Taj Mahal

History of the Taj Mahal

India's most famous monument, the Taj Mahal is also the most perfect mausoleum of Arab-Indian architecture. This page explains when, how and why it was built, but it also gives information about its history through the years. But first of all it should be noted that its history is very unrestrained, the Taj Mahal has, so to speak, not experienced any modifications, improvements, or suffers any particular damage, it is delivered to us in a form very similar to that it was in the seventeenth century.

Facts About the Taj Mahal

  • Fact #1: Sick with grief, Shah Jahan was first inspired to build the Taj Mahal after his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died while giving birth to their 14th child. His wife was in labor for 30 hours before she died at age 40.
  • Fact #2: The four minarets (towers) surrounding the Taj Mahal were constructed farther away from the main structure than usual. The minarets also lean slightly outward rather than stand straight. This was done as a safety measure so that if any of them fell, they would fall away from the tomb rather than crash into the central structure.
  • Fact #3: During British rule in India, the garden was landscaped to look more like the manicured lawns in London, England. The original garden was adorned with lots of roses and daffodils.
  • Fact #4: The Taj Mahal contains a working mosque and is closed on Fridays for prayer. Respect should be shown while visiting because it is an active religious structure. Dress appropriately, despite the heat.
  • Fact #5: There is no proof to support the long-standing myth that artists and architects involved with the construction of the Taj Mahal were later put to death so that they could never "repeat such a beautiful feat." Instead, historians believe that they were required to sign contracts.
  • Fact #6: With construction beginning around 1632 and finishing in 1653, the Taj Mahal took an estimated 22 years to build. Small refinements continued thereafter.
  • Fact #7: Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, generally regarded as the chief architect of the Taj Mahal, was not Indian he was a Persian from Iran.
  • Fact #8: Islamic tradition forbids the decoration of graves, so Shah Jahan and his wife are actually buried in a plain crypt beneath the main inner chamber of the Taj Mahal.
  • Fact #9: Shah Jahan's other wives and even his favorite servant are buried in mausoleums just outside of the Taj Mahal.
  • Fact #10: Construction of the Taj Mahal cost an estimated 32 million Indian rupees (the equivalent of over US $1 billion at the time).
  • Fact #11: The structure on the western side of the Taj Mahal is thought to have been used as a guest house.
  • Fact #12: Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport heavy materials and supplies for construction.
  • Fact #13: A total of 28 types of precious and semiprecious jewels are set in the marble. The turquoise came from Tibet, and jade came from China. Heavy white marble — the principal building material — was transported from Rajasthan.
  • Fact #14: British soldiers pried precious stones from the walls of the Taj Mahal during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857.
  • Fact #15: An estimated 20,000 laborers were recruited from all over Asia to contribute to the massive project. Remnants of their massive encampment, bazaar, and living quarters are now a nearby neighborhood.
  • Fact #16: Following the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was put under house arrest in 1658 by his son, Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan was only able to view the Taj Mahal from his window for the last eight years of his life before being entombed there.
  • Fact #17: False structures and scaffolding were constructed around the Taj Mahal throughout different conflicts to confuse German, Japanese, and Pakistani bomber pilots.
  • Fact #18: The Taj Mahal's white marble is rapidly turning yellow because of terrible air pollution in Agra. Only electric vehicles are allowed near the structure, and a 4,000-square-mile environmental radius was declared around the monument to help control emissions. Visitors must walk or take electric buses from the parking area to the Taj Mahal.
  • Fact #19: The Taj Mahal is actually cracking at an alarming rate due to lack of groundwater beneath the structure. Wooden foundations — once submerged — are thought to be rotting. Even the minarets are beginning to lean more.
  • Fact #20: The Taj Mahal was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, receiving more than 100 million votes. Voting for the Taj Mahal actually helped push the controversial internet-and-phone-based poll into the world spotlight.
  • Fact #21: In 2008, a Bangladeshi filmmaker constructed a replica of the Taj Mahal at a cost of US $56 million dollars so that his impoverished countrymen in Bangladesh could enjoy the famous monument without traveling to India. The replication took five years to complete with modern equipment.
  • Fact #22: A Taj-inspired luxury hotel, event, and shopping complex is under construction in Dubai. The Taj Arabia, as the replica is called, will be four times the size of the original and will cost an estimated US $1 billion. The 20-story glass hotel will contain 350 luxury rooms.


Abdul Hamid Lahauri, in his book from 1636 Padshahnama, refers to Taj Mahal as rauza-i munawwara (Perso-Arabic: روضه منواره , rawdah-i munawwarah), meaning the illumined or illustrious tomb. [6]

The name used now, Taj Mahal, comes from Persian تاج محل tāj maħall and means "crown" (tāj) "place" (maħall). [7] [8] Maħall is also the surname of Mumtaz Mahal, for whom Shah Jahan built the mausoleum.

The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died on 17 June that year, while giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. [9] [10] Construction started in 1632, [11] and the mausoleum was completed in 1648, while the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. [12] The imperial court documenting Shah Jahan's grief after the death of Mumtaz Mahal illustrates the love story held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. [13]

"Shah Jahan on a globe" from the Smithsonian Institution

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Indo-Islamic and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), [14] Humayun's Tomb which inspired the Charbagh gardens and hasht-behesht (architecture) plan of the site, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. Buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement. [15]

The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Indo-Islamic in origin. [16]

The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan the actual graves are at a lower level. [17]

The mausoleum (Rauza-i-munnauwara)

The main gateway (darwaza) to the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal at sunrise from Main Entrance

Four minarets frame the tomb.

Sketch of the interior view of the vaulted dome over the tombs of Shah Jahan (left) and Mumtaz Mahal (right)

The false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal (right) and Shah Jahan (left) in the main chamber

The actual tombs of Mumtaz Mahal (right) and Shah Jahan (left) in the lower level. Notice that Mumtaz's grave does not have a lower slab like that of Shah Jahan

Main marble dome, smaller domes, and decorative spires that extend from the edges of the base walls

Arabic calligraphy at the tomb entrance

The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres (115 ft) high which is close in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the cylindrical "drum" it sits on, which is approximately 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). [18] The top is decorated with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The dome is slightly asymmetrical. [19] Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements. [20]

The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. [21] The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward. [22]

The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres (130 ft) tall, display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets— a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb. [23]

Exterior decorations

The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest in Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex are passages from the Qur'an that comprise some of the decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that Amanat Khan chose the passages. [24] [25]

The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." [25] The calligraphy was created in 1609 by a calligrapher named Abdul Haq. Shah Jahan conferred the title of "Amanat Khan" upon him as a reward for his "dazzling virtuosity." [26] Near the lines from the Qur'an at the base of the interior dome is the inscription, "Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi." [27] Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script made of jasper or black marble [26] inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particularly detailed and delicate. [ citation needed ]

