Since the 17th century,
travellers have crossed continents to come and see this ultimate memorial to
love, and few have been unmoved by its incomparable beauty.
Mahal stands in the city of Agra, in the northern Indian state of Uttar
Pradesh, on the banks of the Yamuna river. It was built in the memory of the
beautiful Arjumand Bano Begum, who won the heart of a Mughal prince. She was
married at 21 to Emperor Jahangir's third son Prince Khurram and stayed
loyally by his side through good times and bad: in the luxurious royal
palaces of Agra as well as the transient tents of war camps. In AD 1628,
Khurram became king after a bloody battle of succession; he took the name
Shahjahan or King of the World and showered his beloved begum with the
became Mumtaz Mahal, the Exalted of the Palace and Mumtaz-ul-Zamani, the
Exalted of the Age.
But Mumtaz Mahal was not destined to be queen
for long. In 1631, Shahjahan went on an expedition to the South and, as
always, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied him. But she died in childbirth at
Burhanpur. She had borne Shahjahan fourteen children, of whom four sons and
three daughters survived. When Mumtaz Mahal died, she was just 39 years old.
Shahjahan was inconsolable and contemporary chronicles tell of the royal
court mourning for two years.
There was no music, no feasting, and
no celebration of any kind. Shahjahan, who was a passionate builder, now
decided to erect a memorial marble that the world would never forget. The
site selected for the tomb was a garden by the Yamuna river, unshadowed by
any other structure. The garden had been laid by Raja Man Singh of Amber and
now belonged to his grandson, Raja Jai Singh. By a royal firman, Shahjahan
gave Jai Singh four havelis in exchange for the garden. The site was also
chosen because it was located on a bend in the river, and so could be seen
from Shahjahan's personal palace in Agra Fort, further upstream.
Arjumand Bano Begumpo, pularly known as Mumtaz Mahal,
who died in AH 1040 (AD 1630)
History of Taj Mahal
had a last wish to her husband was "to
build a tomb in her memory such as the world had never seen before".
Thus emperor Shah Jahan set about building this fairytale like marvel. The
construction of Taj Mahal was started in AD 1631 and completed at the end of
For seventeen years, twenty thousand workmen are said to
be employed on it daily, for their accommodation a small town, named after
the deceased empress-'Mumtazabad, now known as Taj Ganj, was built adjacent
to it. Amanat Khan Shirazi was the calligrapher of Taj Mahal, his name
occurs at the end of an inscription on one of the gates of the Taj. Poet
Ghyasuddin had designed the verses on the tombstone, while Ismail Khan
Afridi of Turkey was the dome maker. Muhammad Hanif was the superintendent
of Masons. The designer of Taj Mahal was Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. The material
was brought in from all over India and central Asia and it took a fleet of
1000 elephants to transport it to the site. The central dome is 187 feet
high at the centre.
Red sandstone was brought from Fatehpur Sikri,
Jasper from Punjab, Jade and Crystal from China, Turquoise from Tibet, Lapis
Lazuli and Sapphire from Sri Lanka, Coal and Cornelian from Arabia and
diamonds from Panna. In all 28 kind of rare, semi precious and precious
stones were used for inlay work in the Taj Mahal. The chief building
material, the white marble was brought from the quarries of Makrana, in
distt. Nagaur, Rajasthan.
height, the tomb stands on its own marble plinth, which rests on a red
sandstone platform that serves to level the land as it slopes to the river.
The Actual Tomb
Four tall minarets rise up from the corners of the white marble plinth. They
taper to a majestic height of 138 ft. and are crowned with eight windowed
cupolas. elegantly accent the central structure, framing the space like the
mounting of a jewel. The marble mausoleum is square in plan with chamfered
corners. Each facade of the tomb is composed of a grand iwan framed by bands
of calligraphy. The doorways inside these iwans are also adorned with
The iwan is flanked on both sides by small double
arches one over the other. They are rectangular while the arched alcoves of
equal size at the angles of the tomb are semi-octagonal. Each section in the
facade is well demarked on both sides by attached pilasters which rising
from the plinth level of the tomb rise above the frieze and are crowned by
beautiful pinnacles with lotus buds and finials. The pinnacles ornament the
superstructure and help along with the other features to break the skyline
gracefully. The Taj Mahal is entered through the portal on the south side.
Inside, two stories of eight rooms (four rectangular rooms on the sides and
four octagonal small rooms at the corners) surround a central chamber.
rooms were originally used for the mullahs to chant the Koran and for
Musicians who played soft Indians and Persian melodies. In this nine part
plan, the visitor can circumambulate through the subsidiary rooms on each
floor since they are interconnected. The central chamber is octagonal, and
in the centre is the tomb of the queen and to one side is the casket of the
emperor. The hall is 80 ft. high from the pavement to the soffit of the
interior dome. This makes sound echo.
In this courtyard stand the main gateway to the Taj
and its gardens, a massive portal that opens to the south.
Taj Main Gateway
gateways were long a traditional feature of Muslim architecture and could be
found fronting tombs and mosques throughout the East. Symbolically to the
Muslim, such an entrance way was the gate to paradise. Metaphysically, it
represented the transition point between the outer world of the senses and
the inner world of the spirit. The gateway is richly embellished.
particular note are the floral arabesques fashioned from gemstones and
inlaid in while marble which decorate the spandrels of the arches. Also
impressive are the inlaid black marble inscriptions that frame the central
vaulted portal or iwan. These passages are excerpts from the Koran, which is
considered by Muslims to be the word of God as revealed to Mohammed. It is
here that Shah Jehan's calligraphers have performed an amazing optical trick
: the size of the lettering that runs up and over the arch appears to be
consistent from top to bottom. This illusion was created by gradually
heightening the size of the letters as their distance from the eye
increased; from the ground the dimensions seem the same at every point. This
ingenious trompe l'oeil effect is used with equal success on the main
doorway of the Taj itself. It is said that upon first beholding the Taj
through this gateway it will look small and far away, as if built in