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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Taj Mahal located in Agra, India is one of the most enchanting buildings that man has ever created. Its appeal is enhanced because it is a mausoleum built by the Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan , in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal . It was the Emperor’s way of unabashedly telling the world of his eternal love for his deceased Maharani (Empress).
The white marble structure, inlaid with jasper, jade, sapphire, lapis lazuli , carnelian lay among 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones, and black marble for calligraphy, delicately combines Persian, Ottoman, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles in perfect geometric proportions. The Taj Mahal was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Mumtaz MahalMumtaj Mahal, born Arjumand Banu Begum, a Persian princess, was the niece of Nur Jahan , Emperor Jehangir ’s Queen, and Shah Jahan’s step mother. She was betrothed with Shah Jahan, then known as Prince Khurram, at the young age of 14, and married him five years later to be his third wife. The Emperor, 20 years of age at the time, was so smitten by Arjuman Banu Begum, not only because of her beauty but her grasp of state affairs that she became his chief consort. He named her Mumtaz Mahal. She had fourteen children and died while giving birth to the fourteenth child, a girl, at the age of 38.
She accompanied Shah Jahan on his various campaigns despite her frequent pregnancies and died in Burhanpur , while Shah Jahan was on a campaign in the Deccan, more than 800 kilometers away from home. Her body was buried close by on the banks of the Tapti River in the Zainabad Garden. It was shifted to Agra six months later. After her death, Shah Jahan was inconsolable and went into seclusion for a year.
Construction and architectureThe construction of the mausoleum began in 1632 and was completed in 1653. The panel of architects was led by Ustad Ahmed Lahauri, who was also one of the architects of the Red Fort in Delhi, and included Makramat Khan and Abdu l-Karim Ma’mur Khan. Located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River, it took 20,000 craftsmen and artisans 21 years to complete the complex. Instead of bamboo scaffolding, the scaffolding for the Taj Mahal was built with bricks. The structure was so large, it was estimated that dismantling it would take several months. The Emperor had a solution. He declared that anybody who took bricks from the scaffolding could keep them. It disappeared in days.
The architectural wonder that is the Taj Mahal, is built on a spread of 177,055 square meters, or 43 acres of land on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, fenced on three sides by walls of red sand stone with the river side open. The land belonged to the Kachwahas of Rajastan. Shah Jahan acquired the land in exchange of four havelis (grand mansions, just short of being a palace). The design of the monument was inspired by several Mughul buildings and monuments built before. Among them are Gur-e-Amir (Timur’s Tomb), Humayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulat’s Tomb, and Shah Jahan’s Jama Masjid. In a deviation from the Moghul preference for red stone, Shah Jahan opted for white marble inlaid with precious stones.
Beyond the imposing darwaz (the main gate) of the compound, is the charbagh (four gardens, symbolizing the four flowing rivers of paradise) divided by raised pathways. Half way between the gate and the tomb, is a raised water pool made of marble in which one can see a reflection of the mausoleum. Unlike most other Moghul constructions, which feature the main structure in the center of the charbagh, the Taj Mahal is almost at the end of the sprawling 9,000 meter garden. There are avenues of trees and fountains in other parts of the garden.
On either side of the tomb, facing it, are two buildings built in red sandstone with the same attention to detail as the monument. The one on the west is a mosque and the other is called the Jawab, believed to have been used as a guest house. Both buildings reflect the design of other buildings, built by Shah Jahan, like the Jama Masjid.
The MonumentThe monument, which is the cynosure, is built on a raised platform of multi-chambered cubes. The platform is a square of about 55 meters, chambered at the corners to form an irregular octagon. With a huge pishtaq (vaulted archways) on each side leading into iwans (rectangular halls), the plinth is completely symmetrical on all sides. Four minarets, one on each corner and 40 meters tall, were used by muezzin (announcers) to call the faithful to prayer. Two balconies that ring the minarets, divide them into three equal parts. The balcony on the top of each minaret is sheltered by a chatri (dome shaped umbrella) with guldastas mounted on lotus buds on the top.
