There is no doubt that the legends of the Taj Mahal enthrall us and let our imagination run wild!
In our latest trip to the Taj Mahal in January 2023, we made it a priority to collect them all. Here you will find the myths retold by Taj Mahal guides mixed with folklore stories recounted in Agra by locals.
Note: Legends, myths and folklore add to the mystery surrounding the Taj Mahal, but they are just stories after all. These are not historical facts, they are just meant to entertain us.
These magical stories will ignite your imagination, dreams and add some excitement to your trip if you are planning to visit the Taj Mahal. Take them with a grain of salt.
I have added a section talking about the truth wherever applicable, which should help you to bring things into perspective.
Planning to visit the Taj Mahal monument in Agra, India? Please review the Taj Mahal dos and don’ts.
Table of Contents
📕 What is the Taj Mahal in a Nutshell?
I’m going to start explaining briefly what the Taj Mahal is so that you can understand the legends better and how they came to be.
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth of her 14th child (!!). Although only 7 of her children survived, and she was just 38 years old when she passed away.
Constructions of the Taj Mahal monument with the adjoining mosque, gates and administrative buildings started in 1632 and ended in 1648.
Located in Agra at the banks of the Yamuna river, northern India, about 3 hours south of Delhi, the Taj Mahal has been the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal and Shaj Jahan ever since. It’s not a palace!
So now, let’s get to the popular legends, as well as the lesser known lore, of the Taj Mahal.
🏟 Black Taj Mahal
The most commonly recounted legend by guides is the story of the Black Taj Mahal. Guides will tell you that legend when you come out of the crypt, behind the Taj, looking out to the Yamuna river.
The Taj Mahal monument was built of precious, and costly, white marble. India is known for its quality marbles and granite stones, and they are a sign of prestige, wealth, and beauty.
It is said that the emperor Shah Jahan wanted to build a black Taj Mahal of the same grandeur just across the Yamuna river.
The exact location claimed would be the sunset Taj View Point on the other side of the river banks where the Moonlit garden (Mehtab Bagh) was situated.
The story goes that his idea was to mirror the white tomb with a black one, to create a second taj mahal. They could have used black marble from the age-old Rajasthan marble quarry basin.
Yet, they say that he ran out of money and so the project was never initiated. The cost of the Taj Mahal set him back by around 1 billion USD in today’s currency!
The monument was to be dedicated to his name, so that people would remember his reign. Perhaps its purpose was a tomb for himself. Whichever holds true, we definitely didn’t forget Shah Jahan, thanks to the Taj Mahal.
He also built the Agra fort in Agra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Jama Masjid in Delhi, one of the largest mosques in India.
The Truth: We don’t know, it’s all just speculations.
📏 Workers and the Architect
When my wife visited Agra in November 2006, she was told a few interesting stories by locals surrounding the construction of the Taj Mahal.
You will overhear various versions on your trip to Agra and most probably one of the following myths:
One of those popular stories, deeply rooted in the local belief system, involves the workers and the architect. Locals staying in impoverished homes near the south gate maintain that slaves were used to build the monuments.
They recount that their limbs were cut off after the completion of the Taj Mahal so that they wouldn’t be able to replicate it.
Another lore describes the chief architect, the brilliant Mr Ustad Ahmad Lahori, blinding himself after the project ended in 1948 and that he wasn’t paid a dime for his service. Or a version recounts that the Shah blinded and cut off the limbs of Ustad Ahmad Lahori.
A varied version of these stories are that the slaves were also blinded or that craftsmen were brought from Persia and other far away lands (this one is partially true) and that their limbs were cut off or that their eyes gauged out.
And here is where it is getting murky. It depends on who you ask, everybody seems to have something to say about this particular legend!
We overheard some Taj Mahal guides telling tourists an outdated story surrounding an Italian architect or designer.
This claim dates back to the 19th century and comes from the Italians that a Venetian by the name of Geronimo Veroneo designed the Taj Mahal.
