Taj Mahal
A love story

Photo by Colores de India

"A tear on the cheek of time", this is how the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore talks about the Taj Mahal.

This architectural work of indescribable beauty needs no introduction, it has been considered one of the new wonders of the modern world and is a World Heritage Site.

What not everyone knows is that it is the place of eternal rest that the Mughal emperor Sha Jahan had built for his beloved Mumtaz, as a testimony of the love he professed her.

Sha Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor of India, the son of Jahangir and one of his wives Princess Bibi Bilqis Makani. His name was Prince Khurram. It is said that he met his wife, Arjumand, when she was only 14 years old and that it was love at first sight for both of them. He must had wait five years for the wedding ceremony. Khurram, who according to the laws of the time, had three other wives, went to Arjumand to whom he devoted all his attention and affection and they became inseparable.

Before his ascension to the throne, Sha Jahan was forced into exile, largely due to the influence of Nur Jahan, his father's wife and the most influential woman in the Mughal empire. After long struggles within his family, he deposed his father and murdered several male members of the royal family, including his brothers, to finally be crowned in 1628.

Sha Jahan was the name chosen for himself as emperor, meaning "King of the World". He gave Arjumand the name of Mumtaz, "the Chosen One of the Palace". Unlike his paternal aunt Nur Jahan, Arjumand had no political ambitions. In two decades of marriage to Sha Jahan, he gave birth to 14 children, many of whom died in childhood. When he gives birth to a girl, many complications occurred that eventually led to his death. Before dying, she said goodbye to her husband and asked him to take her to a beautiful place where he can remember her. Such was the pain of the emperor that he set out to build the most wonderful tomb the world had ever seen.

                                                             Mumtaz Mahal & Sha Jahan

Mumtaz was temporarily buried on the banks of the Tapti River, in Burhanpur Palace, until was exhumed and transported by her son Sha Shuja and Princess Jahanara Begum, to the city of Agra, where was the imperial palace.

The Rauza-i-munawara, the name given by the emperor which means "The Luminous Tomb", began to be built in 1632. The tomb of Itimad ad daula, Mumtaz's grandfather, was taken as a model, whose work is due to his daughter Nur Jahan. Until then, in 1622, none of the imperial tombs had been built in any material other than red limestone, marble was only used in small inlays due to its high value. This was the material chosen by Nur Yahan, to whom he added inlays of semi-precious stones, to demonstrate not only his wealth and power, but to transcend history.

However, it would be the name of Mumtaz that would pass to posterity.

Construction began around 1632. For that 37 leading craftsmen were hired to direct the work of more than 20,000 men from India, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe. By 1644 the Taj Mahal, "The Crown of the Palace", was about to be completed. For its construction, the course of the Yamuna river was diverted to form a smooth curve next to the Taj. The most expert and fine artisans and architects were hired to make this white marble masterpiece brought from Jodhpur, inlaid with semi-precious stones: turquoise from Tibet, jasper from Cambay, malachite from Russia, lapis lazuli from Ceylon, and cornnalina from Bagad, as well as jades, black marbles, amethysts and quartz.

The mausoleum itself is made of white marble and reflects the tones according to the intensity of sunlight or moonlight. It has four almost identical facades, each with a wide central arch that rises 33 meters at its apex and sloping corners that incorporate smaller arches. The majestic central dome, which reaches a height of 73 meters at the tip of its auction, is surrounded by four smaller domes. The acoustics inside the main dome make the note of a flute resonate five times.

The interior of the mausoleum is organized around an octagonal chamber adorned with bas-relief carvings and semi-precious stones. There are the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Maḥal and Shah Jahan. Those false graves are enclosed by a finely carved filigree marble screen. Beneath the graves, at ground level, are the true tombs.

Flanking the mausoleum near the northwest and northeast edges of the garden, respectively, are two symmetrically identical buildings: the mosque, which faces east, and its jawab (guest house), which faces west and provides an aesthetic balance. Constructed of red sandstone, they contrast in color and texture with the white marble of the mausoleum.

Photo by Colores de India

Two remarkable decorative features are repeated throughout the complex: pietra dura and Arabic calligraphy. As expressed in Mughal art, the pietra dura incorporates the inlay of multi-colored semi-precious stones in geometric and floral designs. The colors serve to moderate the dazzling expanse of white marble. It was Amanat Khan al-Shirazi who built the main dome, architects and dozens of calligraphy experts were brought in from Syria and Persia to inscribe the verses of the Koran.

One of the inscriptions at the sandstone entrance is known as "Dawn" and invites the faithful to enter paradise. To ensure a uniform appearance, letters are increased in size based on their relative height and distance from the viewer.

According to unconfirmed legend, Shah Jahan originally intended to build another mausoleum on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River to house his own remains. That structure should have been built of black marble and connected by a bridge to the Taj Mahal. However in 1658 his son Aurangzeb deposed him and imprisoned him in Agra Fort, where he would spend the last years of his life, in an octagonal tower called Musamman Burj.  

The only concession he asked was to stay in a place from which to see the tomb of his beloved, to which his son, the new emperor, agreed. These last eight years of his life, already ill, he was cared for by his faithful and much loved daughter Jahanara, until his death.

Finally Aurangzeb decided to bury him close to Mumtaz.

Photo by Colores de India


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