Capital: New Delhi
India is steeped in history and diversity and there is no dearth of historical monuments and sites in the country but the Taj Mahal is unarguably the magnet that attracts tourists from far and wide. The Taj Mahal, a UNESCO world heritage site, is an imposing marble mausoleum constructed during the period of the Mughal dynasty (1500’s-1800’s). The Mughal dynasty was the third biggest empire in the world and was one of the most prominent and powerful empires in India. Shah Jahan, one of the emperors of the dynasty, ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal. The Mughal architecture was at its pinnacle during Shah Jahan’s reign and therefore this period during his rule is also called the ‘Golden Age of Mughal Architecture.’ Under him many prominent monuments were built but the masterpiece is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal.
This structure, currently costing USD 827 billion, lies on the banks of the Yamuna river in the city of Agra, India. Taj Mahal’s saga has made it a symbol of eternal and undying love. Shah Jahan had three wives but his favourite was Mumtaz Mahal. She was also the only one who could bear kids for him. Mumtaz Mahal died from childbirth and she had two ‘dying wishes’ – one, to build the most stunning mausoleum ever in the world and two, Shah Jahan should never marry again. Shah Jahan fulfilled these promises. Twenty thousand workers from as far as Iraq and Turkey were appointed to initiate a task that would stagger the world with its architectural brilliance. Mumtaz Mahal was first buried and then the mausoleum was built around her tomb as the central point. The project was completed in 1631 after 22 years of arduous labour. After the completion of the monument, Shah Jahan cut off the architect’s thumb and he ordered the workers to never work again in the construction industry.
Shah Jahan also attempted to build a mirror image of the Taj Mahal in black, on the other side of the Yamuna river for himself. While he was attempting to construct his grand mausoleum, Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s youngest son, conspired to kill his two elder brothers so that he could become the heir to the throne. Aurangzeb then imprisoned his father in a room in the Agra fort where he spent his last days, from there he had a clear view of the Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb feared that if Shah Jahan realised his dream of a black Taj Mahal, the kingdom would be near bankruptcy. When Shah Jahan died, his tomb was placed next to his wife. His tomb is the only thing that is not symmetrical in the whole mausoleum complex.
The main gate for entering the Taj Mahal is built in red sandstone. It has 22 pillars adorning the top (for the number of years it took to build), eleven at the front and eleven at the back. The Taj Mahal looks totally mesmerising from the moment you set eyes on it through the arch of the main gate and it’s easy to see why this has been added as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. The Taj Mahal indeed looks like a palace (mahal). There are clear, big pools and fountains leading to the the main domed structure surrounded by lavish and sprawling gardens. The pools were built in such a way that the Taj Mahal would reflect in them. Walking about or picnics in the garden are prohibited. Flanking the gardens are two red sandstone structures. Facing the East, there is a mosque and facing the west, a guest house. No one ever stayed in this guest house because it was considered bad luck to stay near a tomb. The edifice has embedded in it 28 types of precious stones which were sourced from as far as Tibet, Sri Lanka and Persia while the marble came from Rajasthan, India.
The stairs going down to the real tombs have been closed for the public but you can still see a replica on top. The intricately carved marble lattice that surrounds the two cenotaphs is in the shape of a Crown (Taj) and is made out of big slabs of marble. The workers had to carve it perfectly and with utmost care as a single mistake could shatter the marble. It is said that lots of marble was laid waste during this process in order to achieve perfection.
At a first glance the aesthetically pleasing monument looks impeccably symmetrical but actually has an abundance of optical illusions built in. The minarets of the Taj Mahal which look straight are tilted slightly outwards. This was done for two reasons, to help them look straight and for safety reasons – if an earthquake were to occur the minarets would fall away from the main structure instead of falling on it. Another example is that the Arabic inscriptions from the holy Quran, which are carved on the main structure, appear exactly the same size from top to bottom but on closer inspection one finds that the lower the words get , the smaller they become! This was done for ease of reading. The Taj Mahal also appears very close to the main gate when you view it through the main arch but as you enter the gate, it is suddenly quite a distance away. It is almost incredible that the workers had managed to construct this fine piece of work almost 4 centuries back!
The monument’s beauty is unparalleled and very few can match its splendour. It’s one thing to have heard about the Taj Mahal, a totally different thing to have seen it.