History of Taj Mahal India
The origin of the name the “Taj Mahal” is not clear. Court histories from Shah Jehan’s reign only call it the rauza (tomb) of Mumtaz Mahal. It is generally believed that “Taj Mahal” (usually translated as either “Crown Palace” or “Crown of the Palace”) is an abbreviated version of her name, Mumtaz Mahal (Exalted One of the Palace). The Taj Mahal is a deserving resting palace for an Emperor’s Empress. It stands on the banks of the river Yamuna, which otherwise serves as a wide moat defending the Great Red Fort of Agra, the center of the Mughal emperors until they moved their capital to Delhi in 1637. It was built by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess. She died while accompanying her husband in Burhanpur in a campaign to crush a rebellion after giving birth to their 14th child.
Lovers die, but love shall not and death shall have no dominion.
In the year 1607 when a prince of the royal Mughal household strolled down the Meena Bazaar, accompanied by a string of fawning courtiers, he caught a glimpse of a girl hawking silk and glass beads. Five years and a wife later (in those days princes did not marry for love alone) the regal 20-yr-old went to wed his 19-yr-old bride. It was a fairytale union from the start, one that withstood court intrigues, battles for succession and finally, the grand coronation. And when she died on the 19th year of their marriage, he etched her story in stone. The Taj Mahal is the living symbol of the monumental passion of Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu. Which other love story has so grand a memorial?
Agra, the Chosen City for Taj Mahal
Agra was the chosen city of the Mughal emperors during the early years. It was here that the founder of the dynasty, Babur, laid out the first formal Persian garden on the banks of the River Yamuna. Here, Akbar, his grandson, raised the towering ramparts of the great Red Fort. Within its walls, Jahangir built rose-red palaces, courts and gardens. Shahjahan embellished it with marbled mosques, palaces and pavilions of gem-inlaid white marble. Agra is globally renowned as the city of the Taj Mahal, a monument of love and imagination, which represents India to the world.
TAJ MAHAL – Wonder of the World
To people the world over, the Taj Mahal, mausoleum of Mughal Emperor shah Jana’s chief wife, Mumtaz Mahal, is synonymous with India. Its curving, gently swelling dome and the square base upon which its rests so lightly is a familiar image from hundreds of brochures and travel books. The Taj is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular buildings of the world. Renowned for its architectural magnificence and aesthetic beauty, it counts among man’s proudest creations and is invariably included in the list of the world’s foremost wonders. As a tomb, it has no match upon earth, for mortal remains have never been housed in greater grandeur.
Inside The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is situated more than 900 ft. (275 m.) away from the entrance at the opposite end of the garden. Towering almost 200 ft. (76m.) in height, the tomb stands on its own marble plinth, which rests on a red sandstone platform that serves to level the land as it slopes to the river. Four tall minarets rise up from the corners of the white marble plinth. They taper to a majestic height of 138 ft and are crowned with eight windowed cupolas.
The marble mausoleum is square in plan with chamfered corners. Each facade of the tomb is composed of a grand iwan framed by bands of calligraphy. The doorways inside these iwans are also adorned with calligraphy. The iwan is flanked on both sides by small double arches one over the other. They are rectangular while the arched alcoves of equal size at the angles of the tomb are semi-octagonal. Each section in the facade is well demarked on both sides by attached pilasters which rising from the plinth level of the tomb rise above the frieze and are crowned by beautiful pinnacles with lotus buds and finials. The pinnacles ornament the superstructure and help along with the other features to break the skyline gracefully.
Taj Mahal Design & Layout
The Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal at Agra stands in a formally laid-out walled garden entered through a pavilion. The architectural complex comprises five main elements: the Darwaza or main gateway, the Bageecha or garden, the Masjid or mosque, the Naqqar Khana or rest house, and the Rauza or the Taj Mahal mausoleum. The actual Tomb is situated inside the Taj.
The unique Mughal style combines elements of Persian, Central Asian, and Islamic architecture. The mosques, built only to balance the composition are set sufficiently far away to do no more than frame the mausoleum. In essence, the whole riverside platform is a mosque courtyard with a tomb at its center. The great entrance gate with its domed central chamber, set at the end of the long watercourse, would in any other setting be a monument in its own right.
The Taj stands on a raised, square platform (186 x 186 feet) with its four corners truncated, forming an unequal octagon. The architectural design uses the interlocking arabesque concept, in which each element stands on its own and perfectly integrates with the main structure. It uses the principles of self-replicating geometry and symmetry of architectural elements. The four graceful and slender 162.5 feet minarets, set symmetrically about the tomb, are scaled down to heighten the effect of the dominant, slightly bulbous dome. Its central dome is 58 feet in diameter and rises to a height of 213 feet it is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers.
The tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal are actually located in a shadowy burial crypt. Above them, in the main chamber are false tombs, a common practice in mausoleums built during the Mughal period. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screens. The echo in this high-domed chamber is worth hearing, and there is always somebody there to demonstrate it.
Ironically, the perfect symmetry of Taj is disrupted by the tomb of the man who built it. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his son Aurangzeb placed his casket next to that of Mumtaz Mahal. His presence which was never intended unbalances the mausoleum’s interior.
