The Taj Mahal - A
Symbol Of Devotion
The Taj Mahal is a
mausoleum located in Agra, India. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan
commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite Persian wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648.
Some dispute surrounds the
question of who designed the Taj Mahal; it is clear a team of designers
and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri
considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer.
The Taj Mahal (sometimes
called "the Taj") is generally considered the finest example of
Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian,
Turkish, Indian, and
Islamic architectural styles. While the white domed marble mausoleum is
the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an
integrated complex of structures. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage
Site in 1983 when it was described as a "universally admired
masterpiece of the world's heritage.
In 1631 Shah Jahan, emperor
during the Mughal's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when
his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their daughter
Gauhara Begum, their fourteenth child. Contemporary court chronicles
concerning Shah Jahan's grief form the basis of the love story
traditionally held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
Construction of the Taj
Mahal was begun soon after Mumtaz's death. The principal mausoleum was
completed in 1648, and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished
five years later.
The complex is set in and
around a large charbagh (a formal Mughal garden divided into four parts).
Measuring 300 meters × 300 meters, the garden uses raised pathways which
divide each quarter of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds.
A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between
the tomb and the gateway, and a linear reflecting pool on the North-South
axis reflect the Taj Mahal. Elsewhere the garden is laid out with avenues
of trees and fountains
The charbagh garden was
introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor Babur, a design inspired
by Persian gardens. The charbagh is meant to reflect the gardens of
Paradise (from the Persian paridaeza -- a walled garden). In mystic
Islamic texts of the Mughal period, paradise is described as an ideal
garden, filled with abundance. Water plays a key role in these
descriptions: In Paradise, these text say, four rivers source at a central
spring or mountain, and separate the garden into north, west, south and
Most Mughal charbaghs are
rectangular in form, with a tomb or pavilion in the center of the garden.
The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is
located at the end rather than at the center of the garden. But the
existence of the newly discovered Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight
Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna provides a different
interpretation -- that the Yamuna itself was incorporated into the
garden's design, and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of
The layout of the garden,
and its architectural features such as its fountains, brick and marble
walkways, and geometric brick-lined flowerbeds are similar to Shalimar's,
and suggest that the garden may have been designed by the same engineer,
Early accounts of the
garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including roses, daffodils,
and fruit trees in abundance. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending
of the garden declined as well. When the British took over management of
the Taj Mahal, they changed the landscaping to resemble the formal lawns
Myths about the Taj Mahal
are now so old or compelling that they are often repeated as facts.
A longstanding myth holds
that Shah Jahan planned a duplicate mausoleum to be built in black marble
across the Jumna river. The 'black taj' idea originates in the fanciful
writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra
in 1665. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son
Aurangzeb before the black version could be built. Ruins of blackened
marble across the river, in the so-called Moonlight Garden (Mahtab Bagh)
seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the
1990s found only white marble features discoloured completely to black.
The garden buildings had collapsed due to repeated flooding. Others
speculate that the 'black taj' may refer to the reflection of the Taj in
the large pool of the moonlight garden.
Numerous stories describe
-- often in horrific detail -- the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations
which Shah Jahan inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated
with the tomb. No evidence for these claims exist.
about the Taj has been used for political or self-serving advantage. Lord
William Bentinck, governor of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to
demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. There is no
contemporary evidence for this story, which may have emerged in the late
nineteenth century when Bentinck was being criticised for his
penny-pinching Utilitarianism, and when Lord Curzon was emphasising
earlier neglect of the monument. Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli says
that the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble
from Agra Fort.
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