Located in the Indian state of Agra, on the banks of River Yamuna, Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It is one of the frequently photographed and instantly recognized buildings on earth. This shining jewel of Islamic art and architecture is a mausoleum that was constructed by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in reminiscence of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1983. Taj Mahal was constructed between 1632 and 1653, employing several thousands of workers. Its principle architects were Ustad Ahmed Lahauri, Makramat Khan and Abd-ul-Karim.
The Taj Mahal Story
Shah Jahan, one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal dynasty, was grief-stricken after his wife Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their fourteenth baby, Guahara Begum. The inspiration for the structure came from Mughal and Timurid buildings like the tomb of Humayun, Ilmad-Ud-Daulah, Timur and Jama Masjid. However, while the Mughal structures were generally built in red sandstone, Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal with white marble and semi-precious stones, which added to the architectural beauty and uniqueness of the structure.
This white marble structure is regarded as the finest specimen of Mughal architecture, a style that fuses Islamic, Indian, Persian, Turkish and Ottoman styles of architecture. The tomb is only a part of the complex, which comprises of other buildings, pools, gardens and gift shops as well.
The wonderful structure stands on a square platform with the minarets extended beyond the corners of the base. On the southern side of the base there is a lateral flight of staircases that take you to the top of the base. The architecture of Taj Mahal shows a superb balance of composition, with the octagonal chamber right in the middle, embraced by four corner rooms and portal halls. A replica of the plan is seen in the upper floor.
The tomb is square with chamfered corners. The double storied chamber of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in perfect octagonal shapes. Superb craftsmanship can be seen in the dainty octagonal lattice screen that surrounds the cenotaphs. The inlay design is also rich and polished. Precious stones adorn the borders and of the frames. The stones have been used to make beautiful motifs.
Inlaid flower plant motifs beautify Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph, situated perfectly at the centre of the tomb chamber. The shades and hues of the stones make the flowers appear to be real and full of life. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph that is placed beside that of Mumtaz Mahal, is greater than the former.
There are some interesting apocryphal tales that surround this great structure. Firstly, Shah Jahan wanted to make a replica of the Taj on the other side of Yamuna, but with black marble. This plan was however spoiled by his son Aurungzeb. Secondly, it is believed that Shah Jahan severed the thumbs of all the workers who built the Taj Mahal, so that they cannot produce a second Taj.
The sight of the Taj Mahal becomes doubly charming during a moonlit night, with its reflection on the pool before it.