The Taj Mahal of Agra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, for reasons more than just looking magnificent. It’s the history of Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence: a soul that is filled with love, loss, remorse, and love again. Because if it was not for love, the world would have been robbed of a fine example upon which people base their relationships. An example of how deeply a man loved his wife, that even after she remained but a memory, he made sure that this memory would never fade away.
This man was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who was head-over-heels in love with Mumtaz Mahal, his dear wife. She was a Muslim Persian princess (her name Arjumand Banu Begum before marriage) and he was the son of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir and grandson of Akbar the Great. It was at the age of 14 that he met Mumtaz and fell in love with her. Five years later in the year 1612, they got married. Mumtaz Mahal, an inseparable companion of Shah Jahan, died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. It was in the memory of his beloved wife that Shah Jahan built a magnificent monument as a tribute to her, which we today know as the “Taj Mahal”.
The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631. Masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran, and it took approximately 22 years to build what we see today. An epitome of love, it made use of the services of 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants. The monument was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia.
After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees (approx US $68000), Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653. It was soon after the completion of Taj Mahal that Shah Jahan was deposed by his own son Aurangzeb and was put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Shah Jahan, himself also, lies entombed in this mausoleum along with his wife.
Moving further down the history, it was at the end of the 19th century that British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908, as a measure to restore what was lost during the Indian rebellion of 1857: Taj being blemished by British soldiers and government officials who also deprived the monument of its immaculate beauty by chiseling out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. Also, the British style lawns that we see today adding on to the beauty of Taj were remodeled around the same time. Despite prevailing controversies, past and present threats from Indo-Pak war and environmental pollution, this epitome of love continuous to shine and attract people from all over the world.
II Taj Mahal Story
Male Protagonist: Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram)
Female Protagonist: Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu Begum)
Taj Mahal, the magnificent monument that stands at the heart of India has a story that has been melting the hearts of millions of listeners since the time Taj has been visible. A story, that although ended back in 1631, continues to live on in the form of Taj and is considered a living example of eternal love. It’s the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, two people from the course of history who set an example for the people living in present and the future to come. An English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold best describes it as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.” The story that follows next will prove why the statement is true.
Shah Jahan, initially named Prince Khurram, was born in the year 1592. He was the son of Jehangir, the fourth Mughal emperor of India and the grandson of Akbar the Great. In 1607 when strolling down the Meena Bazaar, accompanied by a string of fawning courtiers, Shah Jahan caught a glimpse of a girl hawking silk and glass beads. It was love at first sight and the girl was Mumtaz Mahal, who was known as Arjumand Banu Begum at that time. At that time, he was 14 years old and she, a Muslim Persian princess, was 15. After meeting her, Shah Jahan went back to his father and declared that he wanted to marry her. The match got solemnized after five years i.e., in the year 1612.
It was in the year 1628 that Shah Jahan became the Emperor and entrusted Arjumand Banu with the royal seal. He also bestowed her with the title of Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. Though Shah Jahan had other wives also, but, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite and accompanied him everywhere, even on military campaigns. In the year 1631, when Mumtaz Mahal was giving birth to their 14th child, she died due to some complications. While Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan promised her that he would never remarry and will build the richest mausoleum over her grave.
It is said that Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into mourning for two years. Sometime after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of erecting the world’s most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved. It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. This magnificent monument came to be known as “Taj Mahal” and now counts amongst the Seven Wonders of the World. This is the true story of the Taj Mahal of India, which has mesmerized many people with its bewitching beauty.
III Taj Mahal Architecture
Involvement of 22, 000 workers including masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans called on from all over the central Asia and Iran, and some 22 years later when a monument with a unique blend of Persian, Islamic, and Indian architectural styles came into its own, it was a sight to behold! The grandeur of the structure then created was such that even decades after its creation, it is still regarded as one of the most arresting and attention-grabbing manmade monuments of the world. Not just Taj, even structures alongside it add to the architectural beauty and artistic wonder of the place. The entire Taj complex consists of five major constituents, namely Darwaza (main gateway), Bageecha (gardens), Masjid (mosque), Naqqar Khana (rest house) and Rauza (main mausoleum).
The Taj Mahal covers an area of 42 acres in total with the terrain gradually sloping from south to north, towards the river Yamuna in the form of descending terraces. The main gateway situated at the end of the long watercourse, decorated in calligraphy with verses from Holy Quran and a domed central chamber, was constructed from the period 1932 to 1938.