Abstract forms are used throughout, especially in the plinth, minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab and, to a lesser extent, on the surfaces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of the sandstone buildings are worked with tracery of incised painting to create elaborate geometric forms. Herringbone inlays define the space between many of the adjoining elements. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings, and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of the marble buildings have been stained or painted in a contrasting colour which creates a complex array of geometric patterns. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns. [28]

On the lower walls of the tomb are white marble dados sculpted with realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of the carvings. The dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade, polished and levelled to the surface of the walls. [26]

Taj Mahal Exterior with a minaret

Detail of plant motifs on Taj Mahal wall

Interior decoration

The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal reaches far beyond traditional decorative elements. The inlay work is not pietra dura, but a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. [29] The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, although only the door facing the garden to the south is used. The interior walls are about 25 metres (82 ft) high and are topped by a "false" interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level and, as with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about midway up the wall. [30] The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas, and each balcony's exterior window has an intricate screen or jali cut from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through roof openings covered by chattris at the corners. The octagonal marble screen or jali bordering the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces are inlaid in delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers. Each chamber wall is highly decorated with dado bas-relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels which reflect, in little detail, the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex. [31]

Detail of pietra dura jali inlay.

Delicacy of intricate pierce work.

Pietra dura, or parchin kari, flowers.

Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right, towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal's cenotaph is placed at the precise centre of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 by 2.5 metres (4 ft 11 in by 8 ft 2 in). Both the base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gems. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. Shah Jahan's cenotaph is beside Mumtaz's to the western side and is the only visible asymmetric element in the entire complex. His cenotaph is bigger than his wife's, but reflects the same elements: a larger casket on a slightly taller base precisely decorated with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies him. On the lid of the casket is a traditional sculpture of a small pen box. [30]

The pen box and writing tablet are traditional Mughal funerary icons decorating the caskets of men and women respectively. The Ninety Nine Names of God are calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. Other inscriptions inside the crypt include, "O Noble, O Magnificent, O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious. ". The tomb of Shah Jahan bears a calligraphic inscription that reads "He travelled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri." [32]


The complex is set around a large 300-metre (980 ft) square charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four-quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. Halfway between the tomb and gateway in the centre of the garden is a raised marble water tank with a reflecting pool positioned on a north-south axis to reflect the image of the mausoleum. The elevated marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar in reference to the "Tank of Abundance" promised to Muhammad. [33]

Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees labeled according to common and scientific names [34] and fountains. The charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by Babur, the first Mughal emperor. It symbolises the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden.' In mystic Islamic texts of the Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east. [ citation needed ]

Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the centre. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna, the interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of India is that the Yamuna river itself was incorporated into the garden's design and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise. [35] Similarities in layout and architectural features with the Shalimar Gardens suggests both gardens may have been designed by the same architect, Ali Mardan. [36] Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including abundant roses, daffodils, and fruit trees. [37] As the Mughal Empire declined, the Taj Mahal and its gardens also declined. By the end of the 19th century, the British Empire controlled more than three-fifths of India, [38] and assumed management of the Taj Mahal. They changed the landscaping to their liking which more closely resembled the formal lawns of London. [39]

Outlying buildings

The Taj Mahal complex is bordered on three sides by crenellated red sandstone walls the side facing the river is open. Outside the walls are several additional mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan's other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz's favourite servant. [ citation needed ] These structures, composed primarily of red sandstone, are typical of the smaller Mughal tombs of the era. The garden-facing inner sides of the wall are fronted by columned arcades, a feature typical of Hindu temples which was later incorporated into Mughal mosques. The wall is interspersed with domed chattris, and small buildings that may have been viewing areas or watch towers like the Music House, which is now used as a museum. [ citation needed ]

The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily of marble, and reminiscent of the Mughal architecture of earlier emperors. Its archways mirror the shape of the tomb's archways, and its pishtaq arches incorporate the calligraphy that decorates the tomb. It utilises bas-relief and pietra dura inlaid decorations with floral motifs. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs like those found in the other sandstone buildings in the complex. [ citation needed ]

At the far end of the complex are two grand red sandstone buildings that mirror each other, and face the sides of the tomb. The backs of the buildings parallel the western and eastern walls. The western building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer), thought to have been constructed for architectural balance although it may have been used as a guesthouse. Distinctions between the two buildings include the jawab's lack of a mihrab (a niche in a mosque's wall facing Mecca), and its floors of geometric design whereas the floor of the mosque is laid with outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble. The mosque's basic design of a long hall surmounted by three domes is similar to others built by Shah Jahan, particularly the Masjid-i Jahān-Numā, or Jama Masjid, Delhi. The Mughal mosques of this period divide the sanctuary hall into three areas comprising a main sanctuary and slightly smaller sanctuaries on either side. At the Taj Mahal, each sanctuary opens onto an expansive vaulting dome. The outlying buildings were completed in 1643. [12]

The Taj Mahal is built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the centre of Agra in exchange for the land. [40] An area of roughly 1.2 hectares (3 acres) was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage, and levelled at 50 metres (160 ft) above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. [41]

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. It took the efforts of 22,000 labourers, painters, embroidery artists and stonecutters to shape the Taj Mahal. [42] The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. [ citation needed ]

According to the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. [43] A 15-kilometre (9.3 mi) tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and materials to the construction site and teams of twenty or thirty oxen pulled the blocks on specially constructed wagons. [44] An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage tank and raised to a large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex. [ citation needed ]

The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab, and gateway. Since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on "completion". Construction of the mausoleum itself was essentially completed by 1643 [11] while work on the outlying buildings continued for years. Estimates of the cost of construction vary due to difficulties in estimating costs across time. The total cost at the time has been estimated to be about 32 million Indian rupees, [11] which is around 52.8 billion Indian rupees ($827 million US) based on 2015 values. [45]

Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife. [46] In the 18th century, the Jat rulers of Bharatpur invaded Agra and attacked the Taj Mahal. They took away the two chandeliers, one of agate and another of silver, which were hung over the main cenotaph they also took the gold and silver screen. Kanbo, a Mughal historian, said the gold shield which covered the 4.6-metre-high (15 ft) finial at the top of the main dome was also removed during the Jat despoliation. [47]

By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908. [ citation needed ] He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modelled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodelled with European-style lawns that are still in place today. [ citation needed ]

In 1942, the government erected scaffolding to disguise the building in anticipation of air attacks by the Japanese Air Force. [48] [49] During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, scaffolding was again erected to mislead bomber pilots. [50]

More recent threats have come from environmental pollution on the banks of the Yamuna River including acid rain [51] due to the Mathura Oil Refinery, [52] which was opposed by Supreme Court of India directives. [53] The pollution has been turning the Taj Mahal yellow-brown. [54] To help control the pollution, the Indian government has set up the "Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ)", a 10,400-square-kilometre (4,000 sq mi) area around the monument where strict emissions standards are in place. [55]

