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Taj mahal
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Taj Mahal

A flawless architectural creation

For centuries, the Taj Mahal has inspired poets, painters and musicians to try and capture its elusive magic in word, colour and son. Since the 17th century, travellers have crossed continents to come and see this ultimate memorial to love, and few have been unmoved by its incomparable beauty.

Taj Mahal stands in the city of Agra, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on the banks of the Yamuna river. It was built in the memory of the beautiful Arjumand Bano Begum, who won the heart of a Mughal prince. She was married at 21 to Emperor Jahangir's third son Prince Khurram and stayed loyally by his side through good times and bad: in the luxurious royal palaces of Agra as well as the transient tents of war camps.

A memorial to his beloved

In AD 1628, Khurram became king after a bloody battle of succession; he took the name Shahjahan or King of the World and showered his beloved begum with the highest titles. She became Mumtaz Mahal, the Exalted of the Palace and Mumtaz-ul-Zamani, the Exalted of the Age. But Mumtaz Mahal was not destined to be queen for long.

In 1631, Shahjahan went on an expedition to the South and, as always, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied him. But she died in childbirth at Burhanpur. She had borne Shahjahan fourteen children, of whom four sons and three daughters survived. When Mumtaz Mahal died, she was just 39 years old. Shahjahan was inconsolable and contemporary chronicles tell of the royal court mourning for two years. There was no music, no feasting, and no celebration of any kind.
Shahjahan, who was a passionate builder, now decided to erect a memorial marble that the world would never forget. The site selected for the tomb was a garden by the Yamuna river, unshadowed by any other structure. The garden had been laid by Raja Man Singh of Amber and now belonged to his grandson, Raja Jai Singh. By a royal firman, Shahjahan gave Jai Singh four havelis in exchange for the garden. The site was also chosen because it was located on a bend in the river, and so could be seen from Shahjahan's personal palace in Agra Fort, further upstream.

A labour of love

Work on the mausoleum began in 1633 and 20,000 workers laboured for 17 years to build it. The most skilled architects, inlay craftsmen, calligraphers, stone-carvers and masons came from all across India and lands as distant as Persia and Turkey. The master mason was from Baghdad, an expert in building the double dome from Persia, and an inlay specialist from Delhi.

The tomb was completed in AD 1650. But, Shahjahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb in 1658 and imprisioned in the Agra Fort. He spent his last years in the Mussalman Burj looking downstream at the Taj where his beloved Mumtaz Mahal lay. Sixteen years later he, too, was laid to rest beside her.

The Monumental Heritage

A copious amount has been written about the Taj - Agra's window to the world. Nobel laureate Tagore called it 'a tear on the face of eternity', while the painter William Hodges wrote in 1876 that 'it was like a most perfect pearl on an azure ground'. From Princess Diana to President Clinton to Yanni - the Taj draws every éminence grise from across the 'seven seas' to it like a magnet.

As Clinton said during his presidential visit to India, "the world is divided into those who have seen the Taj and those who have not." The American President joined the list of 'haves' this year, but for anyone bitten by the travel bug, a visit to the luminescent monument is an essential part of their resume. To say the 'miracle in human design' is the Mughal Empire's magnum opus is to state the obvious.

Like Picasso's 'Guernica', Omar Khayyam's 'Rubaiyat' or Beethoven's 'Eroica', the Taj instills in you a sublime passion. It uplifts you - one feels more significant as a human being within its confines than outside it.

Quick bytes

State :
Uttar Pradesh
Location : Taj Mahal stands majestically in Agra city on the banks of river Yamuna.
Watch Out : Taj Museum; Closed on Mondays and Fridays
Look Out : Taj Mahotsav, February, Held for 10 days.

Designing of Taj

Who designed the Taj Mahal India is shrouded in mystery - some historians credit the Venetian architect Veroneo with its construction, while others believe it was the work of a Persian called Ustad Isa.

