Lashkar-e-Taiba members attack the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel

Lashkar-e-Taiba members attack the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel

Mumbai, India

11/26/2008

Sai Deepika Vemulapalli and Rajkumar Kadam

The video expands upon this political controversy: how the terrorists entered Mumbai, the shooting inside Taj Mahal Palace and raises questions about the impact of heritage architecture on the safety of a building.

On the night of November 26, 2008, a series of coordinated bombing and shooting attacks took place in Mumbai, India’s largest city. The attacks were carried out by Laskar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist group who thereby hoped to bring attention to the controversy over the jurisdiction of Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. The attacks lasted until November 29, 2008 thus killing 164 people and wounding around 310. The attacks were mainly targeted at four locations: the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, the Oberoi Trident Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station and the Nariman House Jewish community center. The primary bombing and shooting was however targeted at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower where at least 31 people were killed. The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel is an architectural marvel, built in Indo-Gothic architectural style. At 110 years old, the hotel stands as a historic symbol of Mumbai city. Many consider this to be the reason why it was targeted by the terrorists. It is noteworthy that the Taj Mahal Palace and the Tower are two different buildings, built during different times and using distinct architectural styles. During the attacks, the popular heritage section on the 6th floor of Taj Palace was completely damaged and it suffered losses of approximately 57 billion overall. The 12th floor of the Tower Hotel was also completely destroyed. This essay explores the many possibilities why the Taj Mahal Palace was primarily targeted by the terrorists and the role of complex architectural style of the hotel in providing shelter to the terrorists and preventing evacuation to the inhabitants, thus acting as a prison and causing widespread loss of lives.

The first major terror attack in India took place in 1993 when a “series of 13 bombs (went) of killing 300”1 in Mumbai. The attacks are believed to be a consequence of “demolition of Babri Masjid Mosque in Ayodhya, in North Central India.”1 These attacks were the first of the planned terror attacks in India. They are believed to have been carried out by a group of Indian Muslims. Henceforth, a timeline of attacks took place in major cities of India, especially Mumbai which has become the ‘terrorist-aimed’ capital of the country. The last and perhaps the most explosive of these attacks were the 2008 terror attacks in the city. It is mainly noticeable for a massive shift from “suicide bombs to a commando-style military assault with small teams of highly trained, heavily armed operatives launching simultaneous, sustained attacks.”2 On the night of 26 November, 2008, ten terrorists arrived at the Colaba hub in Mumbai in inflatable speedboats. They then proceeded to four different locations – the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the Oberoi Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station and the Nariman House (refer image 2). Together, these locations comprise of “residential, commercial and religious facilities”2 and hence are heavily crowded. This is a possible reason why these locations were specifically targeted. Secondly, all the locations mentioned above are a symbol of the heritage of Mumbai city. They are architecturally significant and structurally beautiful which makes them attractive to terrorist intrusion. Most importantly, all these locations are situated on and hence interconnected by major highways that form the grid of the city. This allowed the terrorists the ease of access, shelter and escape without being caught. Evidently, after bombing and shooting the Oberoi Hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station and the Nariman House, these terrorists moved to the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and joined their four correspondents. Hence, it can be concluded that the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower was the primary location of the attacks.

The Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 1901 by Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, an Indian businessman who wanted to establish the reputation of Mumbai as an important financial center3. The hotel “overlooks the harbor and is adjacent to the Gateway of India (refer image 3), a historical memorial built between 1911 and 1924.”3 The gate stands as a symbol of ‘openness’ to visitors and thus it is architecturally important that the terrorist chose to dock at this port. The hotel is a collaboration of “Islamic and European Renaissance architecture”3 and its rooms are designed in “Moorish, Oriental, and Florentine styles”3. Some of the noticeable architectural marvels of the hotel are as follows:
“•onyx columns
•vaulted alabaster ceilings
•cantilever stairway
•prized collections of Indian furnishings and art”3
These architectural elements (refer image 4) together contribute to the popularity of the hotel as a symbol of financial heritage of the city.

