Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, was named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 1983 and became a UNESCO world heritage site. The white marbled Islamic mausoleum was built in 1631 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It is known around the world as a symbol of love as the stunning tomb is dedicated to the true love of Shah Jahan, his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is said to have taken over twenty thousand people to build it, with workers coming from central Asia and Iran to contribute to the labour. A thousand elephants were implemented in the hauling of goods to the building site. The construction took approximately twenty-two years to complete, with the plinth and tomb taking roughly fifteen years alone. The cost to build it is an estimate of thirty-two crore rupees (approximately $827 million). The Taj sees a foot fall of 12,000 people a day and two to four million tourists a year. It consists of the main gate, the gardens, the mosque, the rest house, and the main mausoleum. Its height is 240ft and spreads for 42 acres with the Yamuna River running beside it. The architecture is a mixture of Persian, Islamic and India styles. The materials used to create the wonder were transported from places such as Rajasthan, Punjab, China, and Tibet. It was completed in 1653 and when Shah Jahan passed away, he was laid to rest beside his beloved in the tomb.

‘’You know Shah Jahan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove therefore to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart? Let the splendour of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish? Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.’’- Rabindranath Tagor

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal: A Resting Place of Twin Souls

The Mughal Empire ruled most of India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th centuries. The origin of the name Taj Mahal is said to have come from the name of Shah Jahan’s beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, meaning ‘’Crown Palace’’, ‘’Place of the Crown’’ or ‘’Jewel of the Palace’’. Shah Jahan took the seat of Emperor in 1628 after his predecessor and Father, Jahangir, passed away. As a young boy, he was a successful soldier and builder, impressing his father with his skills by building his own quarters within Babur’s Kabul at the age of sixteen and he redesigned several buildings within Agra. His name means ‘’King of the World.’’ His reign as emperor has been called the golden reign of the Mughals. Shah had many wives, but it is known that his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was his greatest love, who he built the Taj Mahal for. Mumtaz was betrothed to Shah Jahan when she was fourteen years old and they married five years later. Mumtaz would travel with Shah Jahan on his military campaigns despite her frequent pregnancies throughout their marriage. They are said to have shared a very intimate, passionate, and loving relationship. She passed away while giving birth to their thirteenth child while they were in Burhanpur in the Madhya Pradesh State, India. It was here her body was temporarily laid to rest but then was moved to Agra at the request of Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal is an homage to the love they shared.

The origin of the name Taj Mahal is said to have come from the name of Shah Jahan’s beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal, meaning ‘’Crown Palace’’, ‘’Place of the Crown’’ or ‘’Jewel of the Palace’’.

Architecture of The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is famous for its smooth white marbled walls that are interlaced with intricate art work and calligraphy. The architecture of the mausoleum is a mix of Persian, Islamic and Indian. It consists of the Gardens (Bageecha), the Mosque (Masjid), the Rest House (Naqqar Khana) and the Main Mausoleum (Rauza). Its structure is comprised of red sandstone with the white crystalline marble on the outside, white in the Islamic belief, symbolises mourning. As well as the white marble, other marbles were used in the building such as yellow and black marble. The marble is said to have come from Rajasthan, Punjab, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Arabia. Ustad Isa, Isa Mohammad Effendi and Puru of Persia were amazing architects at the time, who helped the Emperor Shah Jahan build the wonder.  Precious and semi-precious gems are found throughout the tomb. They are said to have been taken from the vast Mughal treasury. The likes of orange carnelian, blue lapis lazuli, multi-coloured agates and chalcedonies, garnet and bloodstone, turquoise, onyx, coral, cat’s eye, malachite, carnelian, and jade were all used as decoration. The gems are inlai into the white marble with the design of flowers and leaves.. Most of the ancient structure is decorated except for the tomb itself, it would have been seen as an act of vanity according to Muslim law. During the Indian rebellion against the British in 1857, some of the gems were ripped off the walls by the British themselves.

The Taj Mahal Gardens

The gardens are a Persian style. In the gardens, there are two types of tree, Cyprus, and fruit bearing. The Cyprus tree signifies death and the fruit bearing tree signifies life. The number four is seen as a holy number in Islam, so parts of the garden are divided into four or multiples of four. There are two canals that cross in the center with sixteen flowerbeds on either side. The garden is a representation of paradise.

The Main Gate

The main gate is 100 feet high and made of red sandstone with white marble. It has Arabic calligraphy from the Holy Quran inscribed on its walls which was created and supervised by head calligrapher Amanat Khan Shirazi. Visitors are met with the inscription of ‘’O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.’’ Amanat signed his work by saying, ‘’Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi. The Arabic calligraphy can be found all around the Taj, mainly verses from the Holy Quran. The design in the marble stone is of flowers and leaves.

The mosque and rest house are also built from red sandstone. The rest house is located on the eastern side of the Taj and was built to mirror the mosque which is directly opposite on the western side. It is believed the rest house was built to provide a symmetrical balance to the overall structure, used as a place of rest for mourners and a place to wait for prayer. The mosque was built as it is Muslim law to have a place of worship nearby a mausoleum.