Concerns for the tomb's structural integrity have recently been raised because of a decline in the groundwater level in the Yamuna river basin which is falling at a rate of around 1.5 m (5 ft) per year. In 2010, cracks appeared in parts of the tomb, and the minarets which surround the monument were showing signs of tilting, as the wooden foundation of the tomb may be rotting due to lack of water. It has been pointed out by politicians, however, that the minarets are designed to tilt slightly outwards to prevent them from crashing on top of the tomb in the event of an earthquake. In 2011, it was reported that some predictions indicated that the tomb could collapse within five years. [56] [56]

Small minarets located at two of the outlying buildings were reported as damaged by a storm on April 11, 2018. [57] On 31 May 2020 another fierce thunderstorm caused some damage to the complex. [58]

The Taj Mahal attracts a large number of tourists. UNESCO documented more than 2 million visitors in 2001, [59] which had increased to about 7–8 million in 2014. [3] A two-tier pricing system is in place, with a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens and a more expensive one for foreigners. In 2018, the fee for Indian citizens was 50 INR, for foreign tourists 1,100 INR. [60] Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking areas or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are currently being restored for use as a new visitor centre. [61] [62] In 2019, in order to address overtourism, the site instituted fines for visitors who stayed longer than three hours. [63]

The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or Mumtazabad, was initially constructed with caravanserais, bazaars and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workers. [64] Lists of recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj Mahal, which also appears in several listings of seven wonders of the modern world, including the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World, a recent poll with 100 million votes. [65]

The grounds are open from 06:00 to 19:00 weekdays, except for Friday when the complex is open for prayers at the mosque between 12:00 and 14:00. The complex is open for night viewing on the day of the full moon and two days before and after, [66] excluding Fridays and the month of Ramadan.

Ever since its construction, the building has been the source of an admiration transcending culture and geography, and so personal and emotional responses have consistently eclipsed scholastic appraisals of the monument. [70] A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum to be built in black marble as a Black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna river. [9] The idea originates from fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. It was suggested that his son Aurangzeb overthrew Shah Jahan before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river in the Mehtab Bagh, seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found that they were discoloured white stones that had turned black. [71] A more credible theory for the origins of the black mausoleum was demonstrated in 2006 by archaeologists who reconstructed part of the pool in the Mehtab Bagh. A dark reflection of the white mausoleum could clearly be seen, befitting Shah Jahan's obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool itself. Warrior Empire: The Mughals of India. A+E Television Network. 2006.

No concrete evidence exists for claims that describe, often in horrific detail, the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan supposedly inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the tomb. Some stories claim that those involved in construction signed contracts committing themselves to have no part in any similar design. Similar claims are made for many famous buildings. [72] No evidence exists for claims that Lord William Bentinck, governor-general of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli says that the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort. [73]

Another myth suggests that beating the silhouette of the finial will cause water to come forth. To this day, officials find broken bangles surrounding the silhouette. [74]

In 2000, India's Supreme Court dismissed P. N. Oak's petition [75] to declare that a Hindu king built the Taj Mahal. [72] [76] In 2005 a similar petition was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court. This case was brought by Amar Nath Mishra, a social worker and preacher who says that the Taj Mahal was built by the Hindu King Parmal Dev in 1196. Other theories suggest that the Taj Mahal was previously a Hindu Temple and Shah Jahan demolished the Hindu symbols and put Muslim symbols in its place to make it a tomb. The idols of the temple were hidden in a deep vault and locked up. [77]

A theory that the Taj Mahal was designed by an Italian, Geronimo Vereneo, held sway for a brief period after it was first promoted by Henry George Keene in 1879 who went by a translation of a Spanish work Itinerario, (The Travels of Fray Sebastian Manrique, 1629–1643). Another theory that a Frenchman, Austin of Bordeaux designed the Taj was promoted by William Henry Sleeman based on the work of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. These ideas were revived by Father Hosten and discussed again by E.B. Havell and served as the basis for subsequent theories and controversies. [78]

A controversial but less-known theory suggests that the Taj Mahal marked the site of a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva in the form of a lingam. When Shah Jahan arrived at the site upon Mumtaz's death, he demolished the temple and built the Taj Mahal entirely with Muslim symbols. The actual tomb of Mumtaz never contained her body but instead it contained the lingam that was at the temple site and other idols and Hindu symbols of the temple were hidden and locked in a vault under the Taj Mahal. The vault has never been opened and remains locked and closed till date.

Another theory suggests that Mumtaz Mahal's remains were not buried in Agra but in the Ahukhana in Burhanpur. Shah Jahan had shifted base from Delhi due to the recurrent attacks from his enemies. He settled down at the Shahi Quila close to the Tapti River in Burhanpur sometime in the late 1620s. In the 16th century, the Mughals built the Ahukhana as a sprawling garden deer park. It had a small palace where the body of Mumtaz was laid to rest for about six months. Historical records state that Mumtaz Mahal’s mortal remains were kept at the Ahukhana for six months after her demise. Although, in its heydays, the Akhukhana was a vibrant retreat for the royal Mughals, all that remains today is a neglected site overgrown with wild grass. The dead body of Mumtaz Mahal was kept in a garden on the shore of Yamuna River for about 22 years till the completion of Taj Mahal in 1653 A.D. According to the locals of Burhanpur, Shah Jahan chose to build Taj Mahal in Agra for mainly three reasons. First, Burhanpur’s soil was infested with termites, and hence, it would have been impossible for it to hold a magnanimous building for long. Second, the emperor wanted the reflection of Taj Mahal to reflect on the river. Since, the Tapti River of Burhanpur was narrower as compared to the width of the Yamuna River in Agra, Shah Jahan naturally zeroed in on Agra. The third reason was Agra’s proximity to Makrana in Rajasthan from where the white marble was sourced.

As of 2017, several court cases about Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple have been inspired by P. N. Oak's theory. [79] [80] In August 2017, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stated there was no evidence to suggest the monument ever housed a temple. [81] Bharatiya Janata Party's Vinay Katiyar in 2017 claimed that the 17th century monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan after destroying a Hindu temple called "Tejo Mahalaya" and it housed a Shiva linga. This claim had also been made by another BJP member Laxmikant Bajpai in 2014. The BJP government's union minister of culture Mahesh Sharma stated in November 2015 during a session of the parliament, that there was no evidence that it was a temple. The theories about Taj Mahal being a Shiva temple started circulating when Oak released his 1989 book "Taj Mahal: The True Story". He claimed it was built in 1155 AD and not in the 17th century, as stated by the ASI. [82]

A controversy was created in 2017 when the Uttar Pradesh government did not include it in its official tourism booklet "Uttar Pradesh Tourism - Unlimited Possibilities". The chief minister Yogi Adityanath had earlier claimed it does not represent Indian culture. [83] Amidst this controversy, BJP MLA Sangeet Som had claimed that the those who built the Taj Mahal were traitors and it was a "blot" on the country's culture. He claimed it was built by a man who jailed his own father and wished to kill Hindus. BJP MP Anshul Verma supported his comments. AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi, Jammu & Kashmir National Conference leader Omar Abdullah [84] and Azam Khan criticised him. CM Adityanath stated Som's comments were personal and the government will focus on the tourism potential of every monument. [85]

The Taj Mahal Above The Ages

Image Source : Google

Under Aurangzeb’s long rule the Mughal empire reached the height of its power. However, his militant Muslim policies, including the destruction of many Hindu temples and shrines, undermined the enduring vitality of the imperialism and led to its demise by the mid-18th century.

