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Ever heard of the Taj Mahal in Bhopal?

July 09, 2007 12:56 IST

Agra's Taj Mahal has made it to the new list of the Seven Wonders of the World but another architectural 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.

Director (Programme) Architectural Heritage Division of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, told PTI: "The Taj Mahal in Bhopal is one of the largest palaces built at that time. Some parts of the palace have been encroached while some parts have collapsed or are collapsing. If something is not done urgently, we will lose a heritage palace."

INTACH, which conserves heritage buildings in the country, submitted a proposal to the government of Madhya Pradesh about a year ago to save the Taj.

Serge Santelli, the dean of the School of Architecture in Paris, who 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, has described the city'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."

An Indo-French project called the 'The Bhopal Workshop' is trying to document and save the remaining heritage buildings of the city. The Indian and French partners even put up an exhibition 'Living Architectural Heritage of Bhopal' here to showcase the city's heritage. The focus was obviously on the Taj Mahal.

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 recently.

Savita Raje, the Indian partner of the project, 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 resonates 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 scribbled the 'love you' messages on its walls. Today, large parts 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 in a booklet on Bhopal's architecture, '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 structure created an effect similar to that of rains. Air ducts insulated with earthern pots brought cool air from the Motia Talab located at the south.'

According to Das, the palace 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 buggy 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 and private spaces were achieved by positioning courtyards at various levels and behind screen-like elements, similar to the architecture of the many mahals (palaces) in the old city."

Bhopal's architecture is said to be unique because it has been influenced by Mughal, French, British, Rajasthani, Persian, Arabic and Islamic designs -- all the more reason to preserve it.
Lamat R Hasan in New Delhi
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