The Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage." The Taj! An awe-inspiring poetry in marble stands high and serene by the banks of the River Yamuna is an inspiring result of the application of architectural and scientific research.
The Taj Mahal a marvel on marble was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in commemoration of his favourite wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan married Arjumand Bano Begum (Mumtaz Mahal), granddaughter of Itimad-Ud-Daula, the Wazir (Prime Minister) of Emperor Jahangir in 1612 AD. Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 A.D. at the birth of her 14th child. The grief stricken emperor made all efforts in building the tomb in her memory, which is universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful creations on earth.
Artisans were requisitioned from all over the empire including Central Asia and Iran. 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 in 17 years.
It is believed that Ustad Ahmad Lahori was the chief of the project while Ustad Isa 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 tomb laid out in rectangular shape can be approached through an immense gateway with huge arch and alcoves strewn on either side that stands tall and erect, as though guarding something precious. Three other smaller gateways follow the red sandstone towers topped with domes in white marble together make a pretty picture.
The Taj is an experience of its own kind, while on the one hand its magnanimity is so sublime, so on the other the exquisite inlay work and detailed craftsmanship together with the calligraphy is simply amazing. The combination simply leaves one absolutely mesmerized. The sheer splendour of the mausoleum is consummate, and the vastness is simply monumental.
The tomb is at the northern end with an expanse of greenery and fountains between it and the gateways. The ceiling is adorned with floral patterns and the décor of floors with geometric designs. The inner of the main structure is in lakhauri [a kind of earthen brick], which have been carefully covered with marble, whereas the adjoining structures are covered with red sandstone.
Majestic and sensuous, glistening brightly in the afternoon sun, the bulbous dome and minarets with a slight inward tilt, have all been inscribed meticulously with the Holy Verses bringing forth the arabesque ornamentation. The white marble from Makrana in Rajasthan has added its own natural beauty to this mausoleum that attracts tourists from all over the world.
As one goes around, the most breathtaking part remains the exquisite inlay work that looks up from every nook and corner of the façade. The blooms are worked out in immense detail and every dot and alphabet of the Holy Quran is neatly etched, cut and inlaid to perfection. The flowers, chiefly lilies mirror the Mughal love for gardens. One particular flower on the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal is said to have been inlaid with 35 different precious stones. The central hall is surrounded by eight rooms that have a corridor running through them. The aura of serenity is all pervading, while translucent glass separates them to let-in the dim sunlight, making the interiors look solemn and intriguing. Indeed a masterpiece that none would ever be able to replicate including the orginal craftsmen, artisans and designers themselves.
The cenotaph over Shah Jahan’s tomb has an inkwell, while that of Mumtaz Mahal a slate over it, as it is said a man writes his desires on the woman’s heart. The epitaphs in addition to regular pronouncements about the individual have verses from the Holy Quran. The exquisite craftsmanship marks the marble lattice screens, which are elaborately worked out in oriental design enclose the cenotaphs. The tombs lie below the cenotaphs in a basement, undisturbed and in absolute quiet environs. What we do not see now are the bowls full of jewels on Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb, the Persian carpets on the floor and the silver doorways and overhanging chandeliers that once made up the inner décor.
Coming out of prevailing solemnity in the environ, one gets speechless with awe at the grandeur of the bygone era, enticing particularly the panels with lilies and tulips together with iris flowers that symbolise death. The Makrana marble will perhaps never again be handled; with so much grace and care and such elegance of balancing the ornamentation on it. The beauty and splendour of elegant craftsmanship that makes up the inlay work and calligraphy in fact, further accentuates the deathly calm of the mausoleum and in the quietude, it is the softly filtering rays of the sun through the lattice work on marble panels that strikes one as unusually ethereal in nature.
Outside one would have to crane one’s neck to look up at the apex of the dome, high and mighty agains the skyline. Secluded and singular in majesty, the structure stands clearly apart from everything around it. The balance of all the elements, the garden, the fountain and water channel and in the end the gateway, all look exquisitely managed to provide maximum harmony in terms of visual appeal. The sheer beauty of the outside of a monument marks the serenity within.
The Taj Mahal, for which not only the course of river Yamuna is said to have been diverted but as per interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Yamuna was incorporated into the garden design for the belief that its one of the rivers of Paradise.
The moods of the Taj vary from dawn to dusk. It looks milky white in the soft light that characterizes early morning, while the afternoon sun makes it glisten bright and dazzling in the overhead sunlight, almost looking like a jewel against the opaque blue of the skyline and then comes a moonlit Taj breaking into the night sky, majestic and simply beautiful in a sense that cannot be put into words. The sensuous appeal can never be more heightened as on a full moon night when it shines like a pearl making the visitor stand agape at the spectacle. The romanticism and sheer majesty of the structure is unbelievably true! No wonder if millions of people chose it amongst the World’s top wonders.
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 garden should represent paradise on earth. It is a unique man made manifestation of the glorious Mughal age and a wonder of the world.
After his death in 1666 A.D., Shah Jahan was also buried beside his beloved wife in the Taj Mahal. Every year thousands of tourists from across the world make a beeline for this breathtakingly ethereal marble monument. It is considered the most beautiful building ever constructed.
Its name is believed to have been drawn from Persian: ‘taj’ meaning crown and ‘mahal’ meaning palace, thus making this the ‘palace of the crown’. Interestingly, the queen in whose memory it was built, originally named Arjumand Begum, held the name ‘Mumtaz Mahal’, meaning ‘the crown of the palace’.
The Taj Mahal is known as a monument of love and a grieving emperor’s ode to his beloved deceased queen. Another legend considers the Taj as an embodiment of Shah Jahan’s vision of kingship.
The story goes that he sought to build something akin to heaven on earth, a spectacular and unbelievably beautiful monument that reinforced the power, as well as the perceived divinity of the monarch, as next only to the Almighty. The romanticism and sheer majesty of the structure is unbelievably true! No wonder if millions of people chose it amongst the World’s top wonders.
(The author is a regular columnist and can be mailed at email@example.com)