Even as Mughal power decayed, the Taj Mahal experienced from neglect and dilapidation in the two centuries after Shah Jahan’s death. Near the turn of the 19th century, Lord Curzon, then British viceroy of India, ordered a major renovation of the mausoleum complex as part of a colonial effort to protect India’s picturesque and artistic culture.

Taj Mahal History in English with Complete Information

The Taj Mahal is one of the best mausoleums of all times. It is a monument built with ivory-white marble located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. It has made India proud by making a room in the Seven Wonders of the World several times. Millions of tourists are allured by its beauty and glory. The Taj Mahal History has its own interesting story behind its inspiration and construction. For all curious minds, here is a description about the monument. Come, let’s have a walk through the Taj Mahal History in English with most of the details.

In the sixteenth century, the tomb was built by a Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (son of Mughal Emperor Jahangir), for his wife as a tribute to her after her demise. Shah Jahan, at the age of 14, married a Persian princess, Mumtaz Mahal. He had many wives but was intensely in love with Mumtaz and she too returned the same. Mumtaz was known for her mesmerizing beauty and grace. In 1632, unfortunately, after giving birth to their 14th child, a baby girl, (who was later named as Jahanara) Mumtaz Mahal passed away.

The last wish to Shah Jahan was, he would not marry again and would build a palace (Mahal) as an essence of their infinite love. It was the same year when Shah Jahan started building the monument for his beloved wife. Let’s move further in the Taj Mahal History and see what happen next in time.

The construction of The Taj Mahal took many years. Several laborers, masons, artisans, inlayers, painters, stone-cutters and calligraphers were called from not only different parts of the country but also from all over Asia and Iran. Around 22000 laborers worked extremely hard for making this white castle. Most of the white marble was brought from Rajasthan, India. The construction was completed in 1653 as mentioned in the Taj Mahal History. It is said that after the construction Shah Jahan had cut the hands of all the laborers so that they cannot make such a beautiful monument again.

Shah Jahan had for sons, among whom was Auarangzeb. Shah Jahan wanted his eldest son to become his heir but Aurangzeb, in the greed of the thrown, overthrew and imprisoned Shah Jahan and had a conflict with his brothers for the sake of the thrown. Shah Jahan could not bear all this and died in 1666 as per the history records. Then, he was also buried alongside of Mumtaz Mahal under the dome of the palace. Taj Mahal History does not ends here, let see what happen during the British rule in India.

Moving down in the history, in 1908, Viceroy Lord Curzon under restoration project had sent his soldiers to mold out all the precious and semi-precious stones from the walls of Taj Mahal. The gardens you see around the Taj were redesigned in British style during that time, they are not the same as was earlier. Later on in 1941, there was an Indo-Pak war. The Taj was scaffolded with sheets during the war in order to prevent the shine and brightness of it.

Being affected from pollution and acid rain, The Taj Mahal still manages to maintain its whiteness and grace just as it was centuries ago. It has proved to be the best illustration of beauty and elegance and is the symbol of boundless love, The True Love. Here we end the Taj Mahal History in English, let us know if you know anything that can be added here.

Tag: Taj Mahal

Paralyzed with grief and wracked by uncontrollable fits of weeping, Emperor Shah Jahan went into secluded mourning. He emerged a year later with back bent and beard turned white. Then began a 22-year period of design and construction for a mausoleum and funerary garden: a tribute worthy, of his Queen of the World.

The Mughal state was an early modern Empire ruling first over northern India and later, much of South Asia. Founded by military conquest in 1526, the Mughal Emperors ruled for 200 years marking much of the period, before the rise of the Britsh Raj.

Prince Khurram was born on January 5, 1592, the son of Rajput princess Jagat Gosaini and the fourth Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.

Literally born to the throne, the infant prince was taken from his mother at the age of six days by the baby’s grandfather Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor who ordered the baby be raised by his first wife and chief consort, the childless Ruqaiya Sultan Begum.

Khurram was given the education befitting a Mughal prince and enjoyed a close relationship with his surrogate mother.

According to the later memoirs of his father Jahangir, the barren Empress loved his son Khurram, “a thousand times more than if he had been her own [son]”.

Arjumand Banu was the daughter of a wealthy Persian noble and niece to Nur Jahan, the 12th wife of Emperor Jahangir believed by many to be the real power behind the throne. Arjumand and Khurram were betrothed in early 1607 when she was 14 and he, a year older.

In an age of politically arranged marriages, theirs was a love match though the marriage would wait, another five years. Five years was an unusually long engagement for the time but court astrologers had deemed the date propitious, and so it was.

Meanwhile, Khurram ascended to the throne and adopted the regnal name, Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan married the Persian Princess Kandahari Begum with whom he had a daughter, but this was a political marriage. So it was with his other eight wives.

Political relationships with women who themselves enjoyed the status of royal wives but it was his second, Arjumand Banu, with whom the Emperor was inseparable. He called her “Mumtaz Mahal”, Persian for “the chosen one of the Palace”. At the royal court and on military campaign she was his constant companion and advisor. She was his ‘Malika-i-Jahan’ the “Queen of the World”, with whom he fathered 14 children in nineteen years.

It was on campaign on the Deccan Plateau where Mumtaz Mahal went into labor with the couple’s 14th child. The delivery was a terrible trial for the Empress Consort, a 30-hour ordeal resulting in uncontrolled postpartum hemorrhage.

Shah Jahan’s Queen of the World died on June 17, 1631.

Mumtaz Mahal was buried in a walled pleasure garden called the Zainabad. Paralyzed with grief and wracked by uncontrollable fits of weeping the Emperor went into secluded mourning. He emerged a year later with back bent and beard turned white. Then began a twenty-two year period of design and construction for a mausoleum and funerary garden, suitable for the Queen of the World.

That child who would never know her mother grew to be the Princess Jahanara who, at the age of seventeen, began to distribute gemstones to the poor. A plea for divine intervention on behalf of the woman who had died, giving her birth. Meanwhile, a grand edifice to the undying love of an Emperor rose along the southern banks of the river Amuna.

