Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal is standing majestically on the right bank of River Yamuna at a point where it takes a sharp turn and flows eastwards; the Taj Mahal is synonymous of love and romance. The Taj Mahal complex is organized in a rectangle, measuring approximately 310 x 550 meters. It comprises a number of buildings and structures, all functioning together as the funerary monument for Mumtaz Mahal.

The entire architectural complex mainly consists of five major constituents the Darwaza (The main gateway), Bageecha (The gardens), Masjid (The mosque), Naqqar Khana (The rest house), Rauza (The main mausoleum).

The Taj Ganj area leads to the southern gate into the forecourt of the Taj Mahal complex, although the eastern and western gates of the Jilaukhana are more frequently used by tourists. The latter two gates are identical, with central pointed-arch Pishtaqs flanked by octagonal pilasters crowned with Guldastas (ornamental flower pinnacles). The southern gate is similar to the east and west ones in its verticality. Due to the natural gradient of the site, which slopes toward the riverbank, this gate lies 2.4 m above the ground elevation of the Jilaukhana itself. Two bazaar streets begin at the east and west gates and lead to the Jilaukhana. The bazaars consist of individual rooms (Hujra) along an arcaded Verandah of multi-cusped arches that are supported on slender columns. The Jilaukhana consists of a large courtyard with 128 hujra rooms opening directly onto the courtyard.

To the northeast of the Jilaukhana are the khawasspuras, two residential enclosures. The north side of the Khawasspuras abuts the southern galleries that flank the great gate to the east and the west. The outer southern corners of the enclosures in the khawasspuras have rooms giving access to latrines. The two Saheli Burj (inner subsidiary tombs) enclosures to the east and west of the Jilaukhana are the tomb complexes of two other wives of Shah Jahan. The saheli burj enclosures have gardens arranged in the Chahar Bagh style, with a pool of water in the center surrounded by paved walkways.

The tomb buildings are octagonal, single-story structures, built on a plinth. The walls are formed of multi cusped arcades. The building and its plinth are clad in red sandstone; the structure is topped by a bulbous white marble dome. Inside, the south door of both of the Saheli Burj tombs leads to the cenotaph within. The colours of the exterior cladding are reversed in the interior: the walls are clad in white marble, while the Jalis and ceiling are sandstone.

The great gate (darwaza-i rauza) is a large structure with triadic openings the base of the gate measures nearly 38 meters and its peripheral walls, including the cupolas, are 30 meters in height. The central Pishtaq, also including the cupolas, is 33 meters in height and 19 meters wide. The gate is composed of red sandstone with decorative panels and accents in white marble. The entry Iwan contains Muqarnas in red sandstone, which contrasts with the white plaster paint outlining each segment. Topping the central Pishtaq is a series of eleven arches in red sandstone, capped by a chajja. This arrangement of architectural elements into rows is found on both the north and south side of the gate, in keeping with the design of the Taj Mahal complex and its internal hierarchies. The corners of the gateway are accentuated by engaged towers, also of red sandstone, that project outward slightly; these towers are decorated with frames of white marble.

The pointed arch on the south elevation of the darwaza-i rauza partially frames the visitors' first glimpse of the main structure, the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal. Flanking the darwaza-i rauza on the north, two double arcaded galleries of multifoliate arches known as the southern galleries, one to the east and one to the west, overlook the large garden that precedes the main mausoleum. The columns of the outer and inner arcades differ only in the decoration of their bases: the outer ones have floral decoration alluding to the garden. The platform of the galleries extends into the garden, and its decorative tile paving pattern faces the garden. The galleries terminate on the east and west ends in rooms which are entered from within the gallery.

A shallow water canal (nahr) runs along the centre of the primary walkways; a line of equidistant water fountains runs down the center of the nahr. Geometric patterns in red sandstone depicting regular and elongated stars decorate the edges of the central pathways running on each side of the nahr. At the intersection of the primary walkways is a raised platform with a square water tank (Hauz) at its center. Five fountains are located within the tank, one at each of its four corners and one in its center. The east-west walkways terminate in two-story pavilions (Naubat Khanas) that merge into the outer garden walls. Aqueducts supplied water to the garden from the Yamuna River just north of the mausoleum. The central fountains operated with an underground system of copper vessels connected by copper pipes. At present the garden contains relatively few trees, consisting mainly of fairly maintained grass lawns.

The two Naubat Khanas (drum houses) are constructed on raised platforms and have two floors. On each level, the naubat khanas have a triple archway in the center of the east and west elevations, respectively. On the ground level, the arches are closed with a Jali screen; on the upper level, they remain open. The floor slab of the upper story projects beyond the wall above and below to form a balcony as long as the building; carved red sandstone handrails run along its length, and carved sandstone brackets help support it from below. The Tahkhana, a gallery of rooms arranged in a row and connected by a narrow corridor, is reached by two staircases that descend from openings in the surface of the plinth to the east and west of the mausoleum.

The secondary, square marble plinth, 93 meters long, is centred on the sandstone terrace. The mausoleum proper and the four minarets flanking it are placed on this marble plinth. The base of the plinth is decorated with delicate carvings of vegetal motifs, which also appear on the white marble cladding of the mausoleum.

In the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex, the central chamber is double-height and octagonal in plan. At its center rest the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The chamber is capped by a shallow dome and decorated with niches on each two-story wall. These niches on the cardinal axes have Jali screens, fitted on the external faces of the walls, which allow light into the room. The niches on the diagonal axes hold rectangular doors. The niches are separated into lower and upper stories by an inscription band that runs around the interior. On the upper level, these frames are replaced by Muqarnas that begin to transform the octagonal plan into a circular ring for the dome. The shallow dome, which is the lower portion of the double dome used for construction, thus appears as decorated with an extended pattern of the Muqarnas that support its base.

