IntroductionThe Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Ottoman, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage." While the white domed marble mausoleum is its most familiar component, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. Building began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The Persian architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer of the Taj Mahal.
The mausoleum of the Taj Mahal. Image Source
In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Interactive Satellite Map of the Taj Mahal
Below is an interactive Google Earth satellite map of the Taj Mahal area.
Use the buttons on the map to zoom in; drag the map with your mouse to move around.
Use the buttons on the map to zoom in; drag the map with your mouse to move around.
ConstructionThe Taj Mahal was built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of roughly three acres was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage and leveled at 50 meters above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble as the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle.
Ground layout of the Taj Mahal
A labour force of twenty thousand workers was recruited across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers were part of the thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit. Some of the builders involved in construction of Taj Mahal are:
- The main dome was designed by Ismail Afandi (a.ka. Ismail Khan), of the Ottoman Empire and was considered as a premier designer of hemispheres and domes.
- Ustad Isa of Persia (Iran) and Isa Muhammad Effendi of Persia (Iran), trained by Koca Mimar Sinan Agha of Ottoman Empire, are frequently credited with a key role in the architectural design, but there is little evidence to support this claim.
- 'Puru' from Benarus, Persia (Iran) has been mentioned as a supervising architect.
- Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore, cast the solid gold finial.
- Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi, was chosen as the chief sculptor and mosaicist.
- Amanat Khan from Shiraz, Iran was the chief calligrapher. His name has been inscribed at the end of the inscription on the Taj Mahal gateway.
- Muhammad Hanif was a supervisor of masons and Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz, Iran (Persia) handled finances and management of daily production.
The base of the Taj is a large, multi-chambered structure
Ever since its construction, the building has been the source of
an admiration transcending culture and geography, and so personal
and emotional responses to the building have consistently eclipsed
scholastic appraisals of the monument.
A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Yamuna river. The idea originates from fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. It was suggested that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river in Moonlight Garden, Mahtab Bagh, seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found that they were discolored white stones that had turned black. A more credible theory for the origins of the black mausoleum was demonstrated in 2006 by archeologists who reconstructed part of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A dark reflection of the white mausoleum could clearly be seen, befitting Shah Jahan's obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool itself.
No evidence exists for claims that describe, often in horrific detail, the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan supposedly inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the tomb. Some stories claim that those involved in construction signed contracts committing themselves to have no part in any similar design. Similar claims are made for many famous buildings. No evidence exists for claims that Lord William Bentinck, governor-general of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli says that the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort.
In 2000, India's Supreme Court dismissed P.N. Oak's petition to declare that a Hindu king built the Taj Mahal. Oak claimed that origins of the Taj, together with other historic structures in the country currently ascribed to Muslim sultans pre-date Muslim occupation of India and thus, have a Hindu origin. A more poetic story relates that once a year, during the rainy season, a single drop of water falls on the cenotaph, as inspired by Rabindranath Tagore's description of the tomb as "one tear-drop...upon the cheek of time". Another myth suggests that beating the silhouette of the finial will cause water to come forth. To this day, officials find broken bangles surrounding the silhouette.
The Controversy Surrounding the Origins of the Taj MahalThe Taj Mahal, located near the Indian city of Agra, is one of the world's greatest architectural treasures. The almost supernatural beauty of the Taj Mahal and its grounds transcends culture and history, and speaks with a voice of its own to visitors from all over the world of feelings that are common to all humanity. The city of Agra has recently been rejuvenated under the direction of Kamal Nath and the Urban Ministry due in large part to the tourism brought by the Taj Mahal.
There are two stories of how the Taj came to be.
The Taj's Love StoryIt has been called the most beautiful temple in the world, despite the fact that it was built at the cost of much human life. The Taj Mahal is a real monument of one man's love for a woman. The story is a sad one, told many times. But it never hurts to tell it again.
In 1631, when his wife died in childbirth, the emperor Shah Jahan brought to Agra the most skilled craftsmen from all Asia and even Europe, to build the white marble mausoleum that is the Taj Mahal. He intended to build a black marble mausoleum for himself, and the link between the two was to be a silver bridge. This fantastic plan suffered a dramatic and permanent setback when the Shah himself died.
This is, of course, an illusion. The Taj stands on a raised square platform 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 a symmetry of architectural elements.
If you don't want the huge crowds to distract you from your view, try arriving just as it opens or is about to close. A few minutes alone in the perpetually echoing inner sanctum will reward you far more than several hours spent on a guided tour. Especially if your tour guide is Murbat Singh, who makes it his job to find a new comic slant on the Taj story every time he tells it.
To really do the Taj Mahal justice, you should plan to spend at least a full day in the grounds, to see this stunning piece of architecture at dawn, midday, and at dusk. The colours and atmosphere of the gardens and the Taj itself constantly change throughout the day. Under moonlight the marble glows.
The Taj's Other StoryBBC reports:
If you have ever visited the Taj Mahal then your guide probably told you that it was designed by Ustad Isa of Iran, and built by the Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Indian children are taught that it was built in 22 years (1631 to 1653) by 20,000 artisans brought to India from all over the world.
This story has been challenged by Professor P.N. Oak, author of Taj Mahal: The True Story, who believes that the whole world has been duped. He claims that the Taj Mahal is not Queen Mumtaz Mahal's tomb, but an ancient Hindu temple palace of Lord Shiva (then known as Tejo Mahalaya), worshipped by the Rajputs of Agra city.
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The use of captured temples and mansions as a burial place for dead courtiers and royalty was a common practice among Muslim rulers. For example, Hamayun, Akbar, Etmud-ud-Daula and Safdarjung are all buried in such mansions.
Oak's inquiries begin with the name Taj Mahal. He says this term does not occur in any Moghul court papers or chronicles, even after Shah Jahan's time. The term 'Mahal' has never been used for a building in any of the Muslim countries, from Afghanistan to Algeria.
'The usual explanation that the term Taj Mahal derives from Mumtaz Mahal is illogical in at least two respects. Firstly, her name was never Mumtaz Mahal but Mumtaz-ul-Zamani,' he writes. 'Secondly, one cannot omit the first three letters from a woman's name to derive the remainder as the name for the building.'
Taj Mahal is, he claims, a corrupt version of Tejo-mahalaya, or the Shiva's Palace. Oak also says that the love story of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan is a fairy tale created by court sycophants, blundering historians and sloppy archaeologists. Not a single royal chronicle of Shah Jahan's time corroborates the love story.
Furthermore, Oak cites several documents suggesting that the Taj Mahal predates Shah Jahan's era:
- Professor Marvin Miller of New York took samples from the
riverside doorway of the Taj. Carbon dating tests revealed that the
door was 300 years older than Shah Jahan.
- European traveller Johan Albert Mandelslo, who visited Agra in
1638 (only seven years after Mumtaz's death), describes the life of
the city in his memoirs, but makes no reference to the Taj Mahal
- The writings of Peter Mundy, an English visitor to Agra within
a year of Mumtaz's death, also suggest that the Taj was a noteworthy
building long well before Shah Jahan's time.
Many rooms in the Taj Mahal have remained sealed since Shah Jahan's time, and are still inaccessible to the public. Oak asserts they contain a headless statue of Shiva and other objects commonly used for worship rituals in Hindu temples.
Fearing political backlash, Indira Gandhi's government tried to have Oak's book withdrawn from the bookstores, and threatened the Indian publisher of the first edition with dire consequences.
The only way to really validate or discredit Oak's research is to open the sealed rooms of the Taj Mahal, and allow international experts to investigate.