Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, a dream etched in milky white pristine marble is the peerless monument portraying the beauty of eternal love! A commemoration of the memory of Shahjahan’s beloved wife, Mumtaz. Taj Mahal is indeed India’s rich tribute to womanhood. Renowned for its aesthetic beauty, this extravagant building of timeless beauty is the outcome of a unique combination of passion and architectural exuberance.

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?

The Chosen City
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, Jehangir built rose-red palaces, courts and gardens. Shahjahan embellished it with marbled mosques, palaces and pavillions of gem-inlaid white marble. Agra is globally renown as the city of the Taj Mahal, a monument of love and imagination, that represents India to the world.

Build me a Taj
As Mumtaz Mahal lay dying, she asked four promises from the emperor: first, that he build the Taj; second, that he should marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary. He kept the first and second promises. Construction began in 1631 and was completed in 22 years. Twenty thousand people were deployed to work on it. The principal architect was the Iranian architect Istad Usa; it is possible that the pietra dura work was coordinated by an Italian artist.

Inside 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.

Main Gateway to taj Mahal

Shah Jahan travelled from the fort to the tomb by boat. Court histories describe his arrival on the river side of the monument and his ascent to its terrace by way of the embankment. This approach, however, was reserved for the emperor and members of his party. Others passed through a large courtyard, a jilokhana to enter the main gateway on the south. This courtyard was a place where travellers halted. Here, also, the poor were provided with food and shelter, and on every death anniversary of Mumtaz, vast sums were distributed in charity.

Gate to Paradise (The Taj Mahal)
In this courtyard stand the main gateway to the Taj and its gardens, a massive portal that opens to the south. Detached gateways were long a traditional feature of Muslim architecture and could be found fronting tombs and mosques throughout the East. Symbolically to the Muslim, such an entrance way was the gate to Paradise. Metaphysically, it represented the transition point between the outer world of the senses and the inner world of the spirit.

Structure
Made of red sandstone, this 150 ft. wide and nearly 100 ft. high, gateway consists of a lofty central arch with double storeyed wings on either side. Octagonal towers are attached to its corners which are surmounted by broad impressive open domed kiosks. The most important feature of the gateway is a series of 11 attached chhatris (umbrellas) with marble cupolas, flanked by pinnacles, above the central portal on the north and south sides. A heavy door at the base is made from 8 different metals and studded with knobs. Inside are countless rooms with hallways that wind and divide in such apparent abandon that they seem intentionally built to confuse; perhaps they were, for they have remained unused for three centuries and their purpose has long confounded the experts. Within the archway of this majestic entrance, there is a large chamber with a vaulted roof.

Decoration
The gateway is richly embellished. Of particular note are the floral arabesques fashioned from gemstones and inlaid in white marble which decorate the spandrels of the arches. Also impressive are the inlaid black marble inscriptions that frame the central vaulted portal or iwan. These passages are excerpts from the Koran, which is considered by Muslims to be the word of God as revealed to Mohammed. It is here that Shah Jehan’s calligraphers have performed an amazing optical trick : the size of the lettering that runs up and over the arch appears to be consistent from top to bottom. This illusion was created by gradually heightening the size of the letters as their distance from the eye increased; from the ground the dimensions seem the same at every point. This effect is used with equal success on the main doorway of the Taj itself.

Mosque at The Taj Mahal

On either side of the Tah Mahal are buildings of red sandstone. The one to the west is a Mosque. It faces towards Mecca and is used for prayer. Before we have a look at the Tahj Mahal mosque, let us take note of a small stone enclosure along the western boundary wall where the well of the Mosque is located. This greenery shaded structure, measuring 19 ft. by 6.5 ft. marks the site where the remains of Mumtaz Mahal were deposited when first brought to Agra. From this temporary grave they were removed to their present place of internment in the Taj Majal.

On the outside the Mosque has pietra dura work twining across its spandrels. The platform in front of the Mosque is of red sandstone. A highly polished small marble piece is so fitted that it serves as a mirror and one can see the mausoleum reflected in it. The floor is of a material which is exceedingly fine and sparkling and appears velvet red in shade. On that 539 prayer carpets have been neatly marked out with black marble. All over there is exquisite calligraphy and the name Allah and quotations from scriptures inscribed. The roof supports 4 octagonal towers and 3 elegant domes. On either side of the Mosque, to the north and south, and set along and upon the enclosure wall, there are two towers.

The Rest House at The Taj Mahal

On the east side of the Tah Mahal stands the twin of the Mosque, a parallel structure also made of red sandstone, referred to as the jawab, or “answer”. Because it faced away from the Mecca, it was never used for prayer. Its presence there has always been something of an enigma. Was it a caravanserai for pilgrims, or a meeting hall before the faithful gathered before prayer? More p lausible is the theory that its purpose was purely architectural, to counterbalance the Mosque and preserve the symmetry of the entire design on the platform.

The jawab is similar to the Mosque at Taj Mahel. However, it does not contain the accessories which go with a mosque, and, instead of Koranic inscriptions, there are beautiful flower designs and other decoration effectively done in white marble on the red sandstone background. On the floor between the building and the mausoleum there is a full size reproduction of the pinnacle adorning the Taj Mahel. This gives some idea of the true proportions (31 ft.) of what from below appears to be a tiny thing.

The Taj Gardens and the Ingenious Water Devices

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 formalise them – the Persian garden was artificially contrived, unbashedly man-made, based on geometric arrangements of nature without any attempt at a “natural” look.

Like Persian gardeners, landscape artists at the Taj 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 (symbolising 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.

The Water Devices

The architect e conduits, designed a clever system to procure water for the Taj 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 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 Taj 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.