But we do know of the lesser luminaries connected to it with certainty - the central dome was built by Ismail Effendi from Turkey, the calligrapher was Amanat Khan from Shiraz, the mosaicist, Chiranji Lal hailed from Delhi while the goldsmith, Qazim Khan was summoned from Lahore.

A story which is probably apocryphal but has been doing the rounds for generations, says that Shah Jahan had the chief mason's right hand amputated to preclude him from replicating the 'marvel in marble' anywhere else in the world.

Taj Nestles On The Banks of Yamuna River

Located at the southern end of the city on the banks of the Yamuna River, the site where the Taj stands belonged to a Hindu nobleman, Raja Man Singh. Abdul Rehman Lahori, the court historian recorded that five million rupees were spent on the building - a king's ransom in those days.

Once complete, the upkeep of the mausoleum and its 42-acre garden was funded with the revenue obtained from 30 neighbouring villages. There are three lofty gateways to the Tajmahel complex. The central portal is richly decorated with floral arabesques and is inscribed with passages from the Koran. A huge forecourt leads onto a lush garden, which is divided by an aqueduct.

The main monument is a two-storeyed octagonal building with a huge rotunda as its crowning glory. Four sky-scraper tall minarets position themselves as sentries on each side of the monument - all built out of brick and encased in marble. The graves of the celebrated duo, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are housed in the catacomb below. The Taj is remarkable for its perfect proportions and rich pietra dura, and every minutiae in the monument has been etched with consummate skill. In a nutshell, the Taj is the 'Embodiment of the Islamic Concept of Paradise' .

The Architectural Marvel - Paradise on Earth

In the Koran, the garden symbolises paradise. Islam originated in the deserts of Arabia where greenery and water was very much coveted. "Gardens underneath which rivers flow" is a phrase, that appears no less than 30 times in the Koran. The four main rivers of paradise are also mentioned: water, milk, wine and purified honey.

It is unmistakable that Shah Jahan conceptualised the Taj Mahal as 'heaven on earth'. As you enter the gates of the Taj, it is like an ingression into heaven. The watercourses divide the garden into quadrants. It was Babur who had introduced the char-bagh (four-garden) concept into India. The imagery is threefold: it is a symbol of paradise to reward the faithful; an oasis from the dry desert heat; and a summation of the secular tradition of the royal pleasure garden. and the watercourse, which divides the garden into four, epitomises both, the life source and the meeting of man and God.

In this context, the spacious lawns surrounding the Taj Mahal become as important as the mausoleum itself.Your travel trip to Taj definitely leaves you mesmerize, a 'Paradise on Earth' really summarises its ethereal appeal - the monument rivals any of the other wonders of the world.

The bejewelled Palace

Shahjahan's two biggest passions were architecture and jewellery and both are reflected in the Taj Mahal. He visualised a building in marble and then had it decorated with semi-precious stones inlaid with the delicacy of handcrafted jewellery. Marble in purest white was brought from Makrana in Rajasthan, yellow marble and rockspar from the banks of the Narmada river, lack marble from Charkoh and red sandstone from Sikri. For the intricate pietra dura the finest gems were collected - crystal and jade from China, lapis lazuli and sapphires from Sri Lanka, jasper from Punja, carnelian from Baghdad and turquoise from Tibet.

Yemen sent agates, the corals came from Arabia, the garnets from Bundelkhand, onyx and amethyst from Persia. Mumtaz Mahal's final resting-place was ornamented like a queen's jewel-box.

The Complex

You enter the Taj complex through an arcaded forecourt where some of Shahjahan's other queens lie buried. The forecourt also has the Jilau Kana, a bazaar with cloisters leading to the main entrance of the tomb. The imposing gateway is made of red sandstone highlighted with marble and has octagonal kiosks on top. The gateway is an imposing 30 metres high and a fitting entrance to the Taj Mahal. The soaring arch is inscribed with a beautiful design of inlaid flowers and calligraphy.