The floor of the tomb chamber is tiled with octagonal marble stars in alternating cruciform modules, each outlined with inlaid black stone. Each side of this marble octagonal screen is divided into three panels; only one opens to access the cenotaph. The cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal is a rectangular block placed on a platform decorated with Quranic verses on the upper block and naturalistic motifs on the lower base.

On the roof of the mausoleum is a high drum, topped with a bulbous dome measuring 25.6 meters high by 17.6 meters wide. Four diagonally placed chhatris flank the drum. The terrace provides a view of the garden below; it is accessed by staircases from the ground floor that lie on either side of the entrance to the mausoleum. The four elevations reflect the symmetry of the mausoleum's plan. The two frames flanking the central Pishtaq contain blind arched niches on the upper and lower levels. Each corner of the building presents a chamfered elevation (to the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest).

The frame of the mausoleum's central Pishtaqs, as with other similar forms within the complex, is decorated with an inlaid Thuluth inscription of a Quranic verse. At the Pishtaq's highest point is a linear pattern of floral motifs running between two extended engaged columns capped with guldastas. As compared to the larger central Pishtaqs, these two sub-pishtaqs are less elaborately treated, with pilasters on the outer elevations decorated with an inlaid herringbone pattern in black and dark yellow. These pilasters are flanked by square panels, framed with horizontal and vertical chevrons, at their base.

The mosque and Mihmankhana are located to the west and east of the mausoleum building. Symmetrical and identical in design, it is conjectured from records that the mosque was built first, followed by the Mihmankhana. The mosque has a Mihrab in its Qibla wall, highlighted by a marble frame with an inscription of the Sun Sura. The floor of the mosque also differs from that of the Mihmankhana; it is patterned in Muslim prayer mats. The ceilings are finished in the Sgraffito technique, consisting of a coat of red plaster laid over a white one. Floral designs are later carved through the red layer, to appear in white.

The southwest tower contains a Stepwell (baoli) whereas that to the south of the Mihmankhana holds chambers leading to latrines. The southwest tower with the baoli also has a well shaft running down the centre of the structure and extending through its five floors: three above, two below. The two tower pavilions north of the mosque and Mihmankhana contain chambers leading to latrines on the lower levels, and stairs leading toward the riverbed. The four riverfront towers are each octagonal in plan. Each tower has a central room with an ambulatory path circling around the exterior. The exterior walls have multi-cusped blind arches; each terrace has an Oriel window (Jharoka) with views of the river. The towers are clad in red sandstone and have floral motifs carved in relief with marble inlays on panels.

History

Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), grandson of Akbar the great, in the memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum, entitled Mumtaz Mahal a Muslim Persian princess. The queen’s real name was Arjumand Banu. In the tradition of the Mughals, important ladies of the royal family were given another name at their marriage or at some other significant event in their lives, and that new name was commonly used by the public.

She died while accompanying her husband in Burhanpur in a campaign to crush a rebellion after giving birth to their 14th child. When Mumtaz Mahal was still alive, she extracted four promises from the emperor: first, that he build the Taj; second, that he should marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary. But this has not been proven to be true, till date.

According to legend, after his wife’s death, Shah Jahan reportedly locked himself in his rooms and refused food for eight days, when the emperor emerged from his seclusion, his black beard visible in many Mughal miniature paintings had turned completely white. For the monument to his wife, Shah Jahan chose a site occupied by sprawling gardens on a bend in the left bank of the Yamuna River. Six months later, her body was transferred to Agra to be finally enshrined in the crypt of the main tomb of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.

The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631 and it took approximately 22 years to build it. It made use of the services of 22,000 labourers and 1,000 elephants for the transportation of the construction materials. The materials used in the Taj Mahal complex are bricks, sandstone and white marble. Brick sizes varied between 18-19 x 11-12.5 x 2.3 cm, a standard size since Akbar's rule. These bricks were baked in kilns on the outskirts of Agra. The sandstone used in the complex has a colour varying from soft red to red with a yellow tint. White marble came from the quarries of Makrana in Rajasthan, approx. 400 kms southeast of Agra. The marble used in the complex was a white one with black and grey streaks.
The greatest technical problem in the construction of the Taj Mahal was its heavy superstructures near the riverfront. This was accomplished using wells cased in wood and filled with rubble and iron, spaced at 3.75 meters on center. Precious and semi-precious stones are used in the decoration of the mausoleum than elsewhere in the complex. These stones include lapis lazuli, sapphire, cornelian, jasper, chrysolite and heliotrope. A strict discipline in colours and decoration is visible in the detailed ornamentation of the Taj Mahal. Floral relief carvings are found on the marble and sandstone walls; these carvings are stylistically related to the pietra dura work, yet are worked according to the material of the building they adorn.

The Taj Mahal architecture is a kind of fusion of Persian, Central Asian and Islamic architecture. Specific design credit is uncertain, and is given by different sources to Istad Usa, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, Isa Muhammad Effendi or Geronimo Veroneo. But construction documents show that its master architect was Istad Usa, the renowned Islamic architect of his time. The documents contain names of those employed and the inventory of construction materials and their origin. And how the entire complex is designed in such a way that the apparent organic unity of the whole does not obscure the individuality of any part, nor does it detract from the prominence of the Taj Mahal proper. It was completed in 1648 at a cost of 32 Million Rupees (more than 750 000 dollars).