An important aspect of traditional architecture is the massiveness of its design. Conventionally, the mass of the building is expected to protect its inhabitants from external disturbances such as natural disasters and violent outbreaks like terror attacks. However, in the case of the attack on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, this convention is arguable. The terrorists entered the hotel on the night of November 26. Once in there, they navigated to different floors of the hotel, open firing the inhabitants and entered the heritage section on the sixth floor. This can be said from the massive blast on the central dome which set fire to the building. They then moved across to the new Taj Tower, destroying the twelfth floor of that building. It is noteworthy that the first army intervention took place merely a few hours after the shooting began. However, it took them nearly sixty hours to flush out the last of the ten terrorists. This can be attributed to the architecture of the hotel. One, it is massive which obstructs visibility across multiple angles, allowing for escape and shelter to the terrorists who were able to safeguard themselves from the forces. Two, it has multiple atriums across elongated hallways (refer image 5) which make it difficult to navigate from one floor to the next. Two important elements that define the atrium are the onyx columns and the cantilever stairway. This delayed the forces from discovering the precise location of the terrorists who were spread across the hotel. This brings up the question that how does heritage architecture directly affect the safety of a building. Thus it is important to note that the main target of the terrorists was the heritage section on the sixth floor of the hotel which carried “prized collections of Indian furnishings and art”3. This makes the program of the building critical in response to the attacks. It raises question such as – ‘would had the impact of the attack been trivial if the heritage section was programmed on the first floor?’ Yet another response to the architecture of the hotel can be characterized to the circulation of the terrorists from the Taj Palace to the Taj Tower Hotel. If the two buildings were different entities, separated from each other, it would have been difficult for the terrorists to circulate from the Palace to the Tower Hotel and hence it would have aided the forces in safeguarding the latter building.

The critique on the architecture of the hotel brings us to the importance of technology in design. It is important to barricade all entrances into a building, have metal detectors in atriums, multiply the number of closed-circuit television cameras across every space in the building etc.  No doubt that traditional architecture is a symbol of heritage and hence must be preserved. However, when the same architecture acts as a ‘prison’, thus claiming lives, it raises important questions regarding the aesthetics of safety. Thus it is essential to “design into buildings and public spaces defensive security features that are functionally and aesthetically integral.”4 Only then will it be possible to protect our buildings from the threat of terror attacks.

 

1 – K. Jaishankar, “India’s 26/11: From Communal Violence to Communal Terrorism to Terrorism,” International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences (2007): 5-11, accessed September 8, 2013, http://www.pakistansocietyofcriminology.com/articles/editorialijcjsjuly2007.pdf

2 – Saroj Kumar Rath, “New Terror Architecture in South Asia – 26/11 Mumbai Attacks Inquiry,” India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs (2010): 359-381, accessed September 8, 2013, doi:10.1177/097492841006600403

3 – Jackie Craven, entry on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, “The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India,” About.com Guide, http://architecture.about.com/od/asiasouthasia/ss/TajHotel.htm

4 – Henry Petroski, “Technology and architecture in an age of terrorism,” Technology in Society (2004): 161-167, accessed September 8, 2013, doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2004.01.020

 

 

Image 1:

image1

Reuters. “The Taj Mahal hotel is seen engulfed in smoke during a gun battle in Mumbai.” Photograph. 2013. Hindustantimes.com, http://www.hindustantimes.com/photos-news/Photos-India/nightof2611/Article4-773999.aspx, accessed September 14, 2013

Image 2:

 image5

“Map of Mumbai Terror Attack Sites.” Photograph. 2008. Clipsandcomment.com, http://www.clipsandcomment.com/2008/11/27/map-of-mumbai-terror-attack-sites/, accessed September 14, 2013

Image 3:

image3

“Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai.” Photograph. 2009. Travelmodus.com, http://travelmodus.com/taj-mahal-palace-and-tower-mumbai.html, accessed September 14, 2013

Image 4:

image4

Danish Siddiqui. “Hotel employees walk inside the heritage wing of the hotel.” Photograph. 2010. Theguardian.com, http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2010/aug/12/taj-mahal-hotel-pictures, accessed September 14, 2013

Image 5:

image5

“Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai.” Photograph. 2009. Travelmodus.com, http://travelmodus.com/taj-mahal-palace-and-tower-mumbai.html, accessed September 14, 2013

 

 

RESEARCH RESOURCES

Journalism

Saroj Kumar Rath, “New Terror Architecture in South Asia – 26/11 Mumbai Attacks Inquiry,” India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs (2010): 359-381, accessed September 8, 2013, doi:10.1177/097492841006600403

This article highlights the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks: it unravels the attacks, the motives behind it, and the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba in hatching the conspiracy. It explains every detail right from the planning of the attacks to the trial of the conspirators, thus providing an insight into the conspiracy.

