India · Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal in Agra is indisputably the most famous example of Mughal architecture. Described by Rabindranath Tagore as “a tear on the face of eternity”, it is in popular imagination a veritable “wonder of the world”. It is often referred as the “Crown of Palaces”.
The white-splendored tomb was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his favourite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen of the Palace”). She married Shah Jahan in 1612 to become his wife and inseparable companion, and died in childbirth at Burhanpur while on a campaign with her husband in 1629. Shah Jahan was, it is said, inconsolable to the point of contemplating abdication in favour of his sons. His hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. The court went into mourning for over two years; and Shah Jahan decided to commemorate the memory of Mumtaz with a building the like of which had never been seen before.
Not long after it was finished Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort, where for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here alongside his beloved Mumtaz.
The Taj was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It looks nearly as immaculate today as when it was first constructed – though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century.
The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky – a masterstroke of design. Purely decorative 40m-high white minarets grace each corner of the platform. After more than 3 centuries they are not quite perpendicular, but they may have been designed to lean slightly outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they would fall away from the precious Taj. The red-sandstone mosque to the west is an important gathering place for Agra’s Muslims. The identical building to the east, the jawab, was built for symmetry.
The central Taj structure is made of semi-translucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns. A perfect exercise in symmetry, the four identical faces of the Taj feature impressive vaulted arches embellished with pietra dura scrollwork and quotations from the Quran in a style of calligraphy using inlaid jasper. The whole structure is topped off by four small domes surrounding the famous bulbous central dome.
Taj Mahal, “the epitome of love”, is “a monument of immeasurable beauty”. The beauty of this magnificent monument is such that it is beyond the scope of words. The thoughts that come into the mind while watching the Taj Mahal of Agra is not just its phenomenal beauty, but the immense love which was the reason behind its construction.