Taj Mahal – The Majestic Crown of All India

Imagine a palace of majesty, elegance, grandeur and pure beauty beyond common reality…a majestic palace with a touch of romance and love behind its seemingly legendary story of origin…a story of love set in a royal palace, involving the likes of one of the most powerful emperors on the planet and one of the most fine-looking princesses of all time…what would your first impression be??? Think about it…

Oh, and I forgot to mention that it is an Indian palace, and the story is set in India…

Well, if you thought of the Taj Mahal, then you have hit the bull’s eye! Never mind, perhaps the title of this article itself gave away the answer…

Anyway, let us look into the secrets beneath this impressive building standing majestically in the vicinity of the city of Agra, India. Agra is a city located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. Known as the city of Paradise, due to its mention in the Hindu epic of Mahabharata as Agrabana, which means Paradise in the Sanskrit language, it is the city of which the Indian rulers from the Muslim Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty made their capital and administrative centre.

Location of Agra in India

The Mughal Empire, also known as the Mogul Empire, was a Muslim empire established in 1526. It ruled extremely large areas in North and Central India in the 17th and 18th centuries, with its influence ranging from present-day Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east, and from the state of Kashmir in the north all the way to the state of Karnataka in the south. In other words, the Mughal Empire controlled most of India at that time, approximately 9/10 of the total area of modern-day India. Although it was a Muslim empire, with sultans and ustaz (Muslim religious teachers) presiding over the top administration, it ruled over many Muslim, Hindu and Sikh subjects, along with minority Buddhist and Christian subjects as well.

Life and society during the Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty in India

Alright, now back to the Taj Mahal. Basically, the “Taj Mahal” means “The Crown Palace.” Standing majestically by the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, it is one of the renowned Seven Wonders of the World. It was constructed in 1631 by the Mughal Emperor al-Sultan al-‘Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Abu’l-Muzaffar Shihab ud-din Muhammad, Sahib-i-Qiran-i-Sani, Shah Jahan I Padshah Ghazi Zillu’llah (Firdaus-Ashiyani), also known as Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was constructed in memory of his third wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, who is more commonly known as Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal, although being the third wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, was nonetheless his most favourite wife. “Mumtaz Mahal” was a common nickname given to Arjumand Banu Begum by Emperor Shah Jahan, in which this nickname actually means “The Beloved Jewel of the Palace.”

Emperor Shah Jahan (1592 - 1666, reigned 1628 - 1658)

Mumtaz Mahal died in the year 1631, when she was giving birth to their fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum. She died in Burhanpur, a place which is presently in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. Upon hearing the news of the death of his most beloved wife, Emperor Shah Jahan was terribly grieved. He then ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal, which would subsequently act as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal. Upon the completion of the Taj Mahal in 1653, her body was brought from Burhanpur to Agra to be buried in the Taj Mahal.

Arjumand Banu Begum, also known as Mumtaz Mahal (1593 - 1631)

However, in 1658, Emperor Shah Jahan fell sick and was subsequently overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb, who then ascended the Mughal throne. Emperor Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest by Aurangzeb in the fort of Agra, right until the former’s death in 1666. His body was then buried by Emperor Aurangzeb in the Taj Mahal, right beside his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is a grand, white structure of marble which required 22 years in order for it to be completed. It was said that the construction of the entire building involved a whopping sum of 32 million rupees, which, if converted to present-day currency, would cost trillions of American dollars. The land on which the Taj Mahal was built once belonged to a particular Maharajah Jai Singh, whereby Emperor Shah Jahan offered the Maharajah a large palace in the centre of Agra in exchange for the piece of land. Approximately 20,000 workers were employed in the construction process, with Ustaz Ahmad Lahauri, one of the most skilled men in Islamic architecture at that time, acting as one of the chief architects of the Taj Mahal. Numerous craftsmen were brought in from Delhi and Kannauj in India, Lahore and Multan in present-day Pakistan as well as from Shiraz, Baghdad and Bukhara, which were in Persia at that time.

Emperor Aurangzeb (1618 - 1707, reigned 1658 - 1707)

Emperor Shah Jahan played an extremely active role in the construction of the Taj Mahal. Besides frequently inspecting the site of construction, he also held daily meetings with the chief architects and constructors in order to decide on the structure of the Taj’s interior and exterior, as well as to find out about the progress of the Taj’s construction. Materials from all over Asia were utilized in building the Taj, with over 1000 elephants used to transport the materials. The materials included white marble from Rajasthan, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, jade and crystal from China, jasper from Punjab, carnelian from Arabia, sapphire from Sri Lanka and numerous other types of gemstones.

