Taj Mahal – place to go in India
Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal, often referred as the “Crown of Palaces” is a marvel creation of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It was built by him in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is more than just a mausoleum – it is has been described by the poet Rabindranath Tagore as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity”. As an expression of the height of the Mughal dynasty’s architectural genius in the Indian subcontinent, as the symbol of a bereaved emperor’s love for his empress, and as an inspiration to countless photographers and artists who have tried to capture its many subtle nuances of light and shade, the Taj Mahal continues to captivate people worldwide with its history, its design, and its symbolism of eternal love.
About the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is an integrated complex of structures that include a white marble mausoleum containing the tombs of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592 – 1666) and his third wife Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631). The Mughal dynasty built many mausoleums in the Indian subcontinent but the Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the finest. The mausoleum is built entirely of white marble, set on a high base or plinth which includes four tall minarets, one on each corner. On either side of the tomb are a mosque and a guest house, while the tomb faces a garden laid out in the “charbagh” style, with a central walkway with fountains and viewing platforms with green spaces and trees on either side. The entrance to the complex is through a grand ornamental gateway, inscribed with Quranic inscriptions and the calligraphed line”O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”
Location of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is located on the banks of the River Yamuna in Agra and is easily accessible by road.
Taj Mahal Myths
There are many myths associated with the Taj Mahal, some of which have been repeated so many times over the centuries that they have become part of the perceived history of this beautiful monument.
The myth of the Black Taj:
One of the myths can be traced back to the European traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier who made a trip to Agra in 1665. He claimed that Shah Jahan wanted to build a a similar mausoleum made of black marble. However he was unable to fulfil this dream since he was deposed by his son Aurangzeb. There is no archaeological evidence for this theory. Archaeologists offered an alternative explanation in 2006 when restoration work was carried out on the Moonlight Garden in the Taj Mahal complex, which includes a clear pool. The white marble mausoleum is reflected in the dark pool at night. The dark reflection is positioned in perfect symmetry with the mausoleum and may have given rise to the myth of the black mausoleum to complement the Taj Mahal.
The myths of mutilation of the artisans and craftsmen:
Contrary to public perception there is no historic evidence for the many stories about architects being blinded, artisans having their hands chopped off or architects being thrown off the heights of the mausoleum in order to prevent them from ever creating such perfection. Another myth claims that the artisans all had to sign contracts that they would never again build a similar structure. However there is no evidence for this either.
The myth that the British planned to demolish and sell off the Taj piecemeal:
According to the myth, Lord William Bentinck, then Governor General of India, intended to break down the Taj Mahal and sell it off as blocks of marble. The apparent reason for this myth is explained by the biographer of Lord Bentinck, John Roselli, who explains that Bentinck did sell discarded blocks of marble from Agra Fort, in an effort to raise funds for the local administration.
The myth that the Taj Mahal was built by a Hindu ruler:
There have been several stories circulated that the Taj Mahal is not a Mughal structure but existed before Shah Jahan’s time. There is no evidence to support these ideas and both the Supreme Court of India and the Allahabad High court have dismissed petitions that aim to propagate these unfounded opinions.
Taj Mahal History
The history of the Taj Mahal is also the one of the world’s greatest love stories. It began in 1607 when the Mughal Prince Khurram (later known as the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan) first set eyes on the beautiful Arjumand Banu Begum. She was the niece of the the empress Meherunissa (later the Empress Nur Jahan). Khurram, the son of the Emperor Jahangir, expressed his desire to marry Arjumand and some years thereafter their marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendour.
Khurram (Shah Jahan)
Khurram (1592 – 1666) was the third son of the Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) and was born to Princess Manmati from the Rajput royal family of Marwar. In a time when many marriages such as his parents’ was a matter of state policy, sealing allegiances between kingdoms, a love story such as Khurram and Arjumand’s was rare indeed. Khurram was a favourite of his grandfather, the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542 – 1605) and was brought up along with his brothers in the manner suited to a Mughal Prince. The Mughal court was rife with intrigue and Khurram’s eldest brother Prince Khusrau rose in rebellion against their father Jahangir in 1606. The rebellion was crushed and Khusrau was blinded as a punishment. Khurram had stayed out of this intrigue and was rewarded for his loyalty and named Jahangir’s heir in 1607 at the tender age of 15. It was the same year that he met and fell in love with Arjumand, who was just 14 year’s old at the time.
Arjumand Banu Begum was the daughter of Asaf Khan, the elder brother of the Empress Nurjahan. She was the granddaughter of Mirza Ghias Beg, a Persian aristocrat who rose to become the treasurer and Itimad-ud-daulah (Pillar of the State) in the Mughal court. Khurram and Arjumand met at a Meena Bazaar, a women’s market within the palace walls where Jahangir’s queens and the noble women of the court displayed items that they had made for the courtiers to purchase.
Arjumand was at a stall where she displayed some of her handpainted pottery wares. The story goes that Khurram was so enraptured by her that he bought the entire contents of her stall with a gold coin. Because of their young age, they were engaged to be married for 5 years before their wedding in 1612. After their wedding Arjumand was given the title ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ Begum (the Chosen One of the Palace).
Emperor and Empress
Their marriage was a blissful one and Khurram, who came to the throne as the Emperor Shah Jahan in 1628, after the death of his father Jahangir, drew great strength from the support that Mumtaz Mahal provided. During the course of their married life they had 14 children (of whom 7 survived) and Mumtaz Mahal travelled with Shah Jahan across the length and breadth of the Mughal Empire, even camping near battlegrounds as Shah Jahan consolidated the frontiers of his empire. As his confidante and life partner Mumtaz Mahal brought Shah Jahan the comforts of home and family, even when they were far away from their imperial palaces. It was at one such military campaign in Burhanpur, in 1631, that Mumtaz Mahal breathed her last, giving birth to her 14th child, Gauharara Begum, who survived to live to the age of 75. The court records of the time describe Shah Jahan’s immense grief at the loss of his beautiful wife and ever-present companion. It is said that he went into mourning for a year, his hair turned grey and he never remarried.
A tomb like none other
Mumtaz Mahal’s body was buried at the time in a garden in Burhanpur, but was later disinterred and carried in a golden casket back to Agra. It was temporarily buried in a royal garden near the banks of the river Yamuna. Shah Jahan completed his military campaign in Burhanpur and began to envision the tomb he would build in memory of his lost love. Shah Jahan’s reign is considered the golden age of Mughal architecture, in which he had constructed the city of Shahjahanabad in Delhi, including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, the Moti Masjid in Agra, expanded the Lahore Fort and the pleasure gardens in Srinagar, Kashmir. He had a keen interest in architecture and wished to leave a legacy behind, not only in the form of the Mughal empire which he expanded, but also in its architecture, arts and aesthetics. The pinnacle of his architectural achievement is the tomb he laboured 22 years to build. Constructed over a period from 1632 to 1653, the Taj Mahal was the ultimate expression of the love of Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal. Their ornamental graves lie side by side in a chamber below the main floor of the Taj Mahal. Close together for eternity, never to be parted, their love story is the unforgettable history of the Taj Mahal.