The Taj Mahal: A Story of Love Expressed Through Architecture

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There are several meanings of the word ‘LOVE’. A few meanings include a deep feeling of affection, an act of caring, and a connection between two hearts. People express love differently on different occasions. Some people express their love towards others by spending quality time with them. Some buy expensive gifts to express their love. Some construct buildings and monuments in memory of their loved ones.
One such monument built was the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, was built by Shah Jahan in 1653. What drove him to spend 32 million Indian Rupees (which would be approximately $1 billion today), to build such a beautiful mausoleum? It was the LOVE he had for his wife. Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in 1631, in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died on June 30 of the same year.

Love, Marriage, and Promise

Shah Jahan met Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu Begum), a Muslim Persian princess, in 1607 and they were married in 1612. Though Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s third wife, she was his favorite. He entrusted her with the royal seal in 1628 when became emperor. Mumtaz died due to medical complications when she was giving birth to Shah Jahan’s 14th child. When Mumtaz was on her deathbed, Shah Jahan made a promise that he would never remarry and build a huge mausoleum in her memory. This huge mausoleum is today called the ‘Taj Mahal’.

Symbol of Love

When Mumtaz died, Shah Jahan was depressed. He refused to attend festive activities and postponed the marriages of his sons. It was reported that the emperor visited his wife’s temporary resting place, Burhanpur, a place located around 800 km from Agra, several times when the Taj Mahal was under construction. Shah Jahan was laid to rest beside the tomb of Mumtaz at the Taj Mahal. This is the reason why the Taj Mahal is referred to as a ‘Symbol of Love’. This architectural spectacle is a reflection of emotions such as love, loss, grief, promise, and remorse.

The Construction of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was built in the City of Agra, India. Though it was commissioned in 1631, the actual construction was started in 1632. Approximately 3-acres of land was excavated, filled with dirt, and leveled at 50 meters above the riverbank to reduce the seepage. Over 22,000 workers and 1,000 elephants worked to construct this mausoleum.
Several artisans from Central Asia and Iran worked under the chief architect, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, to create a monument that reflects the Mughal’s finest architectural capabilities.

The Taj Mahal was built on the design traditions of Indo-Islamic architecture. The architects took inspiration from the oldest Mughal buildings such as the Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb and Jama Masjid to create a unique design for the Taj Mahal. In an attempt to make the Taj Mahal unique, Shah Jahan used white marbles inlaid with 28 types of semi-precious stones. The material to construct the Taj Mahal was sourced within India and from countries such as China, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Arabia.

The Taj Mahal was conceived to meet the five principal elements of a building, which include the main gateway, garden, mosque, jawab, and mausoleum. These five principal elements make a building a unified entity in Mughal practice and don’t allow for subsequent addition and alteration to the architecture.

The exterior decoration of the Taj Mahal is top-notch. The Mughal’s decorative features, including pietra dura and calligraphy, are incorporated repeatedly throughout the building. The calligraphy of the Taj Mahal was created by Abdul Haq, a renowned calligrapher in the 17th Century.

Shah Jahan also ensured the use of semi-precious stones, including lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst to enhance the exterior design. These stones are arranged in floral and geometric patterns on the exterior of the Taj Mahal. The interior decoration of the Taj Mahal is beyond the traditional decorative elements. Rather than using pietra dura, a lapidary of gemstones was used to decorate the interior.

There is a 300 square meter garden around the complex. Within the garden, there is a marble water tank with a reflecting pool that reflects the image of the mausoleum. The British Empire that controlled more than 60% of India assumed the management of the Taj Mahal in the late 19th Century and changed the structure of gardens according to their liking.

It took nearly 22 years to complete the construction of the Taj Mahal. The timeline for the various stages of construction work of the Taj Mahal is as follows:
– The architectural design work was started in 1632.
– The construction of the mausoleum was completed by 1639
– The construction of adjacent buildings was completed by 1643.
– The decoration work was completed in 1648.
– The construction of the garden, pool, and other works was completed by 1653.

Overall, it took 22 years to complete the 42-acre complex that reflects the Indo-Islamic culture.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

According to the records of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Taj Mahal attracted over 2 million visitors in 2001. This number increased to 8 million in 2014. The official website of the Taj Mahal claims that the monument attracts over 0.8 million overseas visitors every year. As per the records of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Taj Mahal attracts over 25,000 people daily. On weekends, this number may go up to 80,000. The UNESCO recognized the Taj Mahal as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

A Wonder of the World

In 2007, the Taj Mahal was voted as one of the seven wonders in the world. The New 7 Wonders of the World campaign started in 2000 to select the top seven wonders among the 200 existing monuments. A Canadian-Swiss Bernard Weber collected opinions of people via several channels, including the internet and telephone between 2000 and 2007 with the help of the New 7 Wonders Foundation, based in Zurich, Switzerland. The winners were announced on July 7, 2007, in Lisbon, at Estadio da Luz. The New 7 Wonders were chosen from 22 attractions that were shortlisted from 77 choices by a panel in 2006. Though UNESCO supported the New 7 Wonders of the World campaign initially, they backed out because its bylaws emphasize giving equal status to all world heritage sites.

The Final Word

If not for the everlasting love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, the world wouldn’t have been able to bear witness to the majestic monument, the Taj Mahal. It took nearly 22 years to complete the construction and decoration of the Taj Mahal. Architects and Artisans from various parts of Asia have contributed to the design of this monument that showcases Mughal’s finest architectural capabilities and reflects the Indo-Islamic culture.

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