The Taj Mahal: A Marvel on Marble

The Taj Mahal, considered to be an epitome of love and one of the most flawless architectural creations of the world was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in commemoration of his favourite wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Its construction commenced in AD 1631 and completed seventeen years later at an enormous cost and labour. Shah Jahan married Arjumand Banu Begun (Mumtaz Mahal), granddaughter of Itimad-ud-Daula, the Wazir of Emperor Jahangir in 1612 AD. After the demise of Mumtaz Mahal in 1631 at the birth of her 14th child, the grief stricken emperor spared no effort in building the tomb in her memory, which is universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful creations on earth. Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort where, for the rest of his days, he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here alongside Mumtaz.

To build this jewel of Muslim art, artisans were requisitioned from all over the empire including central Asia and Iran. In total, some 20,000 people worked on the building. While bricks for the internal framework were locally made, white marble for external surfaces was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan. The inscription on the northern facade records 1057 A.H.-1647A.D. as the date of its completion i.e after 17 years from its commencement at the cost of about rupees four crores (40 million), at a time when gold was sold at Rs.15 per tola (11.66 gm).

Shehab-Ud-Din-Muhammad Shah Jahan, the grandson of the emperor Akbar had an aesthetic sense for architecture and under his aegis Mughal architecture reached its zenith. It is believed that Ustad Ahmed Lahori was the chief of the project while Ustad lsa Afandi prepared the site plan of the Taj Mahal. Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi is known for his calligraphic work and Ran Mal was the garden designer from Kashmir.

The Taj Mahal stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna river. The ornamental gardens are set out along classical Mughal charbagh (formal Persian garden) lies- a square quartered by watercourses, with an ornamental marble plinth at the centre.

The plan of Taj Mahal display strict bilateral symmetry. The central point is the tomb (rauza) and its four minarets, flanked by a mosque and an assembly hall (Mehman Khana). Purely decorative 40m-high white minarets, leaning slightly outwards from the central structure, grace each corner of the platform. The whole structure is topped off by four small domes surrounding the famous bulbous central dome. Below the main dome is the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, an elaborate false tomb surrounded by an exquisite perforated marble screen inlaid with some 43 different types of semiprecious stones. Beside it, offsetting the symmetry of the Taj, is the Cenotaph of Shah Jahan. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screen. The real tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in a locked basement room below the main chamber and cannot be viewed. The Taj Mahal is exactly as wide as it is high (55m) and the height of its dome is the same as the height of its arcade facade.

The Taj Mahal is entered through a majestic gateway in the centre of the southern side where there is a spacious quadrangle. A highlight of the monument is the exquisitely carved pietra dura(marble inlay work) inlaid with semi precious stones which enhances the beauty of  the Taj Mahal. The colour of the translucent marble keeps changing from dawn to midnight giving it a magical aura in keeping with Shah Jahan’s vision that the tomb and the garden should represent paradise on earth.

Also Read: More than just the Taj

The red sandstone mosque to the west of the main structure is an important gathering place for the Muslims. The identical building to the east, the jawab, was built for symmetry and was probably used as accommodation for travelers.

The Taj Mahal is a unique manmade manifestation of the glorious Mughal age and a wonder of the world. The spectacular mausoleum was designated a World Heritage site in 1983 and looks as immaculate today as when it was first constructed – though it went a huge restoration project in the early 20th century after falling into disrepair and even suffering vandalism.

Text References :

  • Archaeological Survey of India
  • India, Lonely Planet, 2007