Taj Mahal

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This article is about the Indian monument. For other uses, see Taj Mahal (disambiguation)

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Taj Mahal is the name of a monument located in Agra, India. It was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the son of Jahangir, as a mausoleum for his Persian wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, also known as Mumtaz-ul-Zamani. It took 23 years to complete (1630 - 1653).

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Taj Mahal

The names "Taj" and "Mahal" are of Urdu origin. Taj in Urdu means crown or diadem. While Mahal means palace/edifice or a stately mansion, it is sometimes simply and evocatively referred to as the Taj.

There is a theory proposed by the Indian writer P.N. Oak that the term 'Taj Mahal' is derived from 'Tejo Mahalaya' - a Hindu temple of the God Shiva. And it is believed by supporters of this theory that the present day Taj is one such temple converted. This theory is not accepted by mainstream scholars.

It must be emphasised that the design of the Taj Mahal cannot be ascribed to any single master-mind. The Taj is the culmination of an evolutionary process. It is the perfected stage in the development of Mughal architecture. The names of many of the builders who participated in the construction of the Taj in different capacities have come down to us through Persian sources. A project as ambitious as the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal demanded talent from many quarters. From Turkey came Ismail Khan, a designer of hemispheres and a builder of domes. Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore, travelled to Agra to cast the solid gold finial that crowned the Turkish master's dome. Chiranjilal, a local lapidary from Delhi, was chosen as the chief sculptor and mosaicist. Amanat Khan from Persian Shiraz was the chief calligrapher, and this fact is attested on the Taj gateway where his name has been inscribed at the end of the inscription. Muhammad Hanif was the Supervisor of masons, while Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz handled finances and the management of daily production. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a man who specialised in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers - thirty seven men in all formed the creative nucleus, and to this core was added a labour force of twenty thousand workers recruited from across northern India.

According to most commonly accepted theory, the Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials during the construction. The white marble was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab and the jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the cornelian from Arabia. In all, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. The total cost of construction was about 40 million Rupees, at a time when 1 gram of gold was sold for about 1.3 Rupees.

Details of the outside wall
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Details of the outside wall

The architectural complex of the Taj Mahal covers an area of approximately 1900 ft × 1000 ft (580 m × 300 m) and comprises of five main components: the darwaza (gateway), the bageecha (garden) which is in the form of the typical Mughal charbagh (garden divided into four parts), the masjid (mosque), the mihman khana (guest house), and finally the mausoleum or the tomb of Taj Mahal, at the Northern end of the complex.

Schematic plan of Taj complex
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Schematic plan of Taj complex

The tomb complex was designed to be accessed from both the northern and the southern sides, from the river Yamuna as well as by land. The entry from the landside has the gateway and other utility buildings constituting the front (and Southern) part of the complex. On entering the gateway which visually frames the tomb, one is inside the charbagh. Measuring 1000 ft × 1000 ft (300 m × 300 m), the garden has sunken parterres or flower-beds, raised pathways, water channels that reflect the Taj and avenues of trees. At the termination and along the central axis articulated by the garden is the tomb. To the Western or Mecca side of the tomb is a mosque of red sandstone that sanctifies the complex and provides a place for pilgrims to worship. On the Eastern side is a structure that duplicates the mosque in order to maintain architectural symmetry. This is known as the jawab ("answer") and was put to use as a guest house.

Gateway to the Taj Mahal, view from Charbagh
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Gateway to the Taj Mahal, view from Charbagh

The tomb of Queen Mumtaz-ul-Zamani stands on a raised terrace with four minarets at each corner framing the tomb. The minarets are slanting outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they will fall away from the tomb. Like most Mughal tombs, the Taj shows a great amount of Persian influence. There are some typical Hindu-influenced characteristics as well; the dome is a upside down lotus-flower, as well as the pillars. In the ceiling of the dome, there is a drawing of the Sun. Both the lotus and sun are central elements of Hinduism. A derivative of a square in plan with edges chamfered, it is a multi-chambered structure with a central main chamber surrounded by eight divisions (of which four are important bays) with openings in the form of arched alcoves. The central chamber is surmounted by a bulbous double dome (having inner and outer layers) generally referred to as the onion or Tartar or Persian dome because of its form. There are four Kiosks (chattris, small domes over pavilions) over the surrounding bays which articulate the main dome. The cenotaph is at the entry level of the main chamber whereas the grave is at the level below. The black and white chessboard marble floor inside the tomb chamber and the pietra dura artwork that includes geometric patterns, plants and flowers are impressive.

Various studies on the Taj speculate on what makes it unique and beautiful. One reason is attributed to its perfect proportions and geometry. Another is ascribed to the various moods that the Taj presents to its viewers. Clad in delicate, white Makrana marble, the Taj changes its character across time as the light changes- dawn, noon, twilight, night. The shadows that fall on the marble too enhance the effect, being very delicate. The Taj is considered especially ethereal when viewed on a full moon night. For Tagore, the Taj was a "tear in the face of eternity".

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Taj Mahal, view from South-Eastern gardens

An unlikely legend claims that after the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan had the eyes of architect Ustad Ahmed gouged, ensuring that nothing could be built competing with its magnificence. Other exaggerated stories tell of skilled scupltors and artisans whose hands were lopped off after their work was complete to prevent them from ever making anything as glorious as the Taj again.

An identical complex was originally supposed to be built on the other side of the river, in black marble instead of white. There is some archaeological evidence to support this theory. If plans for such a structure did exist, however, it was never completed. The most widely accepted explanation is that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb who was uninterested in building a black Taj Mahal.

As part of the struggle for succession, Shah Jahan was put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb, and legend has it that he spent the remainder of his days there gazing from a window at the Taj. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurengzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal, next to his wife, the only disruption of the otherwise perfect symmetry in the architecture.

By the late 19th century, parts of the Taj Mahal had fallen badly into disrepair, and some of the cut marble had been stolen for use elsewhere. British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a restoration project. At the same time the traditional garden was replaced with the more English-looking lawns that are visible today.

The Taj Mahal, as of 1983, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist destination.

The Taj is one of the nominees for the modern seven wonders of the world.

See also Persian architecture

External links

The Taj's Other Story

da:Taj Mahal de:Tadsch Mahal et:Tadž Mahal es:Taj Mahal fr:Taj Mahal ga:Taj Mahal he:טאג' מאהל it:Taj Mahal kn:ತಾಜ್ ಮಹಲ್ nl:Taj Mahal ja:タージ・マハール pt:Taj Mahal pl:Taj Mahal ro:Taj Mahal sl:Tad Mahal sv:Taj Mahal zh:泰姬陵

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