The Taj Mahal literary means ‘Crown of the Palace’ … Taj means – Crown, Mahal means – Palace. This is an ivory-white marble mausoleum constructed on the south bank of Yamuna River in Agra, India. Taj Mahal is a 17 hectare (42 acre) complex which includes a mosque on the left, a guest house on the write and garden area bounded on three sides by a crenelated wall.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”.
The Taj Mahal, Agra – an example of how deeply a man loved his wife, even after she remained a memory, he made sure that her memory would never fade away. This was Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who built Taj Mahal.
Prince Shah Jahan met Mumtaz, at the age of 14, and fell in love with her. Five years later in 1612 they got married. Mumtaj Mahal died in 1631 while giving birth to their 14th child. In the memory of his beloved wife, Shah Jahan built a magnificent monument – a tribute to queen Mumtaj Mahal, which we know as TAJ MAHAL today and is one of the seven wonders of the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1631, construction of Taj Mahal was started. Many Artisans including Masons, Stonecutters, in-layers, carvers, painters, Calligraphers, dome builder from Central Asia and Iran were requisitioned. To complete an epitome of love, used services of 22,000 labourers and 1,000 elephants to complete Taj Mahal in 1653 after 22 years. An expenditure of approximately 32 million Indian Rupees was spent that time.
Soon after completion of TAJ MAHAL, Emperor Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and was put under house arrest at Agra Fort. Shah Jahan died in 1666 in captivity and quietly laid beside Mumtaz.
Besides TAJ MAHAL – One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Red Fort in Delhi, Jama Masjid of Delhi, Section of Agra Fort, The Wazie Khan Mosque and the Moti Masjid in Lahore, now in Pakistan, are some of the noble structures associated with the name of Shah Jahan – meaning “King of the World” in Persian.
Architecture and design of Taj Mahal
Specific inspiration of Taj Mahal came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e-Amir (the tomb of Timur in Samarkand), Humanyun’s Tomb in Delhi, which inspired charbagh gardens and hasht-behesht (architecture) plan of the site, Itimad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb in Agra (also called Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan’s own Jama Masjid in Delhi. Shah Jahan wanted to use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, while earlier Mughal buildings were constructed of red sandstone.
Tomb Taj Mahal
The most spectacular feature of beautiful Taj Mahal is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The Tomb, is the central focus of the entire complex.
Taj Mahal is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building from all four sides with an arch shaped doorway topped by a large dome and finial. This dome is also called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The dome and chattris of Taj Mahal are topped by a guilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.
The main finial was made of gold (originally) but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This finial is topped by a half moon, a typical Islamic motif.
The four minarets, each more than 40 metres (130 ft) tall, display the designer’s penchant for symmetry. Each minaret of Taj Mahal is devided into three equal parts by two working balconies and at the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri. All the four minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, the material would tend to fall away from the main building of Taj Mahal Tomb.
Exterior Decorations of Taj Mahal
The exterior decoration of Taj Mahal are the finest in Mughal architecture. The decoration are refined proportionally, as the surface area of Taj Mahal changes. The decorative elements were paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. Throughout the Taj Mahal complex, passages from the Quran are used as decorative elements.
Interior Decoration of Taj Mahal
The interior chamber of Taj Mahal is far beyond traditional decorative elements. The inlay work is a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The main inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, although only one door is used.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, hence, the bodies of Mumtaj Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan were put beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right towards Mecca.
Garden of Taj Mahal
The garden complex around Taj Mahal is set around a large 300 mtr (980 ft) square charbagh or Mughal garden. The raised pathways divide each of the four-quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. In the centre of the garden is a raised water tank with a reflecting pool positioned on a north-south axis to reflect the image of mausoleum Taj Mahal.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb in the centre but Taj Mahal is unusual. The tomb is located at the end of the garden.
Outlaying buildings of Taj Mahal
The three sides of Taj Mahal is bordered by crenelated red sandstone walls and the side facing the river Yamuna is open. Outside the walls are several other mausoleums including those of Shah Jahan’s other wives.
The main entrance is a mounumental structure built primarily of marble, and reminiscent of the Mughal architecture of earlier emperors.
There are two grand red sandstone buildings that mirror each other on either side of Taj Mahal. The western building is a mosque and the eastern building was constructed for architectural balance and may have been used as guest house.
Construction of Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal is built on a land to the south of the walled city of Agra and in exchange for this land, Shah Jahan presented a large palace to Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in the centre of Agra. An area around 1.2 hectares (3 acres) was excavated, filled with dirt just to reduce seepage, and levelled at about 50 metres (160 ft) above Yamuna river.
Construction materials from all over India and Asia was used in Taj Mahal and over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. About 22,000 labourers, painters, embroidery artists and stonecutters worked for 20 years together to shape this Taj Mahal. The white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet, Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire from Sri Lanka and carnelian from Arabia.
About 15 km (9.3 miles) ramp was built to drag construction materials to the top at the construction site and 20 to 30 oxen pulled the blocks on specially constructed wagons. Water was drown from Yamuna river with the help of animal powered rope and bucket mechanism.
It took around 12 years to complete the plinth and tomb and the remaining parts of Taj Mahal complex took an additional 10 years, while work on the outlying buildings continued for years. The estimated total cost at the time was about 32 million Indian Rupees, whichis around 52.8 billion Indian Rupees (USD 827 million) as on 2015 value.
Myths about Taj Mahal
A common myth holds that emperor Shah Jahan planned to built a mausoleum in black marble (as a black Taj Mahal) across the river Yamuna.
Other theories says that the Taj Mahal originally a Hindu Temple and Shah Jahan demolished Hindu Temple and put Muslim symbols to make it a tomb, the idols of the temple were hidden in a deep vault and locked up.
There is a controversial but less known theory suggests that the Taj Mahal marked as the site of Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam. Shah Jahan demolished the temple and built Taj Mahal entirely with muslim symbols.