This is the story of Prince Khurram – the fifth Mughal emperor, whom we know as Shah Jahan. Owing to his military success against various Mughal rivals like the Mewars, the Lodi in the Deccan, and others, his father, Emperor Jahangir, bestowed this title upon him. Shah Jahan, literally, ‘King of the World’, went down in history as one of the greatest Mughal rulers. His reign is remembered as the Golden Age of the Mughals.
As a child, Khurram found himself drawn towards the aesthetics and construction of grand buildings and structures. There are even stories of a young Khurram designing and building his own quarters in his grandfather’s fort in Kabul. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he commissioned the construction of a legendary monument upon the death of his beloved wife.
Legend has it that young Khurram fell in love with Arjumand Banu Begum the moment he laid eyes on her. Arjumand, a Moghul aristocrat’s daughter, was Shah Jahan’s second wife, and also believed to be his favourite. So besotted was Khurram that he was rarely seen without her by his side. He even conferred her with the title of ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ or the ‘chosen one of the palace’.
Mumtaz, often praised by poets and scholars for her beauty, grace and compassion, was Shah Jahan’s companion and confidant, one he would even travel with on his military campaigns. Such was his faith in her that he even trusted her with the imperial seal – the Muhr Uzah, an act unheard of in those days.
Unfortunately, their relationship came to a tragic and early end. On 17th June 1631, Mumtaz Mahal passed away after giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. The couple was in Burhanpur, in modern day Madhya Pradesh, and it was here that she was buried at first. Her mortal remains were then carried in a gold casket to Agra, where she was buried in a small building on the banks of Yamuna.
Shah Jahan was distraught and is said to have mourned his wife’s death for an entire year, which left him grey and bent. It was then that the construction of the Taj Mahal – to epitomize his love for her – was commissioned. The construction of this breathtaking ivory-white mausoleum was completed by 1648, though the rest of the monuments within the complex took another five years. On his death, Shah Jahan was laid to rest next to Mumtaz Mahal, in the Taj.
The Construction of this Royal Mausoleum:
The land on which this majestic white translucent mausoleum stand was originally a garden belonging to Raja Jai Singh of Rajasthan. Shah Jahan is known to have bartered it for four royal mansions. Built from marble and red sandstone fitted with precious and semi-precious stones, the Taj was initially envisioned as a rauza or tomb and Urs or place of pilgrimage by the Mughal emperor.
It took 20 years to complete the construction of the monuments in the complex. Built in phases, the main mausoleum was ready for annual memorial services by 1648.
20,000 craftsmen and 1000 elephants among other domestic animals were involved in its construction. The inscriptions and grand appearance of the Taj make it evident that its construction involved craftsmen with diverse skill sets from different parts of the world.
The exquisite work across the dome, the inlay work also called the pietra dura, the masonry, calligraphy, and even the garden, all spell excellence of workmanship. It is believed that a team was made with each member being assigned clearly defined tasks. Shah Jahan, the mastermind behind the construction of many monuments, is believed to have supervised the construction of the Taj – a monument he held close to heart.
A blend of Indo-Islamic style, the architects are known to have drawn inspiration from structures from the time of the Delhi Sultanate i.e. the 12th century. And though the exact cost of its construction is difficult to gauge, it is estimated to have cost 32 million Rupees at that time.
Clearly, the Emperor known for his wealth and skills in building structures left no stone unturned in building a monument that would eternalize his love. This iconic image is the everlasting tribute of a broken-hearted emperor to his late wife.
Standing on the banks of the river Yamuna that sharply turns eastward here, the Taj is poetry in marble. The iconic image of the Taj with its famous central dome against an azure sky is an architectural marvel. Flawless construction and astonishing attention to detail are just some of the things that leave you awestruck.
The complex has two structures flanking the Taj on either side – east and west. These were added to provide an architectural balance to the main monument. Seen from the banks of the Yamuna, these two red structures help complete the look of the Taj, by providing relief in red. Incidentally, the red and white colour scheme can be seen even at the Red Fort’s structures, added by Shah Jahan.
The white marble, procured from Rajasthan, gives an illusion of the Taj being translucent. Here is another interesting anecdote, the Taj was constructed in a manner that it reflected the hues of the sky. So, this majestic monument changes colours at different times of the day – from pinkish, to milky-white, to a shade of gold and silver.
The Entrance to the Taj Mahal:
During Shah Jahan’s time, noblemen and women would enter the premise on their horseback or palanquin through this grand gateway or Darwaza. Back then, the main gates, which are now in brass, were made of silver, with silver coins embellished on them. Unfortunately, like a lot of the jewels inside the taj, these too were looted.
This red sandstone gateway with mesmerizing calligraphy of verses from Quran and inlay work is two storeys high. White marble inlaid in black slate has been used to provide relief, to an otherwise strong red stone. Interestingly, these two colours are used extensively across the Mughal monuments, especially those commissioned by Shah Jahan.
The garden was envisioned as Bagh-i-Adam or the Gardens of Eden with exotic flowers and trees. It is believed that Shah Jahan desired a monument that reflected his departed wife’s home in heaven. Islamic texts suggest Paradise to have beautiful gardens, with an abundance of flowers and trees, and four rivers flowing from a central spring.
The gardens at Taj are known to be built on these lines. However, when India came under British rule, the British transformed the gardens to resemble the lawns of London.
Today, the garden follows the Mughal style of Char-bagh or four-portioned garden plan. A concept introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. Between the gateway and the Taj is seen a water body. This water body has an elevated pool in the centre called the Haus-i-Kausar. The reflection of the Taj seen here is in perfect symmetry.
From this pool, the water further flows in four different directions dividing the garden into four parts.
The Two Structures at Either End of the Garden:
The two sandstone structures are known to have been built to complement and provide symmetry to the Taj Mahal. To the west is a mosque and to the east is a structure called the jawab or answer, which was used as a guesthouse.
The Dome of the Taj and its Minarets:
Resting on an elevated platform, framed within the four minarets, is the mesmerising structure of the Taj with its bulbous dome. The white-marble beauty has mesmerizing calligraphy of verses from the Quran complemented by inlays of flowers. Precious and semi-precious stones like jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, turquoise obtained from various countries are known to have been used extensively.
The minarets, inspired by those used in mosques during the call of azan, are three-tiered. Approximately 42 meters high, they are built on an incline of 92 degrees. This, to keep it from collapsing on the main structure in case of a natural disaster. Two balconies ring each of the minarets.
The main hall housing the cetanophs stands tall at 75 m, with the dome itself being 25 meters high. The magnificent dome is known to be inspired from Persian architecture, though by the time the Taj Mahal was built, this dome structure was being seen in Mughal monuments. The entrance to the main hall is through an arched doorway.
These arches can be seen on all four sides of the Taj. Inscriptions from the Quran inlaid in black are seen on the panels around the central entrance. The inscriptions have been created in a manner to correct any option distortions. Screens of marble ensure plenty of light floods the main hall.
An octagonal chamber in the centre is where the replicas of the cenotaphs or tombs are seen. The originals are stored a floor below to keep them from being tampered with. The marble screen enclosing the tombs are a later addition. They replaced the gold railing that was supposedly studded with gems. The inlay work or the pietra dura on the tombs are known to have involved 60 different precious and semi-precious stones. A single flower is known to have been made using 30-40 different gems.