The minarets are built tilting slightly outwards. Some argue that they are constructed that way to prevent them falling on the tomb if they collapse. Others opine that they are tilted to account for the perspective, so that a person looking at them from the ground level will see them as perfectly straight. The progressive increasing size of the calligraphy on the pishtaq with the height, supports the latter theory.
As one approaches the Taj Mahal, the most striking feature of the monument is the dome on the top of the monument, mounted on a cylindrical base that is 7 meters high. It is onion shaped with a height that is equal to its base at 35 meters. Four smaller chatris of similar shape are located at the four corners of the roof. The domes are topped with decorative guldastas mounted on lotus bud motifs, just like those on the minarets. The building, like the plinth, is an irregular octagon with double storied pishtaq arches on each of the longer sides, flanked with smaller arches on each floor. The shorter sides have only the two smaller pishtaqs, one on each floor.
External decorationsPaint, carvings, stone inlays, and stucco are used to decorate the outside walls of the Taj Mahal and are exquisite in detail. The calligraphy is in tuluth script and is mostly inlayed black stone or jasper on panels and is mostly passages from the Quran. The higher the panels are, the larger the calligraphy, which appears to the reader on the ground to be of uniform size.
Geometric forms and abstract forms are used for the decoration of the walls including those of the outbuildings. The walls of mosque and the jawab, which are built of red sandstone, are decorated with incised paintings and tracery. Tiles and blocks installed in tessellation patterns with contrasting tiles are used on the floors and the walkways.
Jasper, jade, and yellow marble are inlaid on the base of the tomb walls, and the marble is polished so that the inlays are flush with the wall. Marble dados sculpted with bas relief depictions of vines and flowers, and pietra dura inlays are extensively used to decorate the archway spandrels.
Internal DecorationsInside the chamber of the monument is an octagon allowing entry from each side. 25 meter high walls are topped by a false dome with a sun motif. Similar to the outside, pishtaqs define the floors on the inside. Above the four pishtaqs on the longer sides are balconies, with intricately cut screens (jalis) of marble, are mounted on the windows to allow the light to filter in. Dado bas-reliefs and twining vines, fruits and flowers, inlaid with masterful craftsmanship of miniature designs, decorate the walls of each chamber. Precious and semiprecious gemstones are used extensively in the lapidary works. The cenotaphs are bordered by eight intricately pierce worked marble panels that form an octagon.
According to Islamic traditions, which forbid decoration of graves, the bodies of the two royals, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz are placed in side crypts, one floor below their cenotaphs, with their faces turned towards Mecca. The crypt containing Mumtaz’s body is smaller in size and is located in the exact center of the chamber, with a a rectangle on the lid of the casket that resembles a writing tablet. Shah Jahan’s crypt is larger and is placed to the west of the crypt of his queen. There is a sculpture of a pen box on the lid of the casket. The offset location of Shah Jahan’s casket is probably the only deviation in the symmetry that the whole monument is constructed in.
For the visitorHundreds of thousands of people visit the Taj Mahal every year. With the Independence Day of India, the 15th of August, 2014, being a Friday, and Gokul Ashtami (birthday of Lord Krishna) the following Monday, many Indians have a four day week end. Although 48,000 entry tickets were sold, considering the fact that children below the age of fifteen are let in free, and that a large number of visitors decide not to go because of parking issues and long queues, it is estimated that more than 150,000 visitors were in Agra on Sunday, the 17th of August.
Located slightly more than 200 kilometers away from Delhi, The Taj Mahal in Agra, can be reached in about 3 hours of driving. The city is also well connected by road and rail to the other major cities in India. Most roads into Agra are well maintained highways. Agra does have an airport with limited facilities. Budget as well as high end accommodation is available in Agra. Other places of interest in Agra are Agra Fort , Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, Chini ka Rauza, Jama Masjid, Tomb of Akbar the Great and Mehtab Bagh beside others.
The monument is open to visitors from 7 am to 6 pm on all days except Fridays. It is also open for night viewing on full moon days and the two nights before and after it. Entry fee are charged at ₨ 20 ($0.32) for Indian citizens, ₨ 510 ($8.16) for citizens of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries and at ₨ 750 ($12) for foreigners. Entry for children below the age of fifteen is free regardless of the citizenship.
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Author: jackmartis. Last updated: Feb 23, 2015