The fusion of the bold and clean lines of Islamic architecture with the Hindu tradition of minute and profuse decoration reached perfection in the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum that Shah Jahan built for his beloved wife Mumtaj Mahal, who died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. Mumtaj Mahal, the Chosen One of the Palace as the emperor liked to call her, had been his inseparable companion in peace and in war and would not leave his side even in the thick of battle. Her death left Shah Jahan inconsolable and he abstained from all pleasures for two years as he mourned her. Rich food, public entertainment, even music was banned throughout the realm during this period and Shah Jahan devoted all his energies to designing a befitting monument for his wife.
The Taj Mahal is a garden tomb, a mausoleum that utilizes the green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the transparency of water and the purity of marble with the delicate sheen of precious and semi-precious stones to create a monument that reflects both the grandeur of the Mughal and the delicacy of his sentiment.
The main building of Taj Mahal is placed at the very end of a 'Charbag', a rectangular garden divided into four with clear sheets of water. Though the tomb of Taj Mahal is square in design, the chamfered corners give it a sense of fluidity while the series of alcoves cut into the out wall provide a feeling of hollowness and lightness. Inside, the cenotaphs are enclosed by an octagonal marble screen, each side carved from a single slab of marble and enclosed in a frame of 'pietra dura' inlay. In the exact centre lies the tomb of Mumtaj Mahal, for it is believed that Shah Jahan wanted to construct another mausoleum for himself. Before he could do so, however, he had been made a prisoner in his own gilded palace at Agra by Aurangzeb, his third son. When Shah Jahan died, Aurangzeb had him buried in the Taj Mahal, slightly off centre but in a grave as beautifully embellished as that of Mumtaj Mahal, though the overly pious Aurangzeb would not allow Quranic verses to be inscribed on it.
Balancing the main building of the Taj Mahal are two red sand stone structures decorated with white marble, on the east and west sides, one a mosque and the other a caravan sarai. The main gateway is also an impressive structure of red sandstone relieved with inlay work in white. At the back of the Taj Mahal is a sheer drop to the river Yamuna.
If the Taj Mahal has a unique charm in daylight, it exudes a fairytale atmosphere in the moonlit night.
Taj Mahal- A Floating Desert Mirage: The entire structure of Taj Mahal is built with white marble. The delicate and tapering minarets form the frames of mausoleum at the four corners of its podium. Challis cluster around the dome appears as if seeking maternal protection and thus making their contributions to the compactness of the design. The three bays between each iwan, one of which are angled, are identical and lead the eye around the octagonal building, thereby augmenting its three-dimensional quality. Absolutely nothing but sky impinges on the purity of the Taj Mahal's contours and keeps it invariably pale blue. As a result, the Taj Mahal evokes a floating desert mirage.
Dome and Minarets of Taj Mahal: The dome plays a more prominent part in the design of Taj Mahal than in any other Mughal monuments and buildings. The dome of Taj Mahal towers over the four minarets evokes a majestic view as if the white balloon swelling with air which is about to float gently skyward taking the remainder of the structure with it. The similarity of form between the minarets and space rocket increases this illusion. At any moment, it seems, the minarets of Taj Mahal might ignite to assists take-off! Each of the marble slab that makes up the minarets is firmly delineated by black pointing, possibly to prevent the eye being directed from the composition by the slender white tower melting into the hazy sky. It is said that the minarets are slightly tilted so that they would not strike the mausoleum if they fell.
Design & Layout of Taj Mahal: But perhaps the most important feature of the buildings is its dimensions. Uniquely among India's Mughal buildings, the height above podium level of the Taj Mahal almost precisely equals its diameter: the building would thus fit neatly within a cube. Renaissance architecture discovered that, for some unknown reason, cubic dimensions are particularly appealing, a discovery that was put into practice by the English architect Inigo Jones, who invariably designed his rooms in multiples of cubes.
Shah Jahan was particularly fond of Hindu-style cusped arches. Even the Jama Masjid in Delhi demonstrates Hindu-style cusped arches, but here, the clean lines of the Persian arch appear throughout, with no examples of foliation. In fact, apart from the four 'chattris' clustered around the dome and the metal finials; Taj Mahal is a very 'Persian' building.
As the steps to the podium are reached, it will be noted that they form the only asymmetrical feature of the building. It seems strange that a double flight was not constructed thus preserving complete symmetry. Footwear must be discarded at this point.
On the pavement of the podium the marble shimmers but is clearly not dead white in the manner of Italian carrara marble, as it often appears to be in photographs. Almost every slab incorporates veins of grey and cream; some even have a green or pinkish hue. The stones came from the Makrana quarry near Jaipur and Makrana marble was the marble used almost exclusively for Mughal buildings. Makrana marble's smoky quality is chiefly responsible for the material's pearl-like appearance and changing response to variations in light. Makrana marble is still quarried and utilized for better-quality artifacts.
