Taj Mahal

A Marble Hymn to Eternal Love

The Taj Mahal, a masterpiece of Muslim art in India, stands as one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. This magnificent marble mausoleum in Agra, India, embodies the love of Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor, for his favorite wife. Beyond its romantic origins, it represents the artistic and scientific achievements of a flourishing empire.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Shah Jahan, known as “the King of the World,” ruled the Mughal Empire, which dominated northern India from the 16th to the 18th century, beginning his reign in 1628. He was deeply in love with Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal, “Chosen One of the Palace,” and favored her above his other two queens. Celebrated for her beauty, poets at Agra’s Mughal court claimed even the moon paled in comparison.

Shah Jahan by Bichitr, c.1630 (left) and Mumtaz Mahal by unknown (right)

Shah Jahan by Bichitr, c.1630 (left) and Mumtaz Mahal by unknown (right)

Under Shah Jahan’s rule, the Mughals reached the zenith of their power and wealth, largely due to India’s abundant precious gems. However, the emperor faced a personal tragedy with the death of Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child. According to legend, her dying wish was for him to build the world’s most magnificent tomb in her memory.

Whether driven by promise, passion, or perhaps for more pragmatic reasons such as showcasing his wealth and power, Shah Jahan dedicated immense resources to the construction of the Taj Mahal (the “Crown Palace”). From 1631 to 1648, this grand project employed over 20,000 craftsmen, including stone carvers and artists from India, Turkey, and Iraq. A fleet of 1,000 elephants was used to transport materials. The mausoleum was built on the lush banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, a testament to both love and imperial grandeur.

The Taj Mahal’s design features white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones like jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and turquoise. These materials form intricate pietra dura (Italian for “hard stone”) designs, showcasing intertwining geometric and floral patterns—a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship. The Taj Mahal’s central dome, reaching 240 feet (73 meters), is complemented by four smaller domes and four slender towers or minarets at its corners. Verses from the Quran, inscribed in calligraphy, adorn its arched entrances and various sections of the complex.

Arabic inscriptions at the tomb’s entrance

Arabic inscriptions at the tomb’s entrance

The architects and artisans employed optical illusions in the Taj Mahal’s design. For instance, as visitors approach the main gate, the mausoleum appears large and close but seems to shrink as one gets closer. The minarets, while looking upright, actually lean outward, ensuring that in the event of an earthquake, they would fall away from the main structure.

Inside the mausoleum lies an octagonal chamber with the cenotaph, or false tomb, of Mumtaz Mahal, adorned with carvings and semi-precious stones. Her real sarcophagus is below at a garden level.

Inside the Taj Mahal

Inside the Taj Mahal

The complex also includes a main gateway made of red sandstone, a square garden with water channels, a red sandstone mosque, and a symmetrically opposite structure known as the jawab (or “mirror”). The gardens feature a large reflecting pool, uniquely replicating the Taj Mahal’s beauty.

Taj Mahal panorama: A northern perspective from the Yamuna river

Taj Mahal panorama: A northern perspective from the Yamuna river

Legend has it that Shah Jahan planned a second mausoleum for himself across the Yamuna River, connected to the Taj Mahal by a bridge. However, his son from Mumtaz Mahal, Aurangzeb, overthrew him in 1658. Shah Jahan spent his final years under house arrest in Agra’s Red Fort, overlooking the Taj Mahal, and was buried beside his wife after his death in 1666.

Taj Mahal view through Agra Red Fort’s window

Taj Mahal view through Agra Red Fort’s window

The Taj Mahal’s allure also lies in its changing colors, reflecting the day’s light from dawn to dusk, displaying hues from pearly gray and pale pink to dazzling white and orange-bronze, and even translucent blue in the evening.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the Taj Mahal remains a globally revered symbol of India’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Editors’ finds

Words of wisdom

“Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.” —Franz Kafka

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” —William Shakespeare

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” —Epictetus

“The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” —Marcus Aurelius

Bibliography

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