A day at taj Mahal

Timings

The Archaeological Survey of India has decided that Taj Mahal will remain closed on Fridays for the public except for those who go for afternoon prayers in the mosque next to the 17th century monument. The monument, which attracts thousands of visitors every day, previously remained closed on Mondays.

The Taj will remain open from 6 am-7 pm everyday except Fridays. Entry costs Rs 970 for Foreigners and for indians during the sunrise and sunset entry costs Rs 110 and during the daytime Rs 20/-. On Fridays, people will be allowed to go for the customary prayers between 1200 hrs 1400 hrs at the mosque in the Taj Mahal complex.

Described by the Indian classical poet Tagore as a “tear on the face of eternity”, the Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the zenith of Moghul architecture and quite simply one of the world’s most marvellous buildings. Volumes have been written on it s perfection, and its image adorns countless glossy brochures and guide books; nonetheless, the reality never fails to overwhelm all who see it, and few words can do it justice.

Play of Light
The glory of the monument is strangely undiminished by the crowds of tourists who visit each day, as small and insignificant as ants in the face of this immense and captivating monument. That said, the Taj is at its most alluring in the relative quiet of early morning, shrouded in mists and bathed with a soft red glow. As its vast marble surfaces fall into shadow or reflect the sun, its colour changes, from soft grey and yellow to pearly cream and dazzling white; it’s well worth visiting at different times. This play of light is an important decorative device, symbolically implying the presence of Allah, who is never represented in anthropomorphic form.

Times of Day
The Taj Mahal shows a different aspect of beauty at different times of the day. The sight of the Taj awash with the subtle pinks of dawn is an unforgettable sight. Sunsets stain the Taj an exotic shade of orange. But nothing beats the poignant beauty of 

the Taj seen when the cool white marble is bathed in the soft silver light of the moon. Even in the bright light of the day, this wonder of the world shines with an awe-inspiring loveliness.

There’s no time limit on visits to the Taj, and some people spend most of the day here, sitting, reading, dozing or picnicking in the beautifully kept gardens. Hawkers and salesmen are not allowed in, and official guides are not available on site, but can usually be provided by hotels, and always accompany organized tours. The ticket office, just outside the western gate, is rarely blocked by long queues, except between 4 and 5 pm before the admission fee increases; bring the right amount of money as the ticket booth attendants rarely have change and tend to pocket the difference

Architect of Taj Mahal

Overlooking the River Yamuna, and visible from the fort in the west, the Taj Mahal stands at the northern end of vast gardens enclosed by walls. Though its layout follows a distinctly Islamic theme, representing Paradise, it is above all a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal (“Elect of the Palace”), who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child, in 1631.

Architects at Work
The names of the chief architects who worked on the Taj have been noted. Ismail Afandi, who designed the hemispheres and built the domes was from Turkey. Qazim Khan came from Lahore to cast the gold finial that would top the dome. Chiranji Lal was called from Delhi to pattern the mosaic. From Shiraz in Persia came master calligrapher, Amanat Khan. Stone cutter Amir Ali was from Baluchistan. Ustad Isa of Tukey is however credited to have been the main architect. It is believed that his design embodied much of what the Emperor wanted to express.

Approach to the Taj Mahal
The walled complex is approached from the south through a red sandstone forecourt, Chowk-i Jilo Khana, whose wide paths, flanked by arched kiosks, run to high gates in the east and west. The original entrance, a massive arched gateway topped with delicate domes and adorned with Koranic verses, stands at the northern edge of Chowk-i Jilo Khana, directly aligned with the Taj, but shielding it from the view of those who wait outside. Today’s entrance, complete with security checks, is through a narrow archway in the southern wall to the right of the gate.

Garden mausoleum
The mighty marble tomb stands at the end of superb gardens designed in the charbagh style so fashionable among Moghul, Arabic and Persian architects. Dissected into four quadrants by waterways, they evoke the Islamic image of the Gardens of Paradise, where rivers flow with water, milk, wine and honey. The “rivers” converge at a marble tank in the centre that corresponds to al-Kawthar, the celestial pool of abundance mentioned in the Koran. Today only the watercourse running from north to south is full, and its precise, glassy reflection of the Taj is a favourite photographic image.

Structure of The Taj Mahal
Essentially square in shape, with peaked arches cut into its sides, the Taj Mahal surmounts a square marble platform marked at each corner by a high minaret. Topped with a huge central dome, it rises for over 55m, its height accentuated by a crowning brass spire, itself almost 17m high. On approach, the tomb looms ever larger and grander, but not until you are close do you appreciate both its awesome magnitude and the extraordinarily fine detail of relief carving, highlighted by floral patterns of precious stones. Carved vases of flowers including roses, tulips and narcissi, rise subtly out of the marble base, a pa ttern repeated more colourfully and inlaid with precious stones around the four great arched recesses (pishtaqs) on each side.

The Taj Mahal Tomb
The south face of the tomb is the main entrance to the interior: a high, echoing octagonal chamber flushed with pallid light reflected by yellowing marble surfaces. A marble screen, cut so finely that it seems almost translucent, and decorated with precious stones, scatters dappled light over the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal in the centre of the tomb, and that of Shah Jahan next to it. Inlaid stones on the marble tombs are the finest in Agra; attendants gladly illuminate the decorations with torches. The 99 names of Allah adorn the top of Mumtaz’s tomb, and set into Shah Jahan’s is a pen box, the hallmark of a male ruler. These cenotaphs, in accordance with Moghul tradition, are only representations of the real coffins, which lie in the same positions in an unadorned and humid crypt below that’s heavy with the scent of heady incense and rose petals.

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