As you enter the dark octagonal chamber under the gateway, the light streaming in from the opposite doorway draws you towards it. Here, framed by the arch of the doorway, the Taj Mahal reveals itself to the viewer with dramatic power. It stands at the end of a long walkway, framed by landscaped gardens and an ever-changing sky, its snowy marble glittering in the sunlight.

Taj Mahal stands at one side of a garden laid in the tradition charbagh style, with its square lawns bisected by pathways, water channels and rows of fountains. Halfway down the path there is a square pool, its limpid waters reflecting the marble tomb. Unlike other tombs, Taj Mahal stands at one end of the garden instead the centre. This was done deliberately, to leave its vista uncluttered by any other building.

The Main Building

The tomb stands on a marble plinth six-metres high. The four minarets at each corner beautifully frame the tomb. The plinth stands on a high standstone platform and at the far ends of this base are two identical sandstone structures, a mosque to the west and its jawab, or echo, to the east. This was the mehman khana or guesthouse. Thus, the main building is not just of great size but beautifully proportioned and balanced in design.

The octagonal central hall has four smaller octagonal halls round it and is decorated with magnificent inlay and dado panels done in high relief. The bulbous, perfectly-balanced double dome rises to a height of 45 metres and the four chhattris flanking and balancing the high drum give it added height. Taj Mahal rises 75 metres high and is, in fact, taller than the Qutb Minar.

An ornate marble screen, carved so fine that it almost has the texture of lace surrounds the cenotaphs in the central hall. However, as was the tradition during Mughal times, the actual graves lie in an underground crypt directly below the cenotaphs.

Intricacy in design

What is most amazing about the Taj Mahal is the fine detailing. The coloured inlay is never allowed to overwhelm the design, as carvings done in relief sensitively balance it. The ornate pietra dura and relief carvings are of floral, calligraphic and geometric designs. However, flowers remain the main decorative element as the tomb depicts a paradise garden. The skill of the inlay worker is so fine that it is impossible to find the joints, even when as many as 40 tiny pieces of semi-precious stones have been used in the petals of a single flower. Some of the best calligraphy of Koranic verses can be seen around the entrance arches and on the two headstones.

The colours of the Taj

Taj Mahal changes its moods with the seasons and the different times of the day. At dawn, the marble has a delicate bloom in shell pink, by noon it glitters majestically white, turning to a soft pearly grey at dusk. On full-moon away against the star-spangled sky. Monsoon clouds give it a moody blue tint and it appears and disappears like a mirage in the drifting mists of winter.

It can be solid and earthbound, fragile and ethereal, white, amber, grey and gold. The many faces of Taj Mahal display the seductive power of architecture at its best.

.Taj Mahotsav

The best time to visit this 17 th century monument is during Taj Mahotsav. Taj Mahotsav is 10 day saga held annually at Shilpgram, near Taj Mahal. Bedecked elephants and camels, drum beaters, folk artists and master craftsmen together recreate the glorious past of the Mughals.

During this fest, Taj Mahal comes alive with culture and traditions. Taj Mahostav provides an opportunity to its artisans to perform their art and craft. You can actually purchase crafts which includes wood carvings from Saharanpur, handmade carpets of Badohi, the pottery of Khurja, chickan-work of Lucknow, the silk of Banares and much more.

Through Taj Mahotsav, performers get a platform to showcase profusion of folk music and dances of Dundelkhand, 'Nautanki' (Drama), 'Sapera' dance of Rajasthan, Lavani of Maharashtra.

Shopping At Taj Mahal

Just at the entrance, there are number of shops. These shops sells exquisite crafts and arts at affordable price. You can purchase leather work, footwear and embroidery. Infact, you small Taj Mahal miniature made of white marble are quite popular amongst the tourists.

Getting to Taj Mahal

Air : Just 7 kms from Agra city lies Kheria airport. From Delhi, Indira Gandhi Airport, Taj Mahal is just 204 kms away.

Rail : The nearest rail head for the Taj Mahal is Agra Cantonement railway station. The city is connected with Palace on Wheels, Shatabdi and Taj Express.

Road : Express bus service are available from Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Gwalior, and Jhansi.

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