One of the world’s most famous buildings, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. Its perfect proportions and exquisite craftsmanship have been described as “a vision, a dream, a poem, a wonder.” This sublime garden-tomb, an image of the Islamic garden of paradise, cost nearly 41 million rupees and 1,100 lb (500 kg) of gold. About 20,000 workers labored for 12 years to complete it in 1643.
Mughal buildings, whether built of marble or red sandstone, assert their exalted, imperial status. The Mughal emperors were great patrons of the arts, literature, and architecture and their rule established a rich, pluralistic culture, blending the best of Islamic and Hindu traditions. Their greatest contribution to architecture was the garden tomb, raised on a high plinth in the centre of a charbagh garden. Decorative elements, such as perforated pits (screens) — used extensively for privacy and ventilation – refined inlay work and cusped arches gave Mughal buildings an ethereal grace that offset their massive size. Other features include chhatris (domed rooftop pavilions) that were adapted from Rajput architecture, and minarets that gave symmetry to the buildings.
The hallmark of Mughal landscape design, the paradise garden was introduced by Babur (1483-1530), the first Mughal emperor, who yearned for the beauty of Ferghana, his Central Asian homeland. Based on Islamic geometric and metaphysical concepts of design, the charbagh was an enclosed garden divided into four quarters by raised walkways, water channels, and sunken groves. Water, the source of all life, was the central element, and the intersecting channels met at a focal point that contained a pavilion for the emperor, who was seen as a representative of God on Earth.
THE TAJ MAHAL’S DECORAtiON
It is widely believed that the Taj Mahal was designed to be an earthly replica of one of the houses of paradise. Its impeccable marble facing, embellished by a remarkable use of surface design, is a showcase for the refined aesthetic that reached its zenith during Shah Jahan’s reign (1627—1658). The Taj Mahal manifests the richness and wealth of Mughal art, as seen in architecture, garden design, painting, jewelry, calligraphy, and textiles. Decorative elements include ornamental jails, carved panels of flowering plants and calligraphic panels, as well as floral motifs in pietra dura, a Florentine mosaic work technique said to have been imported by Emperor Jahangir.
The size of the Koranic verses in creases as the arch gets higher, creating the subtle optical illusion of a uniformly flowing script.
Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph, raised on a platform, is placed next to Shah Jahan’s. The actual graves, in a dark crypt below, are dosed to the public.
Inspired by the paradise garden, intricately carved floral designs, inlaid with precious stones, embellish the austere white marble surface to give it the look of a jeweled casket.
The filigree screen, daintily carved from a single block of marble, was meant to veil the area around the royal tombs.
The 144- ft (44-m) high double dome is capped with a finial.
View of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal complex is bounded on three sides by red sandstone walls. At the far ends of the complex, there are two grand buildings, the western one is the Taj Mahal mosque.
Each 131 ft (40 m) high and crowned by an open octagonal pavilion, or chhatri, the minarets frame the tomb, highlighting the perfect symmetry of the complex.
Named after its lotus-shaped fountain spouts, the pool reflects the tomb. Almost every visitor is photographed sitting on the marble bench here.
The quadrilateral garden was irrigated with water from the Yamuna River.
Recessed arches provide depth, while their inlaid panels reflect the changing light to give the tomb a mystical aura.
The dome is actually double-skinned; the interior dome, barely a third of the height of the outer skin, is visible from inside the main chamber, and is separate from the dome visible from outside.
Arjumand Banu (later Mumtaz Mahal) was the emperor’s favorite wife. She accompanied him on all his campaigns and died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. They were married for 19 years.
1632: Work on the Taj begins, following the death of Mumtaz Mahal.
1643: The thousands of artists and craftsmen complete the work on the Taj.
1666: Shah Jahan dies and is laid to rest beside his queen.
1983: The Taj Mahal is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2001: The Taj Mahal Conservation Collaborative starts to restore the grounds.