Arabic calligraphy can be found on the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. On Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb, there is the ninety names of God and an inscription that says ‘’O noble, O magnificent, O unique, O eternal, O glorious.’’ On Shah Jahan’s tomb the inscription reads, ‘’He travelled from this world to the banquet hall of eternity on the night of the twenty sixth of the month Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijiri.’’

The Taj Mahal, it’s Myths and Legends

Throughout the years, the origin of the Taj Mahal has been questioned. Some people say that the Taj Mahal was built over a Shiva Temple. They believe Shah Jahan seized the temple and converted it into the Taj Mahal. There are also many myths surrounding the famous mausoleum.  One myth is that there was going to be a black Taj Mahal.  The first mention of a Black Taj was in the writings of a European traveller named Jean Baptiste Tavernier in 1665 after he visited Agra. 

He wrote, that Shah Jahan was planning to build his own tomb that was going to be even more extravagant than the original. Shah JahanIt is thought he was to build this Black Tajit across the river and build a bridge joining the two, however, due to but because of the feud between his two sons which led to his arrest, he was unable to see the project through. 

Black marble found in Mehtab Bagh on the other side of the Yamuna river has fuelled the myth, yet some scholars say the black marble is simply just a discolouring due to aging. Also, Mehtab Bagh was built before the Taj Mahal.  

Scholars still debate over whether or not there was going to be a Black Taj Mahal. 

Another myth is that the Taj was built by an Italian architect called Geronimo Veroneo. However, there is no real evidence backing this myth.

The Taj Mahal is also believed to have been built on top of a Shiva Temple that was named ‘’Tejo Mahalya.’’  When the Mughal Empire took over India, they looted and destroyed many Hindu temples. Professor P.N Oak, who wrote the book ‘’Taj Mahal: The True Story’’ that was published in 1965 and later banned by the government, believed that the Taj Mahal was of Hindu origin. In 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed any of the professor’s petitions and even reprimanded him for bringing the action forward.

Some say it was a palace owned by the Rajput King and was taken over by Shah Jahan and remodelled into the Taj Mahal. Some historians believe that the Rajput palace did exist before Shah Jahan. However, others feel the likely hood of Shah Jahan purchasing the land or remodeling the palace were very slim.

There is also a myth of the third graves. In the Mughal tradition, when it came to tombs, they built three graves in each tomb. This can be seen in the tomb of Akbar, the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah and Chini-ka-rauza at Agra. So why is there not a third grave in the Taj Mahal? Some believe the graves to be in the underground vaults that exist under the red sandstone platform of the Taj.

On the northern side of the platform there is two staircases that lead to the basement chambers that have been permanently blocked off. It is believed they have been concealed to protect the real graves of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. However, it is still unsure if these graves exist or not.

Due to the drying up of the Yamuna river that flows beside the Taj, it is a fear that it could cause one of the seven wonders of the world to sink. Cracks were found on the second story of the structure and the underground vaults below the northern side in 1820 but this was not the first time these cracks were found.

There could be two reasons causing the cracks.

The first is the lime stone may be crushed by the weight of the structure or it is sinking towards the river, as the ebony wood base that the marble is propped up on, needs the moisture of the river to retain its strength. Now that the river is drying up, there is a fear the base will not be able to hold up.

The Taj Mahal and it’s Close Calls

The Taj Mahal has also faced many threats over the years. In 1830, the governor at the time, William Bentinck wanted to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction of the white marble. His plan failed as there were no prospective buyers for the marble.  During the Indian rebellion in 1857, it is said that the British and local looters raided the Taj Mahal and stole the precious and semi-precious gems, ripping them from the walls. They took lavish carpets, silver doors, tapestries, and jewels also.

By the 19th century the Taj Mahal was in a poor condition. British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered for there to be a renovation of the mausoleum and it was completed in 1908. The buildings were all repaired, the gardens restored and the canals were even back working. In 1942, the Taj was under threat by the German Luftwaffe (air force) and the Japanese air force during World War II. The government erected scaffoldings to protect it.  The same occurred during the Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971, the scaffoldings were put in place as well as Tarpaulin to mislead the bomber planes if they planned to attack. However, despite all these threats, the Taj Mahal is still standing.

The Taj Mahal Today

With pollution levels rising in India, the Indian authorities have put measures in place to ensure the safe keeping of the historical landmark. Over the years, the colouring of the Taj has begun to change. Due to the stagnation and pollution of the Yamuna River, insects have been flourishing in the surrounding area and the grounds of the Taj. The excrement of these insects, a mosquito like fly, has caused some areas to go green. 

As well as this, the smoke from a nearby crematorium has caused a yellowing to occur on the white marble. These issues all raise great concern in the future of the mausoleum. The Supreme Court have requested the crematorium to be moved elsewhere or put an electric one in its place. To help aid any damage done to the monument, the Archaeological Survey of India, responsible for its maintenance, is looking to give the Taj a beauty treatment using a mud pack. It is said to absorb dust and pollutants on the marble. The mud pack is made of clay and rose water mainly. It is not the first time the Taj will be receiving the treatment in 1994, 2001, 2008 and 2014, the mud pack treatment was used. Besides the concern of its preservation, the Taj Mahal still holds its beauty and lures in millions of people to Agra, one of India’s top tourist destinations every year.