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10-Taaj Mahal


10-Taaj Mahal

Taaj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world is situated in Aagara, UP, India.

Although Aagaraa was dominated by Red Fort on Yamunaa River which Akbar found more congenial than Dehlee, but Shaah Jahaan made it more elegant. The Taaj Mahal itself, which was said to have taken 20,000 workers over 20 years to build after the death of Mumtaaz Mahal in 1631, was designed by two Persian architects (Ustaad and Hameed Ahamad). It has often been called the greatest single work of Safaavid art. Govardhan and Manohar were Hindoo artists of almost equal fame who worked at court. Another Hindu, Bishandaas, was so much liked by Jahaangeer that he sent him to Isfaahaan to paint the Persian Emperor. It is said that Shaah Jahaan ordered the chief mason's right hand to be cut off to prevent him from repeating the masterpiece. He wanted to build a replica of Taaj Mahal for himself also in black marble on the other side of the Yamunaa River so that the two could be connected by a bridge made an alternate blocks of white and black marble, but could not complete it. Its starting building can be seen across the river in black marble. Some say that the inlaid "pietra dura" work was carried out by Europeans, but historical evidence for this is negligible.

Once the Noble Laureate Indian poet Rabeendra Naath Tagore said about it that it was "a tear on the face of Eternity", a building to echo the cry - "I have not forgotten, I have not forgotten, O Beloved" (from The Flight of Swans). Shaah Jahaan deeply loved his wife Mumtaaz. She died at the age of 39 only after giving birth to her 14th child. It is said that she asked him to show the world how much they loved one another. It is also said that Shaah Jahaan's hair went grey almost overnight, that he went into mourning for 2 years and lived a very simple life.

According to the French traveler Tavernier, the Taaj complex took 22 years to build and employed a workforce of 20,000 people. [Work started in 1641 and finished in 1663] The red stone was available locally, but the white marble was quarried at Marakaanaa, near Jodhpur, Raajsthaan (300 kms away from Aagaraa) and was transported by a fleet of 1,000 elephants, each capable of carrying a 2.25 ton block. Precious stones for the inlay came from far and wide - red carnelian from Bagadaad, Jasper (red, yellow and brown) from the Panjaab, green Jade and crystal from Chinaa, blue Lapis Lazuli from Afgaanistaan and Ceylon; Turquoise from Tibbat, Chrysolite (gold) from Egypt, Amethyst from Persia, Agates in various colors from the Yaman, dark green malachite from Russia, diamonds from Golkundaa and Mother of Pearl from Indian Ocean.

A 3.2 km ramp was used to lift material up to the level of the Dome and because of the river bank site and the sheer weight of the building, boreholes were filled with metal coins and fragments to provide suitable foundations. The Dome is 70 m high.

The Gateway - The Gateway stands 30 m high and was completed in 1648. The huge brass door is recent, the original doors were of solid silver and decorated with 1,100 nails whose heads were contemporary silver coins. The most striking feature of the gate is that its lettering appears to be the same size from bottom to the top. The engravers have skillfully managed to enlarge and lengthen the letters as their distance from the ground increased, creating the illusion of uniformity. Although the Gateway is remarkable in itself, one of its main function is to prevent you getting any glimpse of the tomb inside, until you are right in the doorway itself.

The Garden - The whole of the Taaj complex measures 580 m x 300 m and the garden is 300 m x 300 m. The Chaar Baag, separated by the watercourses emanating from the central raised pool was divided into 16 flower beds making a total of 64. Each bed was planted with 400 plants. The trees were either Cypress (signify death) or fruit trees (signify life).

Its 4 Minarets - 41.6 m high, at each corner of the plinth provide balance to the tomb. Minarets used in this way first appeared in India with Akbar's Tomb at Sikandaraa. They were used again at Itimaddaulaa and are refined still further here. Each has a deliberate slant outwards - the South-west by 20 cm, the others by 5 cms, so that in the unlikely event of an earthquake, they would fall away from the tomb, not onto it. On each pillar is written a letter (R, H, M, N) which together spell the word "ar-Rahmaan (the All-Merciful), one of the 99 names of Allaah.

The Tomb - There is only one point of access to the plinth (6.7 m high and 95 m square) and tomb - a double staircase facing the entrance. The tomb is square - each side 56.6 m long with a large central arch flanked by two pointed arches. The main Dome in the center is actually a double dome and this device Central Asian in origin, was used to gain height.

Inside the Tomb, the central chamber contains replica tombs of the real ones. It was customary to have a public tomb and a private one. Originally, the public tomb was surrounded by a jewel encrusted silver screen, but Aurangzeb removed it fearing it might be stolen, and replaced it with an octagonal screen of marble and inlaid precious stones. The lattice (Jaalee) screens are each carved from one block of marble. If you examine the flowers by a flashlight, you can see how luminescent the marble is and the intricacy of the inlay work. Some flowers have as many as 64 pieces making up the petals. By the use of lighter and darker pieces, flowers and foliage are "highlighted" to give a 3D effect. Above the Tomb is a Cairene lamp whose flame is never supposed to go out. This was given by Lord Curzon, the Governor General of India (1899-1905) to replace the original one which was stolen. [In the late 19th century, the badly deteriorated Taj Mahal was extensively restored by British viceroy Lord Curzon; what will today's Indian government do to preserve this treasure?]

The Tomb of Mumtaaz with the "female" slate, rests immediately  beneath the Dome. If you look from behind it. back to the gateway, you can see how it lines up centrally with the Main Entrance. Shaah Jahaan's Tomb is larger and to the side, marked by a "Male" pen box, the sign of a cultured or noble person. It was not originally intended to be there, but Aurangzeb squeezed it there - this flaws the otherwise perfect symmetry of the whole complex. Both tombs are inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Finally, the acoustics of the building is superb - the domed ceiling being designed to echo chants from the Quraan and musician's' melodies.
[India Handbook, p 335-339]

Three to four million tourists visit this masterpiece every year. Shaah Jahaan placed this memorial beside the Yamunaa River, despite the constant risk of flooding, because it was next to the bustling market of the Taaj Ganj, where it is said that he first saw Mumtaaz selling jewels in a market stall.


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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/06
Updated on 11/17/11