The Taj Mahal, the most prominent monument of India, stands as a timeless symbol of love. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal, said it made “the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes”. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore described it as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity.”
Every year thousands of tourists from across the world make a beeline for this breathtakingly ethereal marble monument. It is considered the most beautiful building ever constructed.
The Taj was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and is the pride of not just Agra but also of India.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj features in almost all literature about India and is one of the most enduring images of the country.
Its name is believed to have been drawn from Persian: ‘taj’ meaning crown and ‘mahal’ meaning palace, thus making this the ‘palace of the crown’. Interestingly, the queen in whose memory it was built, originally named Arjumand Begum, held the name ‘Mumtaz Mahal’, meaning ‘the crown of the palace’.
View: The Burial Chamber
The Taj Mahal is known as a monument of love and a grieving emperor’s ode to his beloved deceased queen. Another legend considers the Taj as an embodiment of Shah Jahan’s vision of kingship.
The story goes that he sought to build something akin to heaven on earth, a spectacular and unbelievably beautiful monument that reinforced the power, as well as the perceived divinity of the monarch, as next only to the Almighty.
It is also widely believed that emperor Shah Jahan invited artisans from Italy and Persia to work on this marble monument, and that Ustad Ahmad Lahori was the chief of the project, while Ustad Isa made the site plan.
The calligraphic work has been credited to Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi and Ran Mahal, from Kashmir, designed the gardens.
A fascinating aspect of this structure is that it looks the same from all sides, except the one facing River Yamuna. That side is said to have been especially embellished to serve as the main entrance for the emperor. Shah Jahan would approach the Taj Mahal from the river, aboard a barge, while the entrance presently used by tourists served soldiers and commoners.
The Taj features intricate inscriptions on all four entrances, while marble carvings and pietra dura mosaics adorn the walls.
Lapis-lazuli, cornelian, mother of pearl, agate and emerald are some of the precious gems and stones that were once used in its design.
It is said that work on the Taj Mahal’s construction began in 1631 by the banks of River Yamuna. Legend has it that it took 20 years to complete this architectural marvel! It is also riddled with optical illusions and masterful architectural safeguards.
As one first beholds the monument from the main gate, the Taj looks large and imposing, but as you move closer, it appears to shrink in size.
The minarets surrounding the edifice, while perfectly upright to the naked eye, have actually been constructed to lean away from the main structure. Should a disaster like an earthquake come about, the minarets would fall away and not affect the mausoleum.
The towering Great Gate, or Darwaza-e-rauza, of the Taj Mahal is a preview to the splendour of the monument, which can be seen framed by its arched entrance. Made of red sandstone, with inlays of white marble and Koranic text in black marble, the two-toned gate is a sight to behold.
Lying on the fringes of the western gardens of Taj Mahal, the Taj Museum is housed inside the Jal Mahal. Bordered by neatly-manicured lawns, the two-storey museum was established in 1982.
Stroll along the shaded pathways and enjoy this historical treat that gives you an insight into the heritage of the Taj.
The Taj Museum boasts of arts and artefacts used in the construction of the iconic monument. The walls are adorned with paintings that depict architectural plans of the Taj.
An interesting display is of celadon plates that are said to break or change colour if poisonous food was served on them. Don't miss the display of gold and silver coins minted at the time.
The Mehmaan Khana, or guest house, flanks the Taj Mahal on the east. It is a sprawling structure of red sandstone and is accentuated by beautiful marble inlays.
A good spot to appreciate the symmetry of the Taj, one can get a frontal view of the monument from the Mehmaan Khana’s entrance.
Resembling the Mehmaan Khana in architecture, the Kau Ban Mosque lies to the west of the Taj Mahal. Built facing Mecca, the mosque is made of red sandstone. It boasts a dominant portal called an Iwan, on either side of which lie two smaller arches.
The Taj Mahal preserves its grandeur in its almost perfect symmetry, a fact reiterated by its series of windows, which are a fine example of Islamic art and architecture. The windows make up an intricate screen of marble-cut lattice work and add to the glory of the monument.
Virtual Tour courtesy Archaeological Survey of India