If there's a building, which represents a country- like the Eiffel Tower
for France, the Sydney Opera House for Australia- then it has to be the Taj
Mahal for India.
This most famous Mughal monument was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan
in memory of his wife Mumtaj Mahal,
Chosen of the Palace. It has been
described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, for the
emperor was heartbroken when Mumtaj, to whom he had been married for 17
years, died in 1631 in childbirth, after producing 14 children.
Construction of the Taj began in the same year and was not completed until
in 1653. Workers were recruited not only from all over India but also from
central Asia, and in total 20000 people worked on the building. Experts were
even brought from as far away as Europe-the Frenchman Austin of Bordeaux and
the Italian Veroneo of Venice had a hand in its decoration. The main
architect was Isa Khan, who came from Shiraz in Iran.
The most unusual story about the Taj is that
there might well have
been two of them. Shah Jahan, it is said, intended to build a second Taj as
his own tomb in black marble, a negative image of the white Taj of Mumtaj
Mahal. Before he could embark on this second masterpiece he was deposed by
his son, Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life imprisoned in the
Agra Fort, looking out along the river to the final resting place of his
The Taj is definitely worth more than a single visit as its character
changes with the differing lights during the day
. Dawn is a magical
time, and it's virtually deserted. The entrance is now through a small door
to the right of the gate, where everyone has to undergo a security check.
Path leading from the gate to the Taj is divided by a long watercourse
in which the Taj is beautifully reflected
. The ornamental gardens
through which the paths lead are set out along the classical Mughal charbagh
lines- a square quartered by watercourses. In spring the flowerbeds by the
paths are a profusion of colour. To the west is a small museum housing
original architectural drawings of the Taj, arms, miniatures, and some
examples of celadon plates, said to split into pieces or change colour if
the food served on them contained poison.
Taj itself stands on a raised platform on the northern edge of the
ornamental gardens. Tall, purely decorative white minarets grace each corner
of the platform. The central Taj structure has four small domes surrounding
the huge, bulbous, central dome. The tombs of Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan
are in a basement room. Above them I the main chamber are false tombs, a
common practice in mausoleums of this type. Light is admitted into the
central chamber by finely cut marble screens. The echo in this high chamber,
under the soaring marble dome, is superb.
Although the Taj is amazingly graceful from almost any angle, it's the
close-up detail, which is really astounding. Semiprecious stones are inlaid
into the marble in beautiful patterns and with superb craft in a process
known as pietra dura. The precision and care which went into the Taj Mahal's
design and construction is just as impressive whether you view it from
across the river or from arm's length.