The original door of this massive sandstone gateway was made out of solid silver. It was constructed to serve the function of preventing the people from getting any glimpse of the tomb until they are right in the doorway itself. With a vertical symmetry, the main gateway of Taj Mahal stands bordered with Arabic calligraphy of verses from the Quran, made up of black stone. The main tomb of Taj Mahal stands on a square platform that was raised 50 meter above the riverbank and was leveled with dirt to reduce seepage from the river.
The four minarets on each corner of this square are detached, facing the chamfered angles of the main and are deliberately kept at 137 feet to emphasize the beautiful and spherical dome that itself is 58 feet in diameter and 81 feet high. The western side of the main tomb has the mosque and on the eastern side is the Naqqar Khana (rest/guest house), both made in red sandstone. The two structures not only provide an architectural symmetry, but also make for an aesthetic color contrast. One can only marvel at the mosque and the rest house as despite being on the opposite ends, the two are mirror image of each other. Out of the total area of 580 meter by 300 meter, the garden alone covers 300 meter by 300 meter.
The immaculate symmetry with which this garden has been laid out can be experienced everywhere. The Islamic style architecture of this garden also has a well defined meaning that symbolizes spirituality and according to the Holy Quran, the lush green, well watered is a symbol of Paradise in Islam. The raised pathways divide each of the four quarters into 16 flowerbeds with around 400 plants in each bed. Even today, the garden boasts of being a tranquil and soothing region in the entire complex and is considered best place for taking snaps of the main tomb.
A shadowy burial crypt inside the Taj Mahal houses the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan himself, who was buried there after he died. Above these tombs is the main chamber that has the false tombs and perforated marble screens have been used to transmit light into the burial chamber, typical of mausoleums of the Mughals. Semi-precious stones are exquisitely inlaid in both the tombs. Calligraphic inscriptions of the ninety nine names of Allah can also be found on the sides of actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj has some wonderful specimens of polychrome inlay art both in the interior and exterior on the dados, on cenotaphs and on the marble jhajjhari (jali-screen) around them. Shah Jahan’s tomb, which lies next to that of Mumtaz Mahal, was never planned and deranges the otherwise perfect symmetry of the Taj.
IV Inside The Taj Mahal
As majestically dazzling as it looks from the main gateway, with the glorious view of the mosque and the guest house on the sides and the main mausoleum in the centre with four minarets standing proud at each corner, the insides of TAj Mahal are no less stunningly beautified either. Rather, the painstakingly designed and richly carved interiors brilliantly compliment the grandeur of the entire structure with subtleness. With basic elements in Persian, the large white marble structure that stands on the square plinth consists of a symmetrical building with an arch shaped doorway known as Iwan, which is adorned with exquisite calligraphy and is topped by a large dome and a finial.
The angles of the tomb consist of semi-octagonal arched alcoves of equal size. Attached pilasters rising from the base of the tomb demark each of the porticos, on both the sides. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; as the actual graves are located at a much lower level. Moving ahead, all the elements, architecture, furniture, and decorations culminate together to create an eschatological house for Mumtaz Mahal, and that of Shah Jahan. Formed with black marble inlaid in white, the floor of the Taj is paved in a geometrical pattern consisting of octagonal stars alternating with cruciform shapes. One of the longest echoes of any building in the world can be heard in this perfectly designed hall of 24 feet to a side, with two tiers of eight radiating niches.
The natural and beautiful flowers like tulips, irises, daffodils, and narcissus filled in opulent vases appear here in basic tripartite arrangement rather than individual flowering plants of the pishtaq halls outside. Another remarkable feature that surrounds the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan in the central chamber is the intricately carved marble screen or jali and is a delight to look at. The semi precious stones forming twining vines, fruits, and flowers inlaid delicately form the rest of the surfaces. The burial chamber is located right beneath the central chamber and consists of the actual graves of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan covered by two cenotaphs. And since the Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, these cenotaphs have different motifs in their decoration. The real cenotaph of Mumtaz
The cenotaph of Shah Jahan that was added much later is bigger than the cenotaph of his wife and is more simplistically decorated than his cenotaph above. Although the same designs appear on the sides of the sarcophagus elements, they are smaller in size. Coming out of such elaborately designed structure as Taj is like coming out of an era that had gone by, an era that added to the world in more than one way, an era that has been kept alive by the wonder that is Taj Mahal.