Local legend has it that once Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal, the hands of the workers were cut off. I cannot find any historical reference to this but some examples which say so

http://library.thinkquest.org/27638/tajmahal.html

Shahjahan cut off the hands of the workers after the completion of the Taj so Mahal that no one would ever be able to build such a marvelous monument again

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Culture/Archit/TajM.html

It is alleged that on its completion, Shah Jahan ordered the right hand of the chief mason to be cut off so that the masterpiece could never be recreated.

and deny

http://agra-india.com/tajmahalhistoryandlegends.htm

There is no truth in the familiar tale that Shahjahan had the hands of his chief architect chopped off to prevent building him another building of Taj's reputation. Before he met his fate, this architect, it is said, was allowed to take in the last look to ensure perfection. At this moment he hammered the dome at the point, which caused leakage.

Does anyone have proper historical references? The Mughal period (1500 - 1800) was documented and studied by several Indian and Western historians and books such as this one. But I do not know if this tale is covered.

  • 2
    It's not a unique story. In Russia, the same is said of Ivan the Terrible and the artisans that built/designed Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – user5341 Aug 27 '11 at 2:27
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    The versions I had heard involved poking out the eyes of the architects. Workers is a broad term, but I imagine most of them are replaceable , so maiming them is a poor form of DRM. – Oddthinking Aug 27 '11 at 12:21
  • How does one prove or disprove a legend? Since all the people who started it are dead....en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend – Moab Aug 28 '11 at 2:31
  • @Moab: The 1600s era of the Mughals was documented by Indian and Western historians. Hence my question was whether any historical references to this incident? I'll edit the question. – JoseK Aug 28 '11 at 6:37
  • Legend by definition is something handed down by verbal communication with no other records available. – Moab Aug 28 '11 at 17:43
up vote 18 down vote accepted

There is no proof that this is the case

While I found extensive citations that this legend exists (e.g. Wikipedia calls it a myth), it is clearly not possible to prove a negative.

The Wikipedia article cites a book which I cannot check myself: Koch, Ebba. (2006) The Complete Taj Mahal: and the Riverfront Gardens of Agra. Thames & Hudson

The official web site of the Taj Mahal has a fairly complete historical section and a legends section.

In the historical section, it mentions the names of the actual workers without mentioning that their hands were supposedly cut off.

A labour force of about twenty thousand workers was recruited from across the Northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stone cutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers were part of the thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit. Some of the builders involved in construction of Taj Mahal under the master supervision of the Emperor Shah Jahan himself are:

  • Ismail Afandi (a.ka. Ismail Khan) of the Ottoman Empire — Designer of the main dome.
  • Ustad Isa and Isa Muhammad Effendi of Persia — Credited with a key role in the architectural design.
  • 'Puru' from Benarus, Persia — Mentioned as a Supervising Architect.
  • Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore — Cast the solid Gold Finial.
  • Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi — The Chief Sculptor and Mosaicist
  • Amanat Khan from Shiraz, Iran — The Chief Calligrapher

Besides the above, Muhammad Hanif, a supervisor of masons and Mir Abdul Karim with Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz handled finances and management of daily production.

In the legends section it warns us that there are many made up legends surrounding the Taj Mahal.

The saga of The Taj would be half told if the myths related to it are not mentioned. Like many a great buildings the Taj Mahal has its myths and legends. It seems that there is more fiction on the Taj than serious scholarly research. Several of the stories belong solely to oral tradition and are told by the guides, some are so established that they form a popular history of the monument and have made their way into guidebooks, and some have been taken up by scholars, or even created by them, and thus become part of the scholarly debate.

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    I wonder: Are there any other known works of those named builders that were made after the Taj Mahal was completed? – ESultanik Mar 19 '12 at 12:59
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    I take issue with the notion that it is not possible to prove a negative (at least in this case). If there were reliable historical records that the designer or workers went on to later do other work that required hands, it would be pretty conclusive, no? – Larry Gritz May 3 '12 at 20:44
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    @LarryGritz that would only prove that they didn't have their hands cut off right away. :-) – Sklivvz May 13 '12 at 10:58

There was a BBC World recent documentary series, In The Shadow of the Taj. In it, they went to Agra, where they interviewed descendants of some of the workers who built the monument. They all categorically asserted that the "hands cut off" story was a myth.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3718166.stm

It was fascinating documentary, and I learned a lot about the building. For instance, did you know that Shah Jehan was going to build an additional monument, known as "the Black Taj Mahal"?

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protected by Sklivvz Feb 2 '13 at 20:51

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