English poet Sir Edwin Arnold described the place as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”

20,000 artisans were employed on the project at a cost equivalent to 70 billion modern rupees, equal to $956 million, today. The ivory marble mausoleum was the centerpiece of a 42 acre complex including a great reflecting pool, a mosque and guest house, all set within a formal garden and surrounded on three sides by crenellated walls.

Years later, Shah Jahan would rejoin the love of his life in her final resting place. A treasure of Islamic art and architecture in India, one of the seven “Modern Wonders of the World” we know, as the Taj Mahal.


Commissioned to be built in the year 1632 by Shah Jahan by his favorite river, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is built around his wife Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb. Spread across 42 acres, the area also has a guest house and mosque as well as formal gardens. The Taj Mahal’s main construction was completed in the year 1643. In the year 1983, UNESCO gave it the designation World Heritage Site. The main architect of this beautiful structure is said to be Ustad Ahmad Lahouri, who is also credited with the design of the famous Red Fort of Delhi.

The height of the dome is 73 meters, and the entire Mahal is made of pristine, white marble. With time, and due to pollution, the colour had started to change. However, restoration work is ongoing, and the maintenance of the structure is given utmost importance. The work, craftsmanship, and artisanry that is visible on the walls of the Taj Mahal are spellbinding.

The Taj Mahal has its share of stories and rumors. One gruesome story that has been passed down over generations is that the hands of the architect and his workers were cut off so that they could never replicate another structure of this kind. While the monument was built for the sake of love, such a gruesome story of cruelty is also associated with it.

All across the mausoleum, semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli, amethyst, turquoise, crystal, etc. were laid in intricate designs. Four slender minarets stand on four sides of the dome, adding to its vastness.

In the year 2000, the famous magician P. C. Sorcar, Jr. made the Taj Mahal vanish briefly. But there is no reason to panic, the Taj is right where it was. One spectacular fact about the Taj is that it changes color depending on the light. It looks pinkish in the morning, milky white in the evening, and golden under the moonlit sky.

After Shah Jahan had built the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife’s tomb, he started building another one across the river. This one was going to be black, and he planned for it to be his final resting place. It is said that his son Aurangzeb had other plans, so the black Taj Mahal was never completed.

Irrespective of the season, the monument is always flocked by visitors. On any given day, at least 12,000 visitors come to see the Taj. Open from 6 am to 7 pm (except on Fridays, for prayers), the Taj Mahal is also open to limited visitors for moonlight viewing on specific days. The three entry gates are at the south, east and west sides, with the gate on the west being the main entrance gate. The iconic entrance gate’s inscription reads ‘O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.’

An Introduction to the Taj Mahal

Catherine B. Asher is a Professor at the Department of Art History, University of Minnesota. She specializes in the history of the Mughals and has authored 'Architecture of Mughal India'.

Fig. 1: Taj Mahal (photo Rachita Jain)

Annually, thousands of Indian and international tourists come to visit this white marble tomb placed in a spectacular garden complex. The Taj is attractive to tourists for various reasons: it is one of the greatest monuments in the world, one of its Seven Wonders, is associated with eternal love and is one of India’s greatest assets. Few, having experienced the tomb and its garden, leave unimpressed, for the dazzling white of the mausoleum’s marble whose color changes subtly as the earth turns, the absolute symmetry of the architectural design, as well as the sheer scale of the massive complex leave most in awe. On a more factual note, this impressive site was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58) after the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1631. Most of the complex was built between 1632 and 1647/8. Although repairs, restorations and even changes, especially in the plantation of the garden, have transpired over the last 350 years, the overall complex remains consistent with Shah Jahan’s original vision.

The Mughals and Shah Jahan
The first Mughal, Babur, traced his lineage from both the Mongol Genghis Khan (d. 1227) and the great Central Asian warlord, Timur (d. 1405), whose 15th century successors produced art and architecture that became the gold standard of artistic creation in the Persian speaking world. Babur defeated the last independent Muslim ruler of north India in 1526. He only ruled for four years but introduced into the subcontinent, the Timurid tradition of ordered and regular gardens, in which the land was divided by water channels and pools. While such gardens, known as charbagh or four part gardens, are usually considered paradises on earth, for Babur and his successors, these gardens had a political meaning, that is, they were considered as visual metaphors for the Mughals’ ability to order and rule a land and people that Babur considered to be chaotic and unruly.

Babur’s son and successor, Humayun, did little to enhance Mughal authority, and for a 15 year period was forced to flee India, able to return in 1555 and reclaim the Mughal throne. Humayun died a year later and was succeeded by his son, Akbar, who ruled for nearly 50 years (1556-1605). Under Akbar’s long reign, the empire was enlarged and consolidated to cover most of the northern subcontinent reaching to the Deccan. Rather than punish Rajput princes and others whose territory Akbar enfolded into the Mughal empire, Akbar included these defeated elite into his own administrative and military system. He ensured loyalty from these newcomers by often marrying their daughters. Further stabilizing the new empire, currency and modes of taxation were standardized. Policies promoting tolerance among India’s various religious communities were adopted. As Akbar’s empire grew, he added forts and palaces across the land as a visual reminder of his ever increasing authority and power. Among his first architectural projects was the tomb he provided for his father, Humayun, which served as an important model for the future Taj Mahal (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Humayun's Tomb, Delhi, west façade (photo Mehreen Chida-Razvi)

Upon Akbar’s death in 1605, his son Jahangir ascended the throne, ruling until his death in 1627. The empire he inherited was strong, stable and wealthy, and Jahangir made few significant changes to policies and practices established by Akbar. Jahangir continued to build, although he is better known for his passion for painted albums and manuscripts as well as for his careful observations of nature. Military campaigns were not undertaken by the emperor but rather by his highly competent son, Khurram, the future Shah Jahan. Prince Khurram was the favored heir, until the early 1620s when Jahangir’s powerful wife, Nur Jahan, began to promote another of Jahangir’s sons to be next in line for the throne. Khurram rebelled and established a counter-court but within a year after Jahangir’s death, this prince proclaimed himself emperor, assuming a title that his father had given him after a successful military campaign, Shah Jahan, ‘King of the World’.

Shah Jahan ruled for 30 years, continuously promoting himself as a semi-divine ruler who was fully cognizant of the value of the visual to achieve these ends (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Shah Jahan on a globe

Both his portraiture, which often depicted him literally as King of the World as he stands on a globe, and his highly symbolic architecture were intended to showcase him as belonging to a lineage of great rulers. Shah Jahan likened himself to the just king Solomon, something his Ottoman predecessor had done some 100 years earlier. The impression is of an aloof, perhaps even arrogant ruler, but historical sources indicate a more human side of this Mughal emperor.

