The Taj Mahal (meaning Crown of the Palace) is an ivory-white marble mausoleum situated on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his loving wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which covers a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenelated wall.
Built of the mausoleum was fully completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex trusts to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost approximate around at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (the U.S $827 million). The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the enlightenment of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustaad Ahmad Lahauri.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally praise masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. The Taj Mahal entice 7–8 million visitors a year. In 2007, it was widely known as a winner of the New 7 Wonders of the Wonders (2000–2007) initiative.
Architecture and design
The Taj Mahal includes and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. The specific insight came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e-Amir (the tomb of Timur, the progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun’s Tomb, 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 built of red sandstone, Shah Jahan advances the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
The tomb is the chief focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble construction 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.
The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is estimated to be 55 meters (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is mount 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 fully symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets mount 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 lies at a lower level.
The most striking feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 meters (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 meters (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is embraced with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which copy the onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open at the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) enlarge from edges of bare walls and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus design is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional and cultural Persian along with the Hindustani decorative elements.
The chief finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This attribute provides a clear example of the integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The final is topped by a moon, a classic Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 meters (130 ft) tall, show the designer’s penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets—a cultural element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is desirably divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony overcome by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same attractive elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial.
The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the one of the finest in Mughal architecture. The attractive elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the attractive elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex are passages from the Quran that comprise some of the attractive elements.
The calligraphy on the Great Gate wrote “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.” The calligraphy was produced in 1609 by a calligrapher named Abdul Haq. Shah Jahan gives the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaph in the tomb is greatly intense detailed and delicate.
Abstract forms are used throughout, particularly 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 complex geometric forms.
On the lower walls of the tomb are white marble dados sculpted with realistic bas relief showcase of flowers and vines. The marble has been skillful to emphasize the exquisite detailing of the carvings. The dado mount and archway spandrels have been decorated with pieta dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers, and fruits. The inlay stones are of yellow marble, Jasper, and jade polished and plane to the surface of the walls.
The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal touches far beyond traditional decorative elements. The inlay work is not pietra dura, but a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The inner chamber is an octagon with the design permit for entry from each face, although only the door facing the garden to the south is used. The interior walls are about 25 meters (82 ft) high and are topped by a “false” interior dome decorated with a sun design. Eight pishtaq arches explain the space at ground level and, as with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq midway up the wall. The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas, and each balcony’s exterior window has a complex screen or jali cut from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through roof openings mounting by chattris at the corners. The octagonal marble screen or jali bordering the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels carved through with complex pierce work. The remaining surfaces are inlaid in fine detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits, and flowers. Each chamber wall is highly attractive with dado bas-relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels which reflect, in miniature detail, the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex.
Muslim tradition prohibits wide decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were kept in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right, towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph is placed at the exact center of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 by 2.5 meters (4 ft 11 in by 8 ft 2 in). Both the base and casket are widely 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 allude a writing tablet. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is beside Mumtaz’s to the western side and is the only visible asymmetric element in the complete complex. His cenotaph is bigger than his wife’s but reflects the same elements: a larger casket on a slightly taller base exact decorated with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies him.
The Taj Mahal intricate is bordered on three sides by crenelated red sandstone walls; the side facing the river is open. Outside the walls are several additional mausoleums, involves those of Shah Jahan’s other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz’s favorite servant.
The chief gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure construct 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 blend with the calligraphy that decorates the tomb. The vaulted ceilings and walls have wide geometric designs like those found in the other sandstone buildings in the complex.
At the far end of the complex are two grand red sandstone structure that mirrors each other, and faces the sides of the tomb. The backs side of the buildings parallel the western and eastern walls. The western structure is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer), thought to have been built for architectural balance although it may have been used as a guesthouse. Distinctions between the two buildings involve the jawab’s lack of a mihrab (a niche in a mosque’s wall facing Mecca) and its floors of geometric d-esign whereas the floor of the mosque is laid with outlines of 569 prayer mat in black marble. The mosque’s basic design of a long hall surmounted by three domes is similar to others constructed by Shah Jahan, particularly the Masjid-i Jahān-Numā, or Jama Majid, Dehli. The Mughal mosques of this period unreleated the sanctuary hall into three areas comprising the main sanctuary and slightly smaller sanctuaries on either side.
The Taj Mahal is constructed on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan showcases the Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of around 1.2 hectares (3 acres) was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage, and leveled at 50 meters (160 ft) above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and completely filled with stone and rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen built a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so vast that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle.
The Taj Mahal was built using materials from all over India and Asia. It is trusted over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The diaphanous white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade, and crystal from China. The turquoise brought from the 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 valuable and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
According to the legend, Shah Jahan ordered that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. A 15-kilometer (9.3 mi) tamped-earth ramp was constructed to transport marble and materials to the construction site and teams of twenty or thirty oxen pulled the blocks on specially design wagons. An elaborate post and beam pulley system were used to raise the blocks into specific 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 pulled to a large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the structure.
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to finish. The remaining parts of the structure took an additional 10 years and were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab, and gateway. Since the structure was constructed in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on “completion”. Construction of the mausoleum itself was essentially finished by 1643 while work continued on the outlying buildings. Estimates of the cost of structure 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, which is around 52.8 billion Indian rupees ($827 million US) based on 2015 values.
The Taj Mahal entice a large number of tourists. UNESCO documented more than 2 million visitors in 2001, which had increased a huge about 7–8 million in 2014. A two-tier pricing system is in place, with a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens and a more costly one for foreigners. Most tourists come in the cooler months of October, November, and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the structure and tourists must either walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are presently being restored for use as a new visitor center.
The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or Mumtazabad, was originally built with caravanserais, bazaars, and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen. Lists of recommended travel destinations often attribute 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.
The grounds are open from 06:00 to 19:00 weekdays, except for Friday when the intricate 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, excluding Fridays and the month of Ramadan. For security reasons only five items—water in transparent bottles, small video cameras, still cameras, mobile phones and small ladies’ purses— are permitted inside the Taj Mahal.