Taj Mahal, the Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Mughal and European Documentary Sources.

Author:Kane, Carolyn

Compiled and translated by W. F. Begley and Z. A. Cambridge, Mass.: Agha Khan Program for Islamic Architecture; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990. Pp. 320, 22 color illustrations, 168 black and white. $45 (cloth); $29.95 (paper).

In the last decade, English translations of primary Islamic sources have been published on Mughal, Persian, and Turkish architecture. The collaborators have already contributed one study on the Mughal reign of Shah Jahan (1628-58), The Shah Johan Nama of Inayat Khan (Delhi and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), and with this volume contribute a major study on the documents and sources for the Taj (the Illumined Tomb). Further studies are planned, including a bio-graphical dictionary of the aristocracy under Shah Jahan, and a volume on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Persian sources on the Taj. Begley plans to publish further research on the symbolism of the Taj, first proposed in the Art Bulletin in 1979, and to interpret the meaning of the Quranic inscriptions on the tomb. He intends to expand on his theory that the Taj complex is a "cosmological diagram depicting the gardens of Paradise on the Day of Resurrection to make each part of the tomb complex correspond allegorically to a celestial architectural model" (p. xliv), as well as the allusion to the Throne of God. Ebba Koch has recently suggested an earthly as well as celestial symbolism for the Taj.

The compilation and translations from Mughal sources have been extracted from contemporary history, poetry, farmans, royal correspondence and orders concerning the ruling family, royal courtiers and officials of the court, from the birth of Shah Jahan in 1592 to the death of his favorite daughter, Jahanara, in 1681. Not every document is published in the original Persian, but a supplement is said to be available for these texts. After a lengthy introduction by Begley, the text is divided into six sections. Part one presents new translations of known documents about the public life of Shah Jahan. There are references to his marriages, his death, to all facets of the construction, endowment and his anniversary visits to the tomb, but no private insights into his life.

Part two enumerates the few surviving official Mughal documents, letters and royal orders. There are few surviving ones, and Begley has assumed that millions of Mughal documents must have existed and were lost or destroyed. He makes an analogy between the archival customs in the...

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