Prince Khurram married Arjumand Banu Begum, later to bear the title of Mumtaz Mahal, in 1612 after a five year engagement, and she became his constant companion, even accompanying him on all his military campaigns until her death in 1631. Women had long had a major role in the outcome of Mughal politics. For example, Akbar often sought the council of his mother, but as we have in this case of Akbar’s mother, it was more often the council of senior female elites that could make or break relationships. Jahangir’s powerful wife, Nur Jahan, was a notable exception, for she was in many ways the de facto ruler, not a behind-the-scene Queen Mother, as her aging husband’s health deteriorated. Similarly, Mumtaz Mahal, a niece of Nur Jahan, had great influence over her husband, although we do not know specific examples. Chronicles reveal that although Shah Jahan had two other wives, Mumtaz Mahal remained his soulmate throughout their 19 year marriage. During this time Mumtaz Mahal gave birth to 14 children, half of whom survived. But shortly after delivering her last child, she became extremely weak, called for her husband and died. The devastated emperor went into mourning, not interacting with his court for a good week and then, for the next two years, continuously grieved. In the meantime the queen was buried temporarily in a garden in Burhanpur, the city in the Deccan where she had died six months later her body was interred and moved to Agra at a site chosen for her mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, which was the result of an exchange of land from a high-ranking noble. Shah Jahan long outlived his wife, dying in 1666. The last eight years of his life, however, were not spent as an active emperor, but rather by 1658 he had been deposed by one of his sons, Aurangzeb. He was imprisoned in his Agra fort, overlooking the Taj Mahal, whereupon his death he was interred next to Mumtaz Mahal.

The Tradition of Mughal Funereal Architecture
Following the Timurid tradition the Mughals were great patrons of the arts including painting, architecture and luxury arts such as jade carving, textile production, jewelry, metal objects, military paraphernalia and more. The other contemporary Muslim dynasties of this time, the Ottomans of Turkey and the Safavids of Iran also engaged in similar production and consumption to prove their elite status. But the Mughals, more than any other Islamic house, engaged in the construction of tombs, particularly during the late 16th, through 17th centuries, a timeframe that is roughly concurrent with the construction of the Taj Mahal. Tomb construction had been practiced in the subcontinent at least as early as the 10th century in what is today Pakistan, where Muslims had assumed political authority in the eighth century. Once Muslim rulers established themselves in central north India by the beginning of the 13th century, mausolea were built for rulers and their elite. Since the Mughals controlled a vast amount of territory, increasing numbers of elite were required for the military and administration, but all the same why are there so many extant Mughal tombs? Ebba Koch has suggested that tomb construction may essentially be a form of estate planning. That is, tombs in Mughal India, always set in gardens, were exempt from the customary requirement that land must revert to the state upon the landholder’s death. While many tombs intended for the elite survive, it is the imperial Mughal mausolea that attract the most attention.

The first major Mughal imperial tomb complex was the one provided by Akbar for his father, Humayun, in Delhi close to the shrine of an important Muslim saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, and the then Mughal fort today known as the Purana Qila (Fig. 2). Humayun’s tomb was completed in 1571 and designed by a father-son team from Bukhara trained in both structural and landscape architecture. This large domed structure is a Baghdadi octagon, that is, an octagon with four alternating long and short sides. It sits on a high plinth in the middle of a charbagh garden. In overall scale, design and garden plan, the structure belongs to the Timurid tradition. The interior too, consisting of a central chamber surrounded by eight smaller rooms in a plan known as hasht bihisht or eight paradise is also Timurid in inspiration. The use of red sandstone as the structure’s veneer, detailed with white marble trim is part of a long standing tradition in north Indian architecture, particularly in buildings associated with Muslim patrons. Placing the tomb in a garden setting is probably a Mughal innovation. The garden can be read on two levels, one as an earthly paradise and the other as a symbol of political control as introduced by Babur. Following Timurid tradition, Humayun’s tomb was probably designed as a Mughal dynastic tomb although no other emperor was buried there, a number of royal elite later were interred in Humayun’s tomb.

When Akbar died in 1605, Jahangir commenced his tomb complex on the outskirts of Agra, today known as Sikandra, but then called Bihishtabad, meaning the ‘Abode of Paradise’ (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Akbar's tomb at Sikandara (photo Rachita Jain)

Like Humayun’s tomb and later the Taj Mahal, Akbar’s tomb is also set in a walled garden complex with waterways that divide the complex into four main units. The tomb, though, as well as the tomb later built for Jahangir in Lahore, has no dome, but its upper terrace is left open, to conform to a passage in the tomb’s inscription: ‘May [Akbar’s] soul shine like the rays of the sun and the moon in the light of God’. An element in common with the Taj Mahal is the accessible underground crypt where the royal deceased are interred, for in the Muslim tradition the dead are to be buried six feet beneath the ground. The cenotaphs marking other floors would mirror the actual ones below ground. All imperial Mughal tombs have elaborate entrance gates, and Akbar’s tomb is no exception. Two features of its gate reappear at the Taj Mahal. One feature is the four white marble minarets that mark the corners of the entrance at both Jahangir’s tomb and the Taj Mahal, similar minarets will be placed not on the entrance, but at each corner of the plinth. A second feature is the long inscription which embellishes both sides of the gate. This is a Persian poem especially written for this monument and designed by the calligrapher ‘Abd al-Haqq Shirizi, who was honored with the title Amanat Khan. The poem praises the deceased emperor, Akbar, and the patron, Jahangir, but ends with verses inviting the visitor to enter the gardens of paradise. While imperial Mughal gardens, especially those associated with tombs, are generally associated with visions of paradise, this poem on the complex’s entrance gate makes this reference clear.

Paradise, in Islam, is the reward for the true believer on the Day of Judgment. Sufis, mystically inclined holy men, were believed to be among those to surely find a place in paradise. The tombs of important Sufi saints, most notably the tombs of the Chishti saints, Moinuddin in Ajmer and Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, were made of white marble and had associations with sanctity and purity. Over time structures predominately made of white marble were made for the use of the emperor and his immediate family, but not for others. Jahangir’s queen Nur Jahan constructed a white marble tomb that was richly inlaid with multi-colored stones for her mother who died in 1621 and her father who died shortly afterward. Nur Jahan’s father was Shah Jahan’s finance minister and very close to Jahangir, but not of royal blood. Thus the tomb’s appearance as pure white marble from a distance that changes to one of multiple colors as one comes nearer is probably a reflection of the mother’s and father’s elite but not royal status. Although the tomb was built for husband and wife, it is known as the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daula, after the father’s official title. The tomb, completed in 1626-8, like other imperial Mughal mausolea, sits in the center of a walled charbagh and its ground floor adheres to the hasht bihisht plan. The second story, consisting of a central chamber enclosed with exquisitely carved screens, is capped by a truncated pyramidal vault. Each corner of the plinth is marked by a short minaret. While the complex is smaller than any tomb intended for an emperor, its inlaid décor gives the structure an unprecedented elegance. Not surprisingly, floral and geometric designs are found, but more innovative are the images of cypress trees, fruit and slender necked vessels for nectar inlaid into the white marble surface. This imagery, drawn from classical Persian poetry and the Quran, is intended to place the complex in a paradisiacal setting.

