An Afternoon at the Taj

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A few photographs from my visit to the Taj at the last puff of 2006.

From the Archaeological Survey of India plaque outside the monument:

The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (reign 1628-1658 AD), grandson of Akbar, the Great, in memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum, entitled ‘Mumtaz Mahal.’ She was niece of Empress Nur Jahan and grand-daughter of Mirza Ghias Beg “I’timad-ud-Daulah” Vazir of Emperor Jehangir. She was born in 1593 and was married to Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) in 1612. She died in 1631 on the birth of her 14th child, at Burhanpur where she was temporarily buried. Six months later the body was transferred to Agra and finally enshrined in the crypt of the main tomb. Shah Jahan who died in 1666 was also buried here. The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. Originally styled as ‘Pauza-i-Munavvara’ and ‘Rauza-i-Mumtaz Mahal,’ gradually it became famous as Taj Mahal and Taj-Bibi-ka-Rauza (the Garden Tomb of the Taj Queen).

It is sited at the right bank of the river Jamuna at a point where it takes a sharp turn and flows eastward. The location has a correct orientation for the adjunct-mosque, minimum thrust of water, and above all, a large natural lake to provide it with a continuous protective cover of moisture. The river with 30 feet deep clean water was thus a constituent of its original design.

Originally the land where the Taj Mahal stands belonged to the Kachhwahas of Amer (Jaipur) and was acquired from them in lieu of four havelis. The construction began from the foundations. A network of wells was laid in the sub-structure to support the huge building. Masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the Empire and from Central Asia and Iran. While bricks for internal skeleton were locally made, white marble for external surfaces was obtained from Makrana. Semi-precious stones for inlay ornamentation were brought from distant regions of India, Ceylon and Afghanistan. It was completed in 1648 in 17 years, at the cost of Rupees four crore (40 million) when gold was sold at Rs 15 per tola (11.66 grams).

In all, it covers an area of 60 bhigas. As terrain gradually sloped from south to north, towards the river, it is laid out in descending terraces. At the southern point is the forecourt with the main gate in the front and tombs of Akbarabadi Begum and Fatehpuri Begum, two other queens of Shah Jahan, on its south-east and south-west corners, respectively. On the second terrace is a spacious char-bagh garden divided into four quarters by broad shallow canals, with wide walkways and cypress avenues on the sides. They are studded with fountains which were fed by overhead water tanks situated in the adjoining Bagh Khan-i-‘Alam.

The main tomb is placed at the northern edge of this garden, to tower majestically on the river. It integrated the Taj with the blue sky, and provided it with a beautiful natural background, which was constantly changing from sunrise to midnight. The changing colours of the sky descended softly on its white marble and it looked ever new at every moment. This newness is the secret of its beauty.

The main tomb was designed under the guidance of the Emperor himself. It marks the perfect moment in the evolution of Mughal tomb-architecture and only its composition is novel. Thus the minarets are detached and placed to face the chamfered angles (corners) of the main tomb. Its perfect proportions were evolved in wooden models and, though it is such a gigantic building, rising to 285 feet from the river level with 187 feet width (of the main tomb), it looks in fact like a small model. Its geometrical symmetry is also unique. On its sides are red sandstone Mosque and Jam’at-Khana, architecturally for a contrast.

Though it has some wonderful specimens of polychrome inlay art, in the interior: on the dados, on cenotaphs and on the marble jhajjari (jali-screen) around them, and on the exterior on the spandrels of the arches, this ornament is sparce and minimal, and it does not play any role in the total aesthetic effect of the building, which is totally architectonic.

It was efficiently maintained by expert architects and engineers with the help of skilled masons, gardeners, and other workers, until it fell on bad days, in the 18th century AD [Portion of text whitened out. Probably refers to vandalism by the colonial powers. A mention which perhaps wasn’t to the liking of some]. The British replaced the original gold kalash finial in 1810 and, the Taj was once – during the regime of William Bentinck – put to auction only for the value of its marble. Fortunately this sacrilege was averted. The Taj survived, although in bare skeletal form without the imperial coverings. Since the Archeological Survey of India was established in 1861, it is properly maintained and conserved.

One of the most beautiful creations of man on earth, it is variously admired: as a ‘Materialised vision of Loveliness,’ a ‘Dream in Marble,’ a ‘Nobel Tribute to the Grace of Indian Womanhood’ and a ‘Resplendent Immortal Tear Drop on the Cheek of Time.’ It symbolises India’s composite culture. It is reckoned among the wonders of the world and is inscribed as a WORLD HERITAGE SITE by UNESCO.

According to a rough calculation based on the figures mentioned above, the cost of construction of the Taj Mahal in today’s currency would be around Rs 2,604 crores (Rs 26.04 billion), the US currency equivalent would be approximately $651 million.

In comparison Delhi’s ostentatious Akshardham Temple took Rs 200 crores to build.

  • Beth

    I love seeing your photos of the “everyday” things at the Taj – people walking, shoes, people sitting on the walls. I was so stunned by it when I went that I didn’t think to look at what was going on all around. And that sky….