India: The Taj Mahal

A picture of the Taj Mahal.

Located on the right bank of the Yamuna River in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh, the Taj Mahal is not only a highly recognized architectural achievement (and one of seven wonders of the modern world), but also a monument in the name of love and grief. Construction on the Taj Mahal began in 1632 AD, and finished with all additions in 1653 AD. This may seem like a short amount of time to complete such an undertaking at the time – and it was; 20,000 workers were brought in and housed nearby to assist in the completion of the building and its surrounding structures.

In 1631, Emperor Shah Jahan took his military out to the Deccan, about 400 miles from Agra, to deal with an ongoing rebellion. His wife, Mumtaz Mahal, accompanied him despite being heavily pregnant – she later gave birth in the encampment nearby. Though she seemed to be doing well at first, things took a turn, and she died one day after the birth of her daughter. Overcome with grief, Shah Jahan is said to have cried for eight days without end. He poured his emotion into designing a mausoleum for his wife to put all others before it to shame. At the time, this was also the first large mausoleum dedicated to a woman. His intention was to have the building represent heaven on earth.

The Taj Mahal is not just a single building, but is more of a complex of feminine, palacial structures. There is the main building, sitting on a one of two large plinths, with two buildings on either side – the mosque and guest house. Four thin, white marble minarets sit on all corners of the second plinth. It is said that the only asymmetrical aspect of the Taj Mahal is the casket of the emperor, which was built beside the queen’s as an afterthought when he passed away in 1666. To further its heaven-on-earth design, the Taj Mahal has a garden situated to the south. It has four quadrants divided by four “rivers” of water that gather in a central pool. The gardens and rivers were filled by the Yamuna River via a complex underground water system. Unfortunately, no records remain to tell the exact plants in these gardens.

The building’s white marble and large double-shelled dome are its most striking features in photographs, but there are many other beautiful, intricate aspects of the Taj Mahal. Many passages written in calligraphy are inlaid with black marble on the mosque, guest house, and large main gate at the southern end of the complex. There is a plethora of inland floral designs adorned with precious stones throughout the structure as well, including lapis lazuli from Sri Lanka, jade from China, malachite from Russia, and turquoise from Tibet.

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