Decor of Taj Mahal: It soon becomes apparent that the decorative themes of the Taj Mahal are restricted to calligraphy or stylized floral patterns. The entire Koran is incised on the stonework of the complex. On the archways, the calligraphy is executed so that the actual size of the characters increases with height, thus giving an impression of uniformity. Most floral patterns are in multi-colored petra dura work, but some below dado level are monochrome reliefs, an effective combinations.
A promenade around the mausoleum will confirm that each side is identical. On the north side, the River Yamuna flows directly beneath the Taj Mahal. It was formerly possible to take a ferry to and from the opposite bank but this service has been terminated as a security measure. Tavernier, a contemporary French traveller, reported that Shah Jahan intended to build his own private mausoleum in the form of a black marble facsimile of the Taj Mahal, on the north bank of the Yamuna River. Both mausoleums were to be linked by bridge. Apparently, Aurangzeb, on seizing the throne in 1658, ordered the scheme to be abandoned. However, there is no corroboration of this story which was probably based on a fanciful rumour.
What may be seen on the far bank of the river is a small mosque, a rare building from Humayun's interrupted reign.
The Taj Mahal Garden: The four-part 'Charbagh' garden is the only Mughal example in either Agra or Delhi where still water courses regularly through it. However, this is cut off at intervals so that the channels may be cleaned. The cleaning work usually takes 3 days, so during those three days a visitor will unfortunately miss the refraction of Taj Mahal in the water. Peach trees originally franked the channel but they have been replaced by cypresses. The garden was completely restored for Lord Curzon (1899-1905) and its English appearance is a result of this work rather than one of Lady Willingdon's enthusiasms, which might have been suspected.
Inside the Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal's interior is entered from the south side. Visitors were not admitted to the tomb chamber during the Mughal period. The octagonal central chamber is situated directly beneath the great dome, smaller corner chamber lies, symmetrically, below the four 'chattris'. In the main chamber, the cenotaphs of Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan are enclosed by an exquisitely carved marble screen, designed to filter the light. The grave of Mumtaj Mahal is centrally positioned. Grave of Shah Jahan, inscribed as usual with a pen box to indicate the male sex, lies to one side, set on a slightly higher base. This asymmetrical configuration is taken by some to indicate that Shah Jahan intended to lie elsewhere; possibly, the derivations of the black marble mausoleum stone. However, the Tomb of It-Mad-ud-Daula and his wife exhibits a similar configuration and was certainly planned that way.
Originally, the chamber was somewhat lighter but birds became a nuisance. Therefore, it made necessary to erect glass panels to keep them out. The walls of the chamber are decorated with Quranic calligraphy and petra dura work but the finest example of the latter is on the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, where the graduation of the colors of the flower petals is exquisite. Viceroy Lord Curzon presented the lamp suspended above the cenotaph in 1905.
As is usual, the grave of the mausoleum's occupation lie in a chamber below. This is invisible until someone loans a torch for a few rupees. Originally, the chamber was lined with gold sheets but Aurangzeb removed them after his father's death.
The two building erected of the mausoleum are identical. On the west side is the mosque but of red sandstone and surmounted by three domes. A strange optical trick occurs here: walking from the back of the mosque toward the arch of the screen, the Taj Mahal appears to retreat; in the reverse direction it appears to advance. Only from the mosque, shortly after drawn, the Sun appears adjacent to the Taj Mahal, thus providing a popular composition for photographs.
The mirror-image on the east side is known, understandably, as the Jawal (Echo). It appears to have been constructed primarily for reasons of symmetry. Claims that visitors were accommodated within, or that it serves as an assembly hall, are pure guesswork. It is undoubtedly the best place from where to watch the semi-precious stone set in the marble of the mausoleum sparkle, as either the sun and moon rises. From November to January it is possible to gain some impression of the moonlight effect, even at 7pm (but better at 7.30pm). Few visitors appear to know that this sparkling occurs: it is rather as if myriad glowworms were colonizing the mausoleums. Set in the pavements, in front of the Jawal, is a representation of the final of the Taj Mahal's dome.
One last questions remains. Is the Taj Mahal the most beautiful building in the World? There is, of course, no answer to this, because, as is well-known, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. But perhaps it can be said with some confidence that no other building moves so many people entirely through the abstract purity of its architecture.
Architect of Taj Mahal: In the early stages, 20,000 labors and craftsmen reported to have been working on the construction of Taj Mahal but this number had been reduced to 1,000 craftsmen within 9 years. Scaffolding of brick rather than timber was erected, indicative of the importance of the scheme. The Taj Mahal was completed by 1653 after 22 years of rigorous planning and implementation. It seems only right that such a magical building should have its share of mysteries and unproven allegations, and this is indeed the case. There are three chief unsolved questions: who was the architect? Did Shah Jahan plan a separate 'mirror image' tomb for himself on the opposite side of the river? Why are the two cenotaphs not positioned side by side within the mausoleum's main chamber? Self-confident guides who give unequivocal answers to these questions should not be believed. On Same Day Taj Mahal Tour, you will come across several untold stories and you will entertain them with curious zeal.