In reality, historians have unearthed that special craftsmen were contracted to work on the building. Furthermore, the chief architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, returned to Lahore (nowadays Pakistan) where he died a year later.
Usdad Isa from Shirazi Persia (nowadays Iran) was an architectural designer and Ismael Effendi from the Ottoman empire (nowadays Turkey) designed the hemisphere and the dome.
Persian, Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Pakistani experts and designer took part in the creation of the Taj Mahal.
💎 Materials Used
My first trip to the Taj Mahal was with my parents, brother, and our German family friend Jeoff. We got a casual guide in the premises who recounted the following tale:
He claimed that the building materials used to construct the Taj Mahal came from all corners of the empire and from beyond the sea.
Here he would mainly emphasize on one point, the one about the mass of precious and semi-precious gemstones and their uses.
The tale goes on that the outdoor white marble walls were inlaid with diamonds, rubies, emerald, and sapphires and other semi-precious stones and that these were picked out and looted over the ages.
The story might be partially true. The inner area, consisting of two Cenotaph (empty tombs), is decorated with white marble detailed with gemstone inlay work. The technique is also known as Pietra Dura or Parchin Kari in India.
Inlay work can also be seen on the outer walls, but it doesn’t look like as if some gemstones were chiseled out. There is no damage to the outer walls of the Taj Mahal. What you can see is also calligraphy inlay work, reciting verses from the Quran.
On the other hand, the stones used for the complex inlay work are a mixture of semi-precious and precious stones. Not everything is just rubies and sapphires, in fact, various stones were used in the sophisticated inlay work of the Taj Mahal.
Gemstones were sourced from various places in Asia, some came from the Nile river in Africa and the Emerald was imported from South America.
The white marble came from Makrana in Rajasthan, one of the oldest marble quarries in India.
🤐 Secret Room and the Crypt
When you enter the Taj Mahal, the inner holy area of the mausoleum, you get to see the cenotaph, a symbolic tomb, of the empress and emperor.
It is common knowledge that they are actually laid to rest in their tombs in the crypt, which is located under the public area at the height of the garden. As a visitor, you don’t get to visit the crypt and the only ones who seem to see it every day, is the Indian army.
Due to this access restriction of the holy chambers in the basement of the Taj Mahal, legends about the crypt and a secret room have been making rounds.
A legend recounts that the crypt either contains a secret room or that it leads to a secret chamber filled with treasures, jewels and 1001 night stories.
Natives at a chai shop like to tell the tale of how the souls of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal were still present in the crypt. Perhaps that’s what eternal love means?
The Truth eludes us here…
👻 Cursed and Haunted
Age-old beautiful buildings, especially world wonders, tend to attract popular myths of curses and haunted stories. It isn’t any different with the Taj Mahal.
The 250 years of Mogul rule were not without controversy, simply because they were outsiders with another belief, Islam. This, and the continues conversion of people to Islam, triggered people in the Hindu dominated country.
Stories from these communities claim that the Taj Mahal was built on an ancient Hindu Shiva temple. They believe that Shah Jahan destroyed the temple to build the Taj Mahal, and therefore it is cursed.
These Hindu nationalist point of views can be dangerous. Similar claims were acted on in other places across India.
Among the Muslims, they believe that, the one who tries to steal the tiniest of pieces from the Taj Mahal will be cursed for eternity. That didn’t stop the Muslim caretakers in the Taj Mahal asking money from visitors.
Night guards to the Taj Mahal have reported seeing ghosts and hearing odd noises coming from the crypt. These are stories that have been circulating around the poverty-stricken Kinari bazaar.
The Truth is that history can be complicated and that people build beautiful monuments.
🏰 It’s a Palace (not)
In the early morning hours of the 12th January 2023, we entered the interiors of the Taj Mahal. We marveled at the eight sided chamber ornament surrounding the two well-decorated empty tombs, while other visitors did the same thing.
A guide was explaining all that and more in great detail to three American girls, and they soon left the inner rooms just behind us, leading to the northern side of the Taj Mahal.