The Green Taj Garden
A green carpet of garden, a Persian garden, runs from the main gateway to the foot of the Taj Mahal. Such gardens were introduced to India by Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who also brought with him the Persian infatuation with flowers and fruit, birds and leaves, symmetry and delicacy. Unlike other Oriental gardens – especially those of the Japanese, who learned to accentuate existing resources rather than formalize them – the Persian garden was artificially contrived, unabashedly man-made, based on geometric arrangements of nature without any attempt at a “natural” look.
Like Persian gardeners, landscape artists at the Taj Mahal attempted to translate the perfection of heaven into terrestrial terms by following certain formulas. In Islam, four is the holiest of all numbers – most arrangements of the Taj Mahal are based on that number or its multiples – and the gardens were thus laid out in the quadrate plan. Two marble canals studded with fountains and lined with cypress trees (symbolizing death) cross in the centre of the garden dividing it into four equal squares.
The mausoleum, instead of occupying the central point (like most mughal mausoleums), stands majestically at the north end just above the river. Each of the four quarters of the garden has been sub-divided into 16 flower beds by stone-paved raised pathways. At the centre of the garden, halfway between the tomb and the gateway, stands a raised marble lotus-tank with a cusped border. The tank has been arranged to perfectly reflect the Taj in its waters.
A clear, unobstructed view of the mausoleum is available from any spot in the garden. Fountains and solemn rows of cypress trees only adorn the north-south water canal, lest the attention of the viewer would be diverted to the sides !! This shows how carefully the aesthetic effect of the water devices and the garden were calculated. The deep green cypress trees with their slender rising shapes and curving topmost crests are mirrored in the water while between their dark reflections shines the beauty of the immortal Taj Mahal.
The Water Devices at the Taj Mahal
The architect e conduits, designed a clever system to procure water for the Taj Mahal through underground pipes. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs (manual system of drawing water from a water body using a rope and bucket pulled by bullocks) and was brought through a broad water channel into an oblong storage tank of great dimensions. It was again raised by a series of thirteen purs worked by bullocks.
Except for the ramps, the other features of the whole water system have survived. An over-head water-channel supported on massive arches carried water into another storage tank of still greater dimensions. Water was finally raised by means of fourteen purs and passed into a channel which filled three supply tanks, the last of which had pipe mouths in its eastern wall. The pipes descended below and after travelling underground crossed into the Taj Mahal enclosure. One pipe line runs directly towards the mosque to supply the fountains in the tanks on the red sandstone plinth below the marble structure. Copper pipes were used for separate series of fountains in the north-south canal, lotus pond and the canal around it.
An ingenious method was devised to ensure uniform and undiminished water pressure in the fountains, irrespective of the distance and the outflow of water. A copper pot was provided under each fountain pipe – which was thus connected to with the water supply only through the pot. Water first fills the pot and then only rises simultaneously in the fountains. The fountains are thus controlled by pressure in the pots and not pressure in the main pipe. As the pressure in the pots is uniformly distributed all the time, it ensures equal supply of water at the same rate in all the fountains.
The main supply of the water was however obtained through earthenware pipes. One such main was discovered under the bed of the western canal. The pipe is 9″ in diameter and has been embedded in masonry at a depth of 5 feet below the level of the paved walk. Evidently, the Mughal water expert was a master of his art and successfully worked out the levels in relation to the volume of water to ensure its unobstructed supply for centuries. He anticipated no repair work and therefore made no provision for it; hence the extraordinary depth at which the pipe was sunk.
The garden is irrigated by the overflowing of canals. The north-south canal has inlets of water through fountains. The east-west received its water through an interconnection with the north-south canal. Thus the quarters near the canals received an adequate supply of water and could be used for growing flower-plants which would not obscure the general view, while the distant quarters got a smaller supply of water and were suitable only for tall trees.
Taj Mahal Impressions
From studied awe to sheer ecstacy, people have literally competed to say the most beautiful things about the Taj Mahal. Some have admired its beauty; others have revealed the various activities that took place here. We take a look.
Shah Jahan’s own composition in praise of the Taj Mahal is found in Badshah Nama: “? The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs and makes sun and moon shed tears from their eyes. In this world this edifice has been made to display thereby the Creator’s glory.”
From the Travels in the Mughul Empire, 1670 by the French traveler Bernier: “The Koran is continually read with apparent devotion by certain Mullahs kept in the Mausoleum for that purpose? It is opened with much ceremony once a year. and no Christian is admitted within , lest its sanctity be profaned.”
In 1783 the British painter Hodges says of the tomb: “it appears like a perfect pearl on an azure ground. The effect is such I have never experienced from any work of art.”
By the time of the British conquest of India, the attitude to the Tah Mahal had changed. The beautiful memorial had turned into a pleasure resort; in its gardens, Englishman met their lovers. On its terrace they danced while the mosque and the jawab were rented out to honeymooners!
Writes a then well-known British officer, Colonel Sleeman’s wife: “I cannot tell what I think. I do not know how to criticize such a building but I can tell what I feel. I would die tomorrow to have such another over me.”
The American novelist, Bayard Taylor, wrote about the Taj Mahal: “Did you ever build a castle in the Air ? Here is one, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of ages”.
Lord Curzon, the British Governor-General who is credited to have somewhat saved the Ta Mahal from neglect, said in a speech from the terrace of the monument: “If I had never done anything else in India, I have written my name here, and the letters are a living joy.”
The poet Rabindranath Tagore has perhaps said it best of all: “You know Shah Jahan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart? Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish? Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever.