Archaeologists Stumble on Names of Taj Masons

Associated Press, Arab News

NEW DELHI, 7 July 2004 — Indian archaeologists have found more than 670
names of previously unknown masons and laborers who built the 17th
century Taj Mahal, the country’s greatest architectural marvel.

The names, written mostly in Arabic and Persian, are etched on the
sandstone used in the wall and other peripheral structures on the
northern side of the Taj Mahal, The Asian Age newspaper reported.

Some names were also written in Devnagri, the report said, quoting D.
Dayalan, a senior official at the Archaeological Survey of India.

“We stumbled upon these names while doing our routine documentation of
the Taj,” Dayalan was quoted as saying. “Most of these masons came from
Iran, central Asia and India,” he said.

Dayalan and his staff also found tridents, stars, geometrical patterns
and flowers carved into some of the sandstone, implying the masons and
laborers were drawn from diverse religions.

“Since many of them were illiterates, they denoted symbols as a mark of
their identity,” Dayalan said. “We already have an expert team working
to decipher the epigraphs.”

At least 20,000 people were employed to build the Taj Mahal, which the
Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan wanted as the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz
Mahal. Work on the white marble building began in 1631 and was completed
in 1647.

For the accommodation of workers, a small town named after the deceased
empress, Mumtazabad now known as Taj Ganj, was built adjacent to the
building site.

“Of the names etched, five, including that of Isaf Afandi and Amanat
Khan, were repeated in several places, asserting that they were
important workers of the rank of chief architect, calligrapher and
designer. We have now started documenting the names of all the lesser
known masons. We hope to finish the total list in the next four months,”
Dayalan said.

Amanat Khan Shirazi was the calligrapher of the Taj Mahal. His name has
been found at the end of an inscription on one of the gates of the Taj.
Poet Ghyasuddin had scripted the verses on the tombstone while Ismail
Khan Afridi of Turkey was the dome maker. Muhammad Hanif was the
superintendent of masons. The designer of the Taj Mahal was Ustad Ahmad

The material was brought in from all over India and central Asia and it
took a fleet of 1,000 elephants to transport it to the site. Red
sandstone was brought from Fatehpur Sikri, jasper from Punjab, jade and
crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli and sapphires
from Sri Lanka, coal and carnelian from Arabia and diamonds from Panna.

“Our interest lies in the unknown masons who never received publicity
for their work,” Dayalan said.