A brief business trip to Agra culminated in my seizing an opportunity to visit the most magnificent structure built on earth in the name of “love for one’s beloved”! It was a drive of 200 kms on the Delhi-Faridabad highway to Palwal – Mathura and then finally Agra. The best option is parking ones car in one of the shopping complexes(for me it was Sanjay Place, which was the venue for my meeting), and taking a cab or an auto to the Taj. Navigating through the narrow and crowed streets of Agra, which reminded me of our Chandni Chowk in Delhi, it was unbelievable that the destination was such a majestic monument, actually one of the elegant jewels of India.
As soon as one enters the “entry gate” and passes through the North Gate, the main entrance to the Taj, one cannot but stop and admire the breath taking beauty of the Taj for a while and forget everything around!
The Taj Mahal stands tall as a symbol of the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan became the Emperor in the year 1628 and entrusted Arjumand Banu with the royal seal. He also bestowed her with the title of Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”. Though Shah Jahan had other wives also, but, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite and accompanied him everywhere, even on military campaigns. In the year 1631, Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child.
It is said that Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after her death that he ordered the court into moaning for two years. Some time after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of erecting the world’s most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved. It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument, which is also said to be the last wish of Mumtaz Mahal. This exquisite monument came to be known as “Taj Mahal” and now rekons amongst the Seven Wonders of the World.
The mesmerizing beauty of the Taj cannot be baroqued in any words. It is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, 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.”
The entrance to Taj Mahal is lofted by four gates, the north south, east and west. The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily of marble which is reminiscent of Mughal architecture of earlier emperors. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs, like those found in the other sandstone buildings of the complex.
The exteriors and interiors of the Taj are richly ornamented.
One of the ornamentations done on the surface of the Taj Mahal is the splendid calligraphic work. The calligraphy of the Taj Mahal mainly consists of the verses and passages from the holy book of Koran. It was done by inlaying jasper in the white marble panels.
The complex is set around a large 300-meter square charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken flowerbeds.
A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and gateway with a reflecting pool on a north-south axis, reflects the image of the mausoleum. The raised marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar, in reference to the “Tank of Abundance”. The charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. It symbolizes the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning ‘walled garden’. In mystic Islamic texts of Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east.
The Taj Mahal complex is bounded on three sides by crenellated red sandstone walls, with the river-facing side left open.
Outside the walls are several additional mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan’s other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz’s favorite servant. These structures, composed primarily of red sandstone.
There are certain myths that haunt the gradeur of Taj too. Some legends say a black marble Taj Mahal, exact replica of the Taj, was proposed by Shahjahan as his own mausoleum, which was never built due to extremely high cost incurrence. The second legend says Taj was basically a Shiva temple which was taken oven by Shahjahan. The third story has it that Taj was a Rajput palace and that if we study the motifs and architecture of the Taj we can conclude that too. Its also believed since the Taj was located on the banks of Yammuna river, there was always a pertinent risk of it sinking into the river bed. Its said in two years of its completion the north side of the Taj started showing sinking signs and developed fissues and cracks, Shahjahan then consulted the best of architects from across the world and got the Taj repaired.
Well actually, as the age old adage goes “thousand people…thousand stories”, so is with this brilliant handiwork of the Mughal kings. But the last word to this magnificence is it is worth the accolades bestowed upon it!