The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and much has been written about it. It lies on the bank of the Yamona nadi / river and built by Shah Jahan in memory of his queen who died during childbirth.It took 22 years to build it. It is said that the first 2 queens did not have any offspring.

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire‘s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum.[10] Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death.[11] The court chronicles of Shah Jahan’s grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal.[12][13] The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.

We were given only 1 hour to visit it as the time was 10:15 and we had to return in time for the 2 monks’ lunch before noon. The time is insufficient for such a Wonder! One would need at least half a day’s stay at the Taj Mahal.

The security was very tight. The tightest I have undergone, more than at the Mingalardon airport. Drinking water from outside is not allowed. Males and females had to queue differently for separate physical checking of concealed items.

I felt very much delighted after getting through the 2 gates and saw the Taj Mahal for the very first time. There were many people from all parts of the world, a truly world class tourist site.

Video cameras were taxed, yet prohibited beyond a few yards from the inner gate.

Near the Taj Mahal, direct footwear is not allowed. One has to take off footwear or pull on the footcovers provided.

Taking photos is not allowed inside the Taj Mahal so I do not have personal photos. However, I have posted the photos of the Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, the Cenotaphs and the Jali screen I got from the internet. However, after leaving the central chamber, I took some photos inside the side chambers.

Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

After coming out of the Taj Mahal, we went around it and at the other side was a very magnificent natural view: the Yamona nadi / river. I wanted to sit there and gaze at the view for at least half an hour, but could not as the allowed time was short.

We had to leave soon, unsatisfied, yet with the knowledge that I might not see the Taj Mahal again, but made a vow that if I ever have another chance, I will not go along with a tour, but prepare my own iteniary and make sure that I have a whole day at Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and the Agra fort, maybe staying overnight there.

The Yamona nadi

The Taj Mahal ( /ˈtɑː məˈhɑːl/;[1] Hindi: ताज महल, from Persian/Urdu: تاج محل “crown of buildings”, pronounced [ˈt̪aːdʒ mɛˈɦɛl]; also “the Taj”[2]) is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. It is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is widely considered as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and stands as a symbol of eternal love.

Taj Mahal is the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles.[3][4]

In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar component of the Taj Mahal, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen.[5] The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision, including Abd ul-Karim Ma’mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.[6][7] Lahauri[8] is generally considered to be the principal designer.[9]

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire‘s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum.[10] Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death.[11] The court chronicles of Shah Jahan’s grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal.[12][13] The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.

Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:[14]

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian architecture and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including; the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand),[15] 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 constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, and buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.[16]

Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife.[33]

By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen badly into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of 1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908.[34][35] He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modeled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.[25]

Architecture

The tomb

The central focus of the complex is the tomb. This large, white marble structure stands on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.

The base structure is essentially a large, multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners, forming an unequal octagon that is approximately 55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. On each of these sides, a huge pishtaq, or vaulted archway, frames the iwan 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 completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame 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 at a lower level.

The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is the most spectacular feature. Its height of around 35 metres (115 ft) is about the same as the length of the base, and is accentuated as it sits on a cylindrical “drum” which is roughly 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design, which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial, which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.

The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward. Because of its placement on the main spire, the horns of the moon and the finial point combine to create a trident shape, reminiscent of traditional Hindu symbols of Shiva.[5]

The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres (130 ft) tall, display the designer’s penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets — a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that, in the event of collapse, (a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period) the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.

Exterior decoration

The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest in Mughal architecture.[citation needed] As the surface area changes the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays, or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs.

Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that the passages were chosen by Amanat Khan.[17][18] The texts refer to themes of judgment and include:

Surah 91 – The Sun
Surah 112 – The Purity of Faith
Surah 89 – Daybreak
Surah 93 – Morning Light
Surah 95 – The Fig
Surah 94 – The Solace
Surah 36 – Ya Sin
Surah 81 – The Folding Up
Surah 82 – The Cleaving Asunder
Surah 84 – The Rending Asunder
Surah 98 – The Evidence
Surah 67 – Dominion
Surah 48 – Victory
Surah 77 – Those Sent Forth
Surah 39 – The Crowds

The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”[18]

The calligraphy was created by a calligrapher named Abd ul-Haq, in 1609. Shah Jahan conferred the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”.[7] Near the lines from the Qur’an at the base of the interior dome is the inscription, “Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi.”[19] Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script, made of jasper or black marble,[7] inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particularly detailed and delicate.

Abstract forms are used throughout, especially 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 elaborate geometric forms. Herringbone inlays define the space between many of the adjoining elements. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings, and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of the marble buildings have been stained or painted in a contrasting colour, creating geometric patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns.

On the lower walls of the tomb there are white marble dados that have been sculpted with realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of the carvings and the dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade, polished and leveled to the surface of the walls.

Interior decoration

The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal steps far beyond traditional decorative elements. Here, the inlay work is not pietra dura, but a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, although only the door facing the garden to the south is used.

The interior walls are about 25 metres (82 ft) high and are topped by a “false” interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level and, as with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about midway up the wall. The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas, and each balcony’s exterior window has an intricate screen or jali cut from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through roof openings covered by chattris at the corners. Each chamber wall has been highly decorated with dado bas-relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels, reflecting in miniature detail the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex.

The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels which have been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid in extremely delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph is placed at the precise center of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) by 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in).

Both the base and casket are elaborately 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 suggest a writing tablet. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is beside Mumtaz’s to the western side, and is the only visible asymmetric element in the entire complex. His cenotaph is bigger than his wife’s, but reflects the same elements: a larger casket on a slightly taller base, again decorated with astonishing precision with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies him. On the lid of this casket is a traditional sculpture of a small pen box.

The pen box and writing tablet were traditional Mughal funerary icons decorating the caskets of men and women respectively. The Ninety Nine Names of God are found as calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, in the crypt including “O Noble, O Magnificent, O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious… “. The tomb of Shah Jahan bears a calligraphic inscription that reads; “He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri.”

Jali screen

The actual Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal lies beneath the floor, actually on ground level as the platform is raised.

Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph is placed at the precise center of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) by 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in).

Cenotaphs are replicas of the Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal on the floor level, overlying the actual Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal which lie in the chamber beneath

Cenotaphs were placed and barricaded with Jali screen to prevent people from walking above the Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels which have been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid in extremely delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

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4 Responses to “The Taj Mahal”

  1. Kyaw Kyaw Says:

    Nice experience. I have to look into that, the time allowed, before joining the tour. That’s why nowadays I arrange my own itinerary.

  2. nyiwin Says:

    Yes, KK, arranging own itinerary is the best, as I have found out!

  3. than hla Says:

    Great photos

  4. nyiwin Says:

    thanks AhKoGyi

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