The Taj Mahal is an inspiring monument built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1631 and 1648, as a tribute to the memory of his favourite wife Mumtaj Mahal, who died in 1631. It is believed that thousands of workers from several countries toiled for 17 years to complete it. Built completely of white marble and exquisitely designed, Taj Mahal is more than a ruler's achievement or a nation's pride.
Shah Jahan became the Emperor in 1628 AD after a bloody battle for the throne. His gave his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, the title of Mumtaj Mahal which means 'jewel of the palace'. In 1631 AD, Shah Jahan went on an expedition to the South India. Mumtaj Mahal always accompanied him wherever he went and this journey was no exception. Tragically, she died during childbirth at Burhanpur. She was the mother of 14 children of whom only seven survived. She was just 39 at the time of her death and Shah Jahan was heartbroken. He went for mourning for two years during which there was no music or any kind of celebration in the court.
Shah Jahan, a passionate builder, then decided to give his beloved a memorial that would express his love for her. So, the Taj Mahal took shape, beside the Yamuna River, set amidst splendid gardens. The site was chosen because Shah Jahan could gaze at it from the Agra Fort, his palace. Skilled architects, more than 20,000 workers, inlay craftsmen, calligraphers, stone carvers and masons from lands as distant as Persia (modern Iran) and Turkey toiled hard to create a masterpiece that keeps the world dumbfound to this day.
The Taj Mahal is one of the most flawless architectural creations of all time. For the past five centuries, travelers from all over the world have gazed it in awe at its incomparable beauty. Situated on the right bank of the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal gleams like a jewel in the perfect setting of its vast gardens. The purity of the white marble, the intricacy of the floral arabesques and the decorative bands, all highlight to perfection the exquisite calligraphy. The materials for its construction came from all over India and Central Asia. The pristine white Makrana marble came from Jodhpur. Precious stones for the inlay were brought from Baghdad, Punjab, Egypt, Russia, Golconda, China, Afganistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Persia and the countries in Indian Ocean. The Taj Mahal, without doubt, is considered to be the finest example of Mughal architecture.
The Taj Mahal represents the finest and most sophisticated example of Mughal architecture. It incorporates and expands on many design traditions, particularly Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Known for its symmetry, the Taj Mahal sits on a raised platform surrounded by four minarets.
The massive red sandstone Taj gateway was completed in the year 1648 and stands 30 metres high. The Taj Mahal gateway is topped by small cupolas or chhatris. Symbolic of the divide between the material and the spiritual, the gateway is decorated in calligraphy with verses from the Koran.
The tomb stands on its own marble plinth which rests on a red sandstone platform. Four tall pillars rise up from the corners of the white marble plinth. They are topped with eight windowed cupolas. Immediately below the dome is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal which is centrally lined with the main entrance. Besides Mumtaz Mahal's tomb, is the tomb of Shah Jahan.
The crypt and the cenotaphs at the Taj Mahal carry decorations of fabulous elegance. As many as 35 different types of precious stones have been used on a single bloom- turquoise, jade, agate, coral, lapis lazuli, onyx, bloodstone, cornelian, jasper, garnet and malachite have been used to fashion blooms of fuchsias, lily, honeysuckle and more.
The beauty of the Taj Mahal is enhanced by the garden laid out in the Persian Charbagh or four gardens plan style.
The Taj Mahal houses the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan himself. The actual tombs of Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan are in the basement while in the main chamber, there are false tombs surrounded by lace-like marble screens. These screens transmit light into the actual burial chamber. Both tombs are exquisitely inlaid with semi precious stones. Calligraphic inscriptions of the ninety nine names of Allah can also be seen on the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan's tomb lies next to Mumtaz Mahal's but was not a part of the original plan.
It is not still clear who designed the Taj Mahal. Ustad Ahmed Lahouri is generally believed to be the architect but many others are of the opinion that it was Ustad Isa from Turkey. France and Italy both claim that it was the brain child of their artists. However, we can safely say that The Taj Mahal is the sum total of the designs of two centuries of Mughal tombs.
The Taj Mahal seems to change moods according to the time of the day. The Taj Mahal shimmers with a cool, ethereal beauty in the moon light, glows a blushing pink at dawn and blazes a fiery red when the white marble catches the rays of the setting sun.
The fine detailing leaves the visitors to the Taj Mahal wonderstruck. Flowers are the main decorative elements as the tomb represents a palace garden. The Inlay work is done with such skill that it is impossible to discern any joints, even when as many as 40 tiny pieces of semi precious stones have been used in the petals of a single flower.