History and Design of Taj Mahal, Agra
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum in Agra, India. It is one of the most famous and well known sites in all of India and is often referred to as “the jewel of Muslim art” and the “crown of palaces.” While the site is widely known and appreciated throughout India, its fame spreads throughout the rest of the world as well.
This now-famous structure was originally commissioned by Shah Jahan, a Mughal emperor, after the death of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahan wanted to find a way to honor his wife’s memory, and thus, the idea behind the Taj Mahal, which is actually a mausoleum, was born.
Construction of this beautiful structure would take many years. Though building first began in 1632, it would not be completed until 1653—more than two decades later!
Not only was construction of the Taj Mahal incredibly time consuming, but it also required the skills and work of a great many people. In fact, it is believed that thousands upon thousands of artisans, craftsmen, and laborers worked on the structure.
The Architects of the Taj Mahal
The construction of the Taj Mahal was such a massive undertaking that it required more than just one architect; in fact, it required an entire board of architects. The board, working under imperial supervision and direction, consisted of several major architects of the time, including Abd ul-Karim, Makramat Khat, Ma’mur Khan, and principal designer Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
Lahauri as Principal Designer
While it is widely accepted that Lahauri served as principal designer and chief architect for the Taj Mahal, there is still some debate as to his exact role and title. There are no doubts, however, about the fact that he was an architect in Shah Jahan’s court.
Lahauri, who was Persian, was definitely heavily involved in the construction of the Taj Mahal, something even those who dispute his status as chief architect/principal designer must admit.
Court histories detail how involved Lahauri was with the construction project, doing work on it daily. He called meetings to move construction forward and directed other architects. He would also look at the designs other architects created and make suggestions as he saw fit, demonstrating that whether or not he “officially” held the lead architect title, he acted as such for all intents and purposes.
A Beautiful Love Story
While many people who flock to the Taj Mahal do so to take in the gorgeous architecture, there are just as many (if not more) who come because they are romantics, and because there truly is a beautiful love story behind the building of the Taj Mahal.
Unlike other structures of the time, which were mainly built for political, economic, and/or social purposes, the Taj Mahal truly was built to honor Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, who had died giving birth to what was to be their final child together.
Indeed, there was no other reason for the Taj Mahal to be built. There was, for example, no reason for the Mughal Empire to flaunt power or wealth; the Empire was actually going through its best and most prosperous economic times when the Taj Mahal was built and had nothing to prove to surrounding political or geographical groups.
Fittingly, the greatest amount of time was spent building the main mausoleum, which was fully completed by 1648, with the rest of the structures, which were of lesser importance to Jahan, to follow.
Not only was Jahan’s love for his late wife a source of inspiration for the Taj Mahal, but so was traditional Persian architecture and classic Mughal architecture, specifically the architecture found in famous tombs in the area.
Some of the tombs from which the Taj Mahal draws inspiration are the tomb of Temur, Hamayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s tomb, and the Jama Masjid.
Though the Taj Mahal has facets of both Mughal and Persian architecture, it is still considered one of the most accomplished examples of Mughal architecture. Mughal architecture is, in itself, a combination of architectural styles, however. It is said to encompass components of Islamic, Indian, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish architecture.
Notable Design Features
The Taj Mahal is one of the first, if not the first, Mughal structures to utilize white marble in its design. Not only did Jahan call for expensive, ornate white marble to be used, but he further instructed that the white marble be inlaid with jewels.
Formerly, Mughal buildings were much more practical and rugged looking, with sandstone being the primary construction material; the Taj Mahal, however, was designed primarily for beauty.
Mumtaz Mahal’s Tomb
While most familiar with the Taj Mahal recall its famous tomb and the white dome that sits atop it, it is important to note that the tomb is actually only one part of the large complex that makes up the Taj Mahal.
The tomb, however, is the most important and distinctive part. The tomb, which features mostly Persian design elements, has an arched doorway and has multiple chambers. The tomb also has four minarets, each situated at its own corner.
As mentioned, however, the dome is definitely the most well-known part of the Taj Mahal. The dome alone is 35 meters high, sitting atop a drum-shaped structure that is another 7 meters high on its own. The dome features a lotus design, columned bases, and decorative spires.
Many visitors and students who have studied the Taj Mahal are often surprised to find that, despite the majesty of the tomb, the actual remains of both Mumtaz Mahal and Jahan are not housed within the tomb proper. Instead, they are found at a lower level of the structure.
The Taj Mahal Today
Amazingly, the Taj Mahal still stands today, every bit as strong and beautiful as it was when it was first completed.
A major attraction for tourists, it is considered one of the “seven wonders of the modern world” by most and has been designated as a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO).