The Taj Mahal: History, Architecture and Design

Did you know that the Taj Mahal was built to honor the wife of an Emperor?

Did you also know that about 1,000 elephants helped construct the palace?

The Taj Mahal is a modern marvel of architecture. The palace is a testament of eternal romance and the jewel of Muslim art in India. It is widely considered one of the most beautiful and romantic structures in the world. The Taj Mahal is recognized as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.

But, how much do we know about it?

It continues to mesmerize people to date. Thousands of people from across the world come to India every year and visit the palace.

No mausoleum in the world has ever been this popular. The Taj Mahal continues to attract visitors centuries after centuries and remains the most visited monument in India.

What attracts them?

In this article, I discussed the Taj Mahal’s history, architecture, legends and other interesting facts.

Quick Facts on the Taj Mahal:

  • Location: Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
  • Built: between 1632 and 1653 AD
  • Function: tomb for the beloved wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan; Mumtaz Mahal
  • Dimensions: 68m in height, 57m at the base and a 6m raised platform
  • Area: 170,000 m2
  • Made of: White Marble for the main tomb, Red Sandstone for fortifying accents and structure
  • Architectural Style: Mughal; Indo-Islamic
  • Architect: Ustad Ahmed Lahori
  • Cost of Construction: 32 crore rupees

Now, let’s look at the Taj Mahals’s history, architecture and why it’s one of the 7 Wonders:

Why was the Taj Mahal built?

The Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, had multiple wives. Despite multiple wives, he poured his heart for one, Mumtaz Mahal. She had an appropriate name as the name Mumtaz Mahal means the ‘Chosen One’ of the Palace.

Mumtaz was not only the Emperor’s favorite wife, but also his most trusted political advisor. She had given birth to 14 children. Of 14 children, 7 survived. Mumtaz died in 1631 after giving birth to the 14th children.

Shah Jahan was completely devastated upon hearing the news of her death. He reportedly exiled himself for 8 days in his room, and refused food. His servants reported that once the Emperor emerged from his isolation, his black beard turned white.

Shah Jahan decided to immortalize the memory of Mumtaz. And, he wanted to pay a fitting tribute to his most favorite wife.

The result is the Taj Mahal; the greatest symbol of love and passion that stands tall to date and testifies the romance between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Taj Mahal

Construction and Entombment

To build the monument, Shah Jahan chose a site ornamented by sprawling gardens in the left bank of the Yamuna River. The site was purchased from Raja Singh. Shah Jahan reportedly purchased the site in exchange for four mansions in the city.

Mumtaz’s body was exhumed and transferred from Burhanpur to Agra with great ceremony. Food, sweets and coins were distributed among the poor and the deserving while being transferred.

The foundations of the monument posed the biggest technical challenge for Mughal builders. As the site is situated in the bank of a river, the sands of the bank weren’t solid. In order to support the foundations, the sands needed to be stabilized. To stabilize the sands, wells were dug, cased in timber and finally layered with iron, mortar and rubble.

Construction Materials

Materials used to build the Taj Mahal were brought in from all over India and Asia. The buildings were made of walls of brick and rubble inner cores. The construction was faced with sandstone or marble joined together with clamps and iron dowels.

Over a thousand elephants were used to transport the heavy building materials. The white marble was sourced from quarries belonging to Raja Jai Singh. The Jasper was brought from the Punjab. China provided the Jade and crystal. The sapphire was sourced from Sri Lanka. And, the carnelian came from Arabia.

Altogether, 28 types of valuable and semi-valuable stones were cased into the white marble.

Architecture and Design

The Taj Mahal is the epitome of love and passion. It represents the finest symbol of Mughal architecture. It has been synonymous with India’s identity for centuries. The Mughal followed a tradition of building mesmerizing mausoleums in honor of Royal members. And, the tradition found its climax in Taj’s beauty.

Historians believe that the inspiration for the Taj Mahal was derived from Humayun’s tomb. The Humayun’s tomb was built in 1562. The palace incorporates designs from several cultures though. The design of the dome reflects elements of Persian influences. The arched entrances or lawns too reflect the Persian influences. Chhatris and lotus motif are results of incorporation of contemporary Hindu design elements.

Nonetheless, the Taj Mahal remains an architectural marvel that it can only be rivaled by itself.

A decorative gateway, a mosque, a mausoleum, an artistically designed garden and a wonderful irrigation system make the Taj Mahal not just a tomb, but an elaborate complex. The complex is located on the southern banks of the Yamuna River. The Taj Mahal complex stretches from south to north toward the river.

Exterior of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is known for its symmetry. It sits atop a raised platform enclosed by four minarets. Marble walls are ornamented with precious stones. And, wonderful mosaic works form its interior. The raised square plinth it sits on is made of white marble. At the center of the plinth lies the tomb itself.

The exterior walls are covered with stucco and paintings. The calligraphy of different verses from the Quran and excerpts from poems were written in black marble. The exterior floors are covered with murals of herringbone inlays, mosaic of colored stones.

Interior of the Taj Mahal

The skilled craftsmanship of cavernous octagonal central chamber dominates the interior of the Taj. Eight smaller chambers were formed within the central one. The smaller chambers are laid across two floors.

The central chamber features the main funerary chamber displaying the cenotaphs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

The Dome of the Tomb

The dome is situated at the top of the Taj Mahal and a 7m high cylindrical base forms its base. Its top shows the patchwork of lotus motif and the Islamic half-moon tops the glided finial. The dome features a delicate that is decorated by tapering structure and mildly angular placement of the minarets.

The white dome at the top of the tomb is elevated about 35 meters from the ground. And, it is one of the most recognizable features of the Taj. The white dome is complemented by four other domes and it is often referred to as the ‘onion dome’.

The Breathtaking Feature of the Taj Mahal

It was purported that Mumtaz Mahal used to change her moods frequently. To replicate her moods, the builders meticulously inlaid precious gemstones. They change hues depending on the light conditions of the day and emit a mesmerizing pearly diaphanous effect at night.

The Mughal Garden at the Taj Mahal

Following the tradition of Mughal mausoleums, the Taj Mahal also features a mesmerizing garden. The Mughal Garden at the Taj Mahal is divided into four segments by raised red sandstone pathways. The segments are in turn separated into 16 symmetrical sections. A raised square marble pool divides the Taj Mahal and the Entrance.

Summary

The Taj Mahal captivated people when it was built. And, it will continue to do so even after we are gone. The story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal will remain glorious along with it. It is one of the most wonderful romantic and buildings of the world that pull a million visitors from all across the globe. Your visit to India will remain incomplete, unless you visit the Taj Mahal.

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