The Taj Mahal is most often remembered for being the work of Shah Jahan. After all, it was built for his wife. Most people who think of the Taj Mahal think of the man who paid for it, and the woman he built it for. It was not only a labour of love but a grand display of power and economic importance. Who wouldn’t be remembered for such an impressive construction?
However, a stunning variety of craftsmen were required to meet Shah Jahan’s vision for this mausoleum complex. Architects, designers, stonemasons, and stonecutters were all required on-site for this undertaking. Sculptors, mosaicists, and calligraphers as well. For not only was the Taj Mahal destined to be one of the most enduring architectural feats of the world, but one of the most beautiful. Incorporating elements of Hindu style – familiar to both the region and the workers – the Taj Mahal is fully Indo-Islamic. Muslim artists hired by the Shah decorated the Taj Mahal with ornate floral designs, elaborate stone engravings, and a lotus dome – all of which synthesized native Hindu artistry with Muslim expression.
THE TAJ MAHAL IS MORE THAN SHAH JAHAN…
Though over 20,000 people worked on building the Taj Mahal, very few of them are named. In other words, one of the world’s greatest constructions has few records of the hands that laid the bricks, decorated the walls, and transported materials from over empires.
BUT WHO DO WE KNOW?
We know that the workers were largely recruited from North India, while the skilled craftsmen and architects hailed from the Ottoman Empire, Persia, Delhi, and many famous parts of modern-day Iran, such as Shiraz. The upper-crust contributors included the Main Architect from the Ottoman Empire, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, the Main Dome Designer Ismail Afandi, and the Chief Calligrapher, Amanat Khan from Iran. Salaries ranged from the sculptor’s 500 rupees monthly to 800 rupees for the facade.
At this time, each construction team was allotted a budget – for example, 1000 rupees – from which salaries for the team would be paid out. In other words, even if the artisan seemed to be receiving a pretty sum of money for the work, it would be divided drastically between all the men he needed to hire and pay to complete his share of the work. For example, if a master stonemason was assigned the construction of a certain portion of the wall, he could not do it alone, so he would pay several other masons to assist him – the salaries for whom came straight out of his original pay. Many of these people were not actually masters in a craft, but more like professional supervisors paid to find and organize skilled workers. However, some – like the master calligrapher and the garden draftsmen – were both highly skilled in their work and expert supervisors. It is worth noting that the majority of masons, stonecutters, and work related to stonework was performed largely by native Indians. This was because, historically, Indians were highly skilled in all forms of lapidary work.
Unfortunately, the only two people who were involved in the building of the Taj Mahal of whom there are significant records is Shah Jahan himself, and the Persian calligrapher, Amanat Khan. The Shah was intimately tied to the construction and design of the building. Historical records say he was skilled in design himself and would often make corrections to building plans. Amanet Khan was a bit of an artistic celebrity. He designed all the calligraphic inscriptions for the Taj Mahal’s Quranic and floral designs, made inscriptions for the tomb of the Shah’s grandfather, Akbar, and was the only person permitted to leave his signature on the Taj Mahal itself.