The Taj Mahal
The white marble domed structure that best represents the Mughal fascination with the imagery of paradise in a funereal setting is the Taj Mahal. While today the Taj Mahal and its garden complex appear to sit alone along Agra’s Yamuna riverfront, in fact it was one of many—admittedly the largest—of garden complexes built by Mughal elite that lined the river’s banks. The Taj complex though was the only one that spanned both sides of the river. On the south side was the mausoleum and its garden, while across from it was the Mahtab/Mehtab Bagh, Moonlight Garden, with its reflecting pool.

Fig. 5: Site plan of the Taj complex by Ebba Koch

Most visitors to the Taj Mahal think of the marble tomb and its garden as the complex, but there is much more, for this massive complex was almost a city within the city of Agra, then the Mughal capital and known officially as Akbarabad (Figs. 5, 6 and 7 from Ebba Koch).

Fig. 6: The first plan of the Taj by Thomas and William Daniell (courtesy Ebba Koch)

Fig. 7: The first plan of the Taj complex by Thomas and William Daniell (courtesy Ebba Koch)

We can roughly divide the complex into four areas: an area for four main markets known today as Taj Ganj, the forecourt into the tomb’s main garden the tomb and other buildings in the main garden, and the Mahtab Bagh across the river. Taj Ganj held at each of its four corners, large enclosed markets with multiple shops whose goods were praised by Persian panegyrists and near contemporary European travelers. While the gates of Taj Ganj still survive, much of the original construction has been replaced or remodeled to serve the needs of backpackers and locals. The forecourt is a spacious area before the entrance into the tomb‘s garden with a double row of shops radiating from the east and west entrances, the income of which helped maintain the complex. Two corners of the forecourt hold small uninscribed tombs, while the other two corners served as residential quarters for the complex’s attendants.

The dominant feature of the forecourt is the stunning entrance gate located in the center of the north wall that leads to the main garden complex (Figs. 8a and 8b).

Fig. 8a: The Darwaza-i-Rauza ('great gate', photo Rachita Jain)

Fig. 8b: The Darwaza-i-Rauza (photo Rachita Jain)

Fig. 9: Entrance to Akbar's tomb at Sikandara

This large arched gate, faced with red sandstone, recalls the entrance to Akbar’s tomb (Fig. 9), but chattris (small domed kiosks) mark each corner not the minarets found on Akbar’s tomb. The entrance gates to both Akbar’s tomb and the Taj Mahal bear inscriptions designed by the same calligrapher, Amanat Khan. While those on Akbar’s tomb were in Persian, the inscriptions on the Taj Mahal’s entrance gate are drawn from the Quran and are thus in Arabic. The theme of each is similar, for they invite the believer to enter paradise.

Passing through the entrance gate the white marble mausoleum set at the end of this first garden dominates the skyline. Between the entrance and the tomb is the long rectangular garden divided into four quadrants by wide waterways that meet at a central pool that contemporary texts equate with al-Kausar, a Quranic chapter which likens God’s generosity to a pool of abundance. Known in contemporary texts as the ‘paradise like garden’, its name matches the invitation inscribed on the entrance gate. Although we do not know exactly how this garden was planted, it is likely that flowers such as marigolds, roses and poppies, fruit and shade trees including cypress, associated with the beloved in Persian poetry, graced this one.

The tomb is placed centrally on a high plinth at the garden’s end overlooking the river. To keep the plinth and its components from sliding into the river, wells were sunk into the ground and then filled with stone and iron. At the plinth’s west end is a large mosque faced with red sandstone and white marble trim surmounted by three marble faced domes. It is still used by Agra’s Muslim community today for Friday congregational prayer. On the east is a building identical in appearance, providing symmetry and balance. At each corner of the plinth, connected to the mosque and its counterpart, are red sandstone towers. Although not accessible to the public today, the north towers would have provided good river views, while others contained a well, latrines and other rooms.

The centrally placed tomb sits on a marble platform atop the riverfront plinth. Each of the corners is marked by a tall slender minaret. The tomb, like Humayun’s tomb, is a Baghdadi octagon, and its interior is a more sophisticated version of the hasht bihisht plan used at Humayun’s tomb.

Four types of decoration dominate the mausoleum: the white marble facing procured from the quarries at Makrana about 365 kilometers away the bands of inscriptions embellishing the exterior and interior the carved floral motifs on both the tomb’s interior and exterior dado and the pietra dura inlay on the imperial cenotaphs and their surrounding screen. Marble as the main facing material, not just for decorative motifs, as noted earlier, was associated with the tombs of saints and over time with royalty moreover, marble absorbs light and changes color with each change of the day and since, in the Muslim tradition God’s presence is often associated with light, the tomb takes on spiritual overtones (Fig. 10).

Fig.10: The Taj Mahal from the south (photo Rachita Jain)

Underscoring the spiritual are the 25 Quranic inscriptions that appear on the complex. These further develop the theme of paradise as promised for the faithful on the Day of Judgment expressed on the great entrance. Amanat Khan had crafted the text so that all the letters look to the viewer as if they are the same size but, in fact, he has rendered those portions distant from the ground in a larger format. Not only would the inscriptions be seen, but also, in the 17th century, the melodic chanting of the tomb’s Quranic readers would reverberate throughout the tomb as they prayed for the deceased queen’s soul.

In addition to inscriptions addressing paradise, are floral motifs rendered in marble along the interior and exterior lower wall. These flowers had a political meaning as well, for Mughal chroniclers and poets used floral imagery and metaphors to refer to members of the royal family, calling Shah Jahan himself, ‘the spring of the flower garden of justice and generosity’. These floral patterns are carved in highly naturalistic way, only upon careful reflection is it apparent that the leaves and flowers do not belong to any living plant. Rather these are flora that could only exist in God’s realm, that is, paradise. Similar floral motifs are found on the two imperial cenotaphs placed centrally on the main interior chamber. These are not carved in high relief, but are made of semi-precious stones, predominately red in color, inlaid into the marble. The cenotaphs are surrounded by an octagonal marble screen also inlaid with similar colored stones, replacing the original enameled gold one, as during his lifetime Shah Jahan was worried the gold would attract looters (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11: Tomb chamber and inlaid marble screen surrounding the cenotaphs

The Mahtab Bagh is placed directly opposite the Taj Mahal on the river’s north bank (Fig. 12)

Fig. 12: The Mahtab Bagh as viewed from the Taj Mahal

The garden with its large reflecting pool was known from Mughal times, but silting caused by continuous flooding covered the pool and it was essentially forgotten. Instead a fictitious account of a second Taj Mahal, this one to have been built in black stone, that was first mentioned by a late 17th century European merchant, spread like wildfire and was perpetuated over time. Excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India in the 1990s unearthed the original Mughal garden squashing the myth of the black Taj.