We stepped out and while they were walking a few meters behind us, we heard one of them ask the guide, “But they (the emperor and empress) did live in this palace for a very long time?”. A short break followed with the guide explaining, while his voice sounded now exhausted, that it wasn’t a palace but a giant mausoleum.
Yes, the guide was talking for a few hours in vain and apparently the girls were more confused than ever after having seen it from the inside.
Some people in this world don’t know that the Taj Mahal is not a palace, but in fact an expensive over-seized Mausoleum.
This belief might have been kindled by Disney’s Aladdin.
In the cartoon version they show princess Jasmine living in a palace that looks just like the Taj Mahal. Ironically, the city in Aladdin is called Agrabah, which just adds to the confusion because the Taj Mahal is located in Agra, India.
The Truth: Disney has fooled us again!
🌕 Changing Colors and Moonlight Glow
The marble technique of the Taj Mahal is definitely not commonly found on another building in this world. The whole building with the dome, from top to down is marble positioned perfectly, just like a 3D puzzle.
In fact, the symmetry in the architecture just show the advanced skills of those who worked on this masterpiece!
As it reflects the light, the marble changes color during the day. So, it is said that it appear to be pink or golden at certain times of the day.
Apropos golden, there is an outrageous myth that claims that the Taj Mahal was made of gold at first and that it was exchanged with marble later on. Can you believe this?
Another fantastic tale brings back the theory of diamond inlay work in the outer walls. It is said that the diamonds glitter in the moon light.
The diamond story might have been mixed up with the gemstone inlay work mentioned earlier.
The sunlight may reflect in such a way that the white marble turns lightly pink or yellow, but it’s not going to be crazy pink and golden sun yellow.
This also depends on the weather because the area is known for its foggy winters and the effect will be more visible in the hot clear summer months in India from April to June.
You can expect a pastel pink and pastel yellow.
Air pollution is known to be the biggest thread to the Taj Mahal. The area around the Taj Mahal can only be accessed with small electric vehicles. This program is said to have helped in preserving the whiteness of the marble.
The Archeological Survey of India has been cleaning the Taj Mahal periodically with multani mitti, a special clay. It removes dirt, and it’s easy to wash it off with water.
Once a month, the Taj Mahal can be visited at night. It’s a special occasion that needs planning because this privilege is only accessible for 3 days in the month, during full moon, and tickets are limited and notoriously hard to get.
But don’t expect too much from a full moon visit because you don’t get to come close to the Taj Mahal. In fact, it’s just you and a bunch of people standing at the north gate looking from afar at the Taj Mahal at night.
The monument is also not lit at night because that would attract insects and in turn defecating bats and other predators.
What happened to Shah Jahan?
The completion of the Taj Mahal meant that the Mogul empire had emptied its coffers. Eventually, the power struggle between his sons got him locked up in the Agra fort for 8 years. He lived to the age of 74 years, and he was succeeded by his son Aurangzeb (the same son who locked him up). The price tag of the Taj Mahal may have been one of the reasons the Mogul empire declined.
Who lives in the Taj Mahal now?
Nobody, the Taj Mahal is not a palace, it contains two tombs.
What inspired the design of the Taj Mahal?
The Taj Mahal was influenced by Mogul, Persian and Ottoman architecture. The inspiration came from Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, which is also located in Agra.
Is the Taj Mahal sinking or ever getting flooded?
It’s not sinking, contrary to common belief. It doesn’t get flooded either by the Yamuna river in the rainy season because it’s sitting on a platform above the river banks.
Why did they choose to build the Taj Mahal where it stands?
Agra was the capital of the Mogul empire in the Indian subcontinent at the time. Shah Jahan most probably decided on the location next to the river because a lot of water was needed during the building process.
More Magical Places in India:
- Hampi Ruins – The once upon a time 2nd largest city in the world!
- Ajanta Caves – The rediscovered ancient Buddhist cave paintings
- Himalayan Kunzum – A road trip across isolated mountain ranges.