 

K. Jaishankar, “India’s 26/11: From Communal Violence to Communal Terrorism to Terrorism,” International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences (2007): 5-11, accessed September 8, 2013, http://www.pakistansocietyofcriminology.com/articles/editorialijcjsjuly2007.pdf

This article provides a timeline of major terrorist attacks targeted at India from 1992 onwards. It helps us to understand the reason behind each attack and the transition from communal violence to communal terrorism to terrorism using the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai as a milestone. It asserts that initial attacks in India such as the 1993 bombings in Mumbai were caused due to internal communal violence between the Hindus and the Muslims, whereas the 26/11 attacks were aimed at drawing attention to Pakistan’s foreign policy goal of achieving jurisdiction over Kashmir, India’s northernmost state. Thus, terrorism in India has undergone massive transformation from internal communal disputes to global policy clashes.

 

Encyclopedia Entries

Jackie Craven, entry on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, “The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India,” About.com Guide, http://architecture.about.com/od/asiasouthasia/ss/TajHotel.htm

This guide provides a brief description of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, Mumbai. It describes in detail the architecture of the hotel such as the different design techniques and styles used. It exaggerates the fame and luxury of the hotel as the reason why it was targeted by the terrorists. The guide also includes a series of pictures of the hotel which helps us to perceive its architecture in a different light.

 

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008,” accessed September 14, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1487539/Mumbai-terrorist-attacks-of-2008

The entry provides a significant insight into the Mumbai attacks. It has an interesting section about the “Reaction in India” to the attacks. It expands upon the loopholes in the Indian security system which directly impacts architecture. It also points out the emergence of a new form of architecture, one that focusses on “multiple targets” and “high causalities”.

 

Scholarly Articles

Henry Petroski, “Technology and architecture in an age of terrorism,” Technology in Society (2004): 161-167, accessed September 8, 2013, doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2004.01.020

The article focuses on the importance of technology in architecture in a world that is suffering from constant threats of terrorism. Interestingly, the article was published in 2004 as a response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, USA. However, the primary claim which persuades architects to “design public spaces defensive security features that are functionally and aesthetically integral” can be at large applied to the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

 

Paul Gapp, “Architects Fear That Structural Beauty Will Be Become a Victim of Terrorism.” Chicago Tribune (1986), accessed September 14, 2013

Based on various terror attacks in the US as well as in Europe and Middle West, the article asserts that “structural beauty” is an important factor as to why terrorist target these buildings. The article thus claims that future buildings should follow certain design standards that would make them less vulnerable to attacks by terrorists. This can be correlated to the idea that the Mumbai attacks were aimed at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel because of its heritage structure.

 

Orthographic Documentation

Reuters. “The interior of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel shows damage from last week’s attack.” Photograph. 2008. Wsj.com, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122852353604284127.html, accessed September 8, 2013

The image shows the destruction caused by the Mumbai attacks on the sixth floor of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It also gives us an idea of the Indo-Gothic architecture style used in the hotel and the complexity of the atrium which was exploited by the terrorists.

 

Danish Siddiqui. “Hotel employees walk inside the heritage wing of the hotel.” Photograph. 2010. Theguardian.com, http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2010/aug/12/taj-mahal-hotel-pictures, accessed September 14, 2013

The image shows the renovated atrium of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel after it was reopened in August 2010. Note the multiple atrium setting. The Indo Gothic architectural style is clearly evident which complexes the architecture of the hotel.

 

“Map of Mumbai Terror Attack Sites.” Photograph. 2008. Clipsandcomment.com, http://www.clipsandcomment.com/2008/11/27/map-of-mumbai-terror-attack-sites/, accessed September 14, 2013

The image shows a map of Mumbai with major locations of the Mumbai terror attacks highlighted. The time at which bombing/shooting took place at each location is also mentioned. It helps us to understand why these particular places were targeted by the terrorists.

 

Video and Audio

Ajmal Kasab, “60 Hours of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack,” ibnlive video, 50:04, November 27, 2011, http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/206334/60-hours-of-2611-mumbai-terror-attack.html

The documentary captures the deposition of Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist of the Mumbai attacks who was captured alive. Through his statement, the film provides evidence about what went into the 26/11 bombing and shooting right from the training of the terrorists by Lashkar-e-Taiba to the execution of the attacks. The timeline of events helps us to understand the role played by the architecture of the city in the planning of the attacks.

 

“Taj hotel encounter caught on CCTVa Mumbai terrorist attacks 26 november 2008 INDIA Taj resort exper,” YouTube video, 2:06, posted by “Tackett Stutzman,” July 13, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNzK2no88IY

The video captures the movement of the terrorists inside the Taj Palace and Tower Hotel during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks as caught on CCTV. The clip provides an insight into why it took the police over 60 hours to flush the terrorists out of the building. The atrium of the Taj Palace Hotel was acting like a visual barrier preventing the police from spotting the terrorists. Its multiple segments across its length further obscure visibility.

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