As per one opinion, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan wished to take personal credit for his most important building projects and only rarely was the name of the chief architect officially recorded. It is primarily for this reason that some have credited the Emperor himself with the design of the Taj Mahal. There is, however, no evidence whatsoever that Shah Jahan possessed architectural abilities, only that he served as an enthusiastic patron. Nevertheless, due to the great cost of the material, it seems likely that he was responsible for specifying the exclusive use of marble for the structure: Shah Jahan would certainly have seen the hereby tomb of Mumtaz Mahal's grandfather, It -Mad-ud-Daula, similarly clad entirely in marble, and one of only two such examples to predate the Taj Mahal.
Another contender is the Venetian jewallery designer, Geronimo Verneo, who died at Lahore in 1640, and now lies in Agra's Roman Catholic cemetery. His executor Josef de Castro stated that Veroneo was the architect of the Taj Mahal and this claim was reiterated by a Spanish friar Sebastian Manrique. But Sebestian was probably only repeating what de Castro had told him. There is no additional evidence.
Persian records named Ustad Isa Afandi as the architect of the Taj Mahal but there are no other references to him. It is even uncertain whether he came from Persia or Turkey. Ustad Ahmed Lahori (from Lahore in what is now Pakistan) was certainly Shah Jahan's favored architect at the time.
The names of the individuals responsible for the dome, calligraphy and petra dura work etc, are recorded. Possibly, the Taj Mahal was the work of a spectacularly talented committee, presided over by Shah Jahan. The chief argument against this is the notorious failure of committees to produce outstanding designs: a sardonic tale might be recalled about the committee which set out to design a horse and ended up with a camel. Could any committee really produce such a sublime masterpiece? This mystery, and some others which are dealt with later, will surely never be solved to everyone's satisfaction. Explore the architectural beauty of Taj Mahal and try to find out answers of several queries on Same Day Taj Mahal Tour.
Best View of Taj Mahal: On arrival at Agra, most of the visitors understandably rush straight to the Taj Mahal and they are quite right to do so. The appearance of Taj Mahal changes as the sun rises and falls. While the consensus of opinion seems to favour early evening, the time chosen for a first visit is not of overwhelming importance. What is important, however, is that return visits should be made (in spite of the recently hiked entrance charge for foreigners): dawn, sunset and midday present the Taj Mahal in completely different aspects. Unfortunately, terrorist threats have led to the closure of the Taj Mahal compound at 7 pm and it is therefore no longer possible to observe the full effect of moonlight on the building.
Taj Mahal Gateway View: Although some fortunate residents of the hotel Taj View may now be able to spy on the Taj Mahal, it was originally intended that the building, should be completely hidden from the city by its high wall. Although, it has always been possible to admire the mausoleum from the north side of the River Yamuna, this concealment adds to the visitor's astonishment on entering the complex and being confronted suddenly and dramatically by the wondrous apparition. The finest view of the mausoleum is the initial one, gained from the arch of the Great Gateway (1648) and the scale of the entire scheme was obviously engineered that this should be so.
Until recently, all visitors entered the Taj Mahal through the southern gateway and were thus immediately confronted by the knock-out vista, as intended. Now, security checks have been set up on the right hand side of the gateway so the visitors have to sneak into the compound at an angle. As a result, the visitors are thereby deprived of that first, astounding symmetrical view, framed by the archway. Some brazen it out with the guardians, and insist on first looking through the arch (which is now the exit only) other, who is prepared, averts their eyes from the mausoleum and make directly for the inner side of the gateway before drinking in the view. It must be hoped that the current system is soon reserved so that the mesmerizing first view of Taj Mahal, a treat to the eyes, could be availed by the visitors on Same Day Taj Mahal Tour or Agra city tour.
Now drop off all thought process and whatever read about the Taj Mahal. Just enter the Taj Mahal complex and let yourself move by the effects of views of Taj Mahal- an effect that may well, surprisingly, lead to tears, tears of pride that mankind has been able to create such beauty. A fairly lengthy stay at the gateway is recommended (at no other point will the view improve), followed by a slow, silent walk along the central canal, as if traversing the nave of a great cathedral. To accompany these magical experiences by reading facts about the building would be as profane as to study the score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony throughout a first hearing.
When to Visit Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal holds top prominence in the repertoire of India tourist destinations. Its mesmerizing beauty keeps one speechless. Taj Mahal remains open 6 days a week from sunrise to sunset. Taj Mahal remains closed on every Friday but other monuments of Agra remain open on Friday also. Opening time: Morning 6:00 am to 7:30 pm (Friday closed).