The world has for long marvelled at the beauty of the Taj Mahal in Agra. Ironically, another gem by the same name built by a Begum of Bhopal in 1874 is in ruins and in danger of being erased from the heritage map of Madhya Pradesh.
Serge Santelli, the dean of the School of Architecture in Paris, is trying to save the architectural marvels mostly built by the Begums of Bhopal who ruled the erstwhile state for four generations in a row. He describes Bhopal's Taj Mahal 'as one of the best palaces in the world.'
Santelli, who loves heritage structures and lives in a 16th century house in France, says: "Not many know about Bhopal's Taj Mahal. It is one of the best palaces in the world."
Santelli is appalled at the ruins in Bhopal. "The ruins in Bhopal have no parallel in the world. The locals seem obsessed with the idea of razing old structures to make way for commercial complexes," he told PTI.
An Indo-French project called the 'The Bhopal Workshop' is trying to document and save the remaining heritage buildings of the city. The Indo-French partners have put up an exhibition 'Living Architectural Heritage of Bhopal' in New Delhi to showcase the city's heritage. Savita Raje, the Indian partner of the project, has put up pictures of the Taj Mahal as it was during the time of the Begums and as it is now.
The grand palace, which was home to Nawab Shahjehan Begum, was built as part of the Begum's ambitious construction of the Shahjehanabad suburb.
On the features of the palace Manu Sobti, an architect, says: "The palace resonated the theme of tranquil landscapes and grand dimensions. An impressive entrance facade led into large, interiorised open spaces or courtyards, all resplendent with the elements of landscape and water."
But this was till some refugees made Taj Mahal their home and the scribbled the 'I love you' messages on its beautiful walls. Today, large chunks of the Mahal have collapsed. In fact, this is why the refugees were forced to move out.
Conservation architect Meera Das, who studied the palace in great detail in her capacity as the INTACH regional convener observes, "The Taj Mahal had a long courtyard with a fountain structure constructed in carved red stone. This exquisite fountain structure the Sawan Bhadon sahan is the centrepiece of this large complex. When it was operational, the sahan created an effect similar to the rains. Air ducts insulated with earthern pots brought cool air from the Motia Talab located at the south."
According to Das, the Mahal is a mixture of Islamic and Hindu architectural elements. There are cusped arches, massive gateways, screen windows at upper levels, extensive mouldings, decorative plasterwork and squat homes with jharokhas. The detailing on the inner courtyard facades seemed to have a colonial influence.
"The entrance dome of the Taj Mahal was so large that a 12-horse bagghi could turn under it with ease. The Begum will alight from the coach here as she observed purdah," says Das.
According to Sobti, "Within the layout, varying degrees of public-ness and private-ness were achieved by positioning courtyards at various levels and behind screen-like elements, similar to the architecture of the many mahals in the old city."
Bhopal's architecture is said to be unique because it has been influenced by Mughal, French, British, Rajasthani, Persian, Arabic, Islamic designs. All the more reason to save it!