Precious gemstones of various different types and colours

The main material used in building the Taj Mahal was white marble, thus giving the entire building a pure and amazing look. The building covers an area of 42 acres. Upon reaching the Taj Mahal, one can see a huge dome crowning the marble building at its centre, with four tall minarets of similar height to each other surrounding the dome at the corners of the building. As one enters the main archway into the building, one will see astonishing designs of flower and geometrical motives adorned with precious gemstones on the walls. Works of Arabic calligraphy expressing verses from the Quran embellish the main archways within the Taj Mahal.

Flower motives carved on the wall of the Taj Mahal

The enormous dome crowning the Taj Mahal at its centre is entirely made of white marble as well. The construction of the dome fuses Islamic architecture with elements of Hindu architecture. The dome is commonly known as an “onion dome” and it has lotus designs carved on its top. The topmost point of the dome has a finial on it (the pointed end on the top of the dome), in which this finial has a crescent moon on it – a traditional symbol of Islam. The two horns of the moon and the top pointed end of the finial all combine to form a trident shape, which is a traditional symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. As such, the dome and finial of the Taj Mahal is said to combine both Islamic and Hindu elements of architecture, reflective of the two main religions of India during the Mughal Dynasty.

The huge marble dome at the centre top of the Taj Mahal

Finial at the top of the dome - a combination of both Islamic and Hindu symbols

One of the main attractions of the Taj Mahal would, of course, be related to the very purpose of its construction. The Taj Mahal was originally constructed to serve as a magnificent mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal. As such, there is a chamber within the building which serves as a tomb for her. In this chamber, the cenotaph (empty tomb) of Mumtaz Mahal is located right at the centre. A larger cenotaph, belonging to Emperor Shah Jahan, is located beside her cenotaph. This chamber merely serves as a memorial for the both of them, in which their bodies are not found here. Instead, their bodies are actually buried in a plain-looking chamber which is just directly beneath this memorial chamber. This is because intricate and extensive decoration of graves is prohibited in Islamic traditions. In the actual tomb below, both their bodies are buried in such a manner that allows their faces to face westwards towards the Muslim holy city, Mecca.

Tombs of Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj Mahal

Right in front of the Taj Mahal is a picturesque garden filled with lush greenery and beautiful flowers. This garden was fashioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan to resemble the Persian gardens of that time, in which nature and symmetry were given emphasis, and geometric arrangements of plants were applied. The trees planted within the gardens are either cypress trees, which symbolize death, or fruit trees, which symbolize life. Flowers within the garden are arranged in flowerbeds, which are divided by stone pathways.

Gardens adorned with flowers and plants of all sorts surrounding the Taj Mahal

Two marble canals with fountains run through the middle of the garden. In the middle of the garden, there is also a lotus-shaped marble tank. From all corners of the garden, one can see a clear reflection of the Taj Mahal from the water in the tank. Indeed, the reflection of the white marble building on the surface of the water has become a timeless attraction for tourists from all over the globe.

Behind the Taj Mahal, on the opposite side of the Yamuna River, lies the “Mahtab Bagh” or the “Moonlight Garden.” In this garden, there is a pool which provides a marvelous reflection of the Taj Mahal at night, under the moonlight, thus the garden is known as the Moonlight Garden. It was said that after constructing the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife, Emperor Shah Jahan also desired for himself a similar building at the Mahtab Bagh. The Mahtab Bagh used to be a marvelous garden with a fantasy-like beauty under the moonlight, adorned with flowers of all varieties, fountains, large pools and a picturesque oasis. However, in the course of time, natural disasters and lack of maintenance had caused the gradual deterioration and destruction of the once beautiful Moonlight Garden. Nevertheless, restoration works have been undertaken recently to restore the Moonlight Garden back to its original state.

The "Mahtab Bagh", or Moonlight Garden behind the Taj Mahal

In a nutshell, the amazing structure and landmark of India, known as the Taj Mahal, is indeed a timeless symbol of eternal love and beauty beyond description. Referred to as “a teardrop on the face of eternity” by renowned Indian poet and playwright Rabindranath Tagore, the Taj Mahal is commonly perceived to have been “designed by giants and finished by jewelers.” Indeed, lovers from all over the world still find the Taj Mahal gardens an ideal spot to appreciate the magic of love under the moonlight, right before the ultimate symbol of eternal love that transcends time and tide – the Taj Mahal.

Reflection of the Taj Mahal on the surface of the Yamuna River, Agra

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