The tomb complex was commenced six months after the queen’s death and by June 1632, the first anniversary of her death, known as ‘urs, that is, the marriage of her soul with God, was commemorated in solemn ceremonies involving prayer and the distribution of largess to the needy. Court historians used the occasion of the annual ‘urs to indicate progress towards the complex’s completion. Europeans too wrote about the stages of construction, although it appears their observations were made from a distance, not the result of having examined the site first-hand.

Today the Taj Mahal complex is a world heritage tourist site. Anyone who can afford the entrance fee can visit the site. However this was not the case during Mughal times. Only those close to the royal family had access to the tomb garden. While many may have arrived on roads, Shah Jahan preferred to visit the tomb on a boat and would enter the complex via water gates, now closed, on the great plinth. Few Europeans prior to the 18th century set foot in the complex. An exception was Francois Bernier, a French physician who had access to the royal family later in the 17th century, who was allowed to enter the Taj’s grounds, although he was denied access to the tomb itself on the grounds that he was not a Muslim.

When Shah Jahan died in 1666 after being imprisoned by his son and successor, Aurangzeb, for eight years, he was buried in the Taj Mahal next to his wife. The question is: was this always his intention? Texts are silent on this issue, but one of the Taj Mahal’s official names, Rauza-i-Munavvara, ‘the Illumined Tomb’, an epithet shared with the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb in Medina, suggests that Shah Jahan always intended the Taj Mahal to be his tomb as well. He wished history to remember him, like the Prophet Muhammad, to conform to the Islamic theological concept of a Perfect Man. It would seem unlikely that the queen’s tomb would have been given the same name as the Prophet’s tomb, since he was a man, unless Shah Jahan saw it as his final resting place as well.

No aspect of this complex was left to chance. Every measurement was carefully recorded in historical chronicles, and clearly the tomb and garden complex were designed by someone with an extraordinary vision. We know from contemporary texts the names of a number of architects who were engaged in the construction of Shah Jahan’s numerous building projects, many of them built concurrently with the Taj Mahal, but these same chronicles are silent on the architect of the Taj Mahal. Only the calligrapher, Amanat Khan, is named. Clearly architects and engineers worked on the massive complex, but by leaving these players anonymous, it is the patron, Shah Jahan, whose role is highlighted.

These 5 interesting facts about the Taj Mahal show the love and care that's gone into this complex.

Portrait of Mumtaz Mahal. c. 17th – 18th century (Photo: Public domain via Wikipedia)

It was Built Out of Love

Shah Jahan constructed the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. She was his third wife, even though they were actually betrothed when he was 15 and she was 14. They had to wait five years to get married, thanks to a lucky date picked by court astrologers. In the interim, Shah Jahan married another woman. He would also take a third wife after their marriage. However, these were mainly for political reasons and Mumtaz Mahal would remain his chief consort once they were married.

Their long marriage produced 14 children and court observers went to great lengths to write about their devotion to one another. Mumtaz was also a close confidant and political advisor. She would even review official court documents before their final drafts.

Unfortunately, Mumtaz would die at 38 years of age after a postpartum hemorrhage. It&rsquos said that the emperor was devastated by this loss. Originally her body was placed elsewhere but was later laid to rest in the Taj Mahal once it was complete.

It Took an Army to Create It

As the Taj Mahal needed to be befitting of Mumtaz Mahal&rsquos presence, every detail was meticulously executed. About 22,000 laborers worked on every aspect of the Taj Mahal. This included excavating and leveling the three acres of lands it&rsquos built upon, as well as the construction of the elaborate brick scaffolding used for the project. Legend has it that the Shah successfully had the scaffolding dismantled overnight by telling local peasants that they could keep any of the bricks they took from it.

Beyond that, the design called for thousands of painters, embroidery artists, and stonecutters who could execute the intricate work. Over 1,000 elephants were used to bring in building materials, which were then transported by oxen up a nine-mile earth ramp created for the project. Special pulleys would then help raise the stone blocks into position.

All of this attention to detail and project planning paid off, as the tomb took about 12 years to finish. The rest of the buildings at the complex would be completed after an additional 10 years.

Photo: Stock Photos from Mikhail Varentsov/Shutterstock

It Was Expensive

Given the manpower needed to make the Taj Mahal come to life, there&rsquos no doubt the project was expensive. Luxurious materials were brought in from across Asia and India. This included vast quantities of white marble brought in from Makrana, as well as 28 varieties of precious and semi-precious stones that were laid into the marble. Jade from China, turquoise from Tibet, sapphire from Sri Lanka, and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan are just some of the stones incorporated into the Taj Mahal. Another instance of opulence can be found on the dome. Originally, the finial topping the mausoleum's dome was made from gold (it's since been replaced with bronze).

By the time it was completely finished in 1653, the estimated cost at the time was 32 million rupees. In 2020, that converts to about 70 billion rupees ($916 million).

Photo: Stock Photos from Uladzik Kryhin/Shutterstock

Symmetry is Key

The Taj Mahal is a perfectly symmetrical building. As is typical of architecture created under Shah Jahan, the complex is organized on bilateral symmetry that runs along a central axis.

The Taj Mahal expresses the concepts of architecture under Shah Jahan&rsquos rule thanks to its balanced and symmetrical plan. The mausoleum, with its white marble, is the central feature of the complex and is flanked by two red sandstone structures&mdashthe mosque and the guest house.

By having the mausoleum be the only all-white building in the complex, an architectural hierarchy is established. The more white found in a building, the more important that particular structure was.

Special Laws Have Protected It

Given its importance, it should come as no surprise that India&rsquos government is fiercely protective of the Taj Mahal. Throughout history, it&rsquos taken special measures to ensure its safety from manmade and natural threats.

Both during World War II and the India-Pakistan wars, special scaffolding was erected to disguise the building and protect it from air attacks.

To help guard against environmental pollution, which was turning the Taj Mahal from white to yellow-brown, a 4,000 square mile area known as the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) was set up. The area has strict emissions standards and a 1996 ruling by the Supreme Court of India banned the use of coal in industries located within the TTZ. These companies were either asked to switch over to natural gas or relocate out of the protected area.

Photo: Stock Photos from Roop_Dey/Shutterstock

It&rsquos a Wonder of the World

The Taj Mahal is one of the most beloved monuments in history. In fact, in recent years the number of visitors to the Taj Mahal has reached upwards of eight million tourists annually.

So, it should come as no surprise that when an organization put together a list of the New 7 Wonders of the World, which was intended to replace the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal had to have a slot. The public poll to create the list garnered over 600 million votes, and when the winners were announced in 2007, the Taj Mahal joined other marvels like the Great Wall of China, Petra, and Machu Picchu as a New Wonder.

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