” historian Sayed Akhtar Husain told IANS.

Husain, 75, who spent a lot of time researching about the palace and who wrote a book “The Royal Journey of Bhopal”, said the Taj was Bhopal’s biggest palace.

“And its most creative and interesting part is the Sawan Bhado pavilion — a 50 ft by 50 ft gallery in the courtyard.”

Most people are anguished over the fate of the exquisite palace.

One of them is educationist Savita Raje, who has been running an awareness campaign for the last six years to resurrect the Bhopal Taj.

She has invited French architect Serge Santelli, the dean of the School of Architecture in Paris.

“He is trying to save architectural marvels, mostly built by the Begums of Bhopal. He had described Bhopal’s Taj Mahal as ‘one of the best palaces in the world’,” Raje told IANS.

In 2005, the Madhya Pradesh government declared it a state heritage. But even now, nothing significant has been done for its restoration.

State archaeology commissioner Ashok Shah said he had “no idea” of any restoration work being undertaken. “May be my subordinates can help you,” Shah told IANS.

His colleagues said they planned to prepare a detailed project report and hoped that funds would be allocated soon.

The five-year restoration plan would cover conservation of roofing, flooring and wall landscaping among others, they said.

Husain said: “A very devoted and sincere effort is needed to restore the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, until now, the repair work is just a wastage of time and money.”

Bhopal’s Taj deserved as much attention as the one in Agra, he added.

(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at [email protected])