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.
How to Reach the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Agra is about 200 km from Delhi (165 if you use the Yamuna Expressway) and is easily accessible by flights, roadways and train services. The travel time from Delhi to Agra by road is just over 3 hours by road.
In order to minimize the effects of pollution, vehicles are not allowed in the immediate vicinity of the Taj Mahal. Cars and buses have to park in parking lots a short distance away from the mausoleum complex and tourists can board non-polluting electric buses to reach the Taj Mahal.
You can travel from Delhi to Agra, see the Taj Mahal, and return in one day. However, if you wish to see more of the sights of Agra and shop in the city's markets, then it is a good idea to stay overnight in Agra.
Best Time To Visit the Taj Mahal
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is in the autumn, winter and spring months from October to February. The peak summer months of May to July are best avoided because of the hot weather. The months of October and November,after the monsoon, offer the sight of the Taj at its mesmerising best, as the gardens are lush with greenery and the Yamuna river flows proudly past the Taj Mahal, swollen with post-monsoon rain. Both these factors enhance the overall experience of viewing the Taj Mahal.
Taj Mahal Timings
The Taj Mahal complex is open for visitors from sunrise to sunset (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.) on all weekdays, with the exception of Friday. On Fridays the mosque in the Taj Mahal complex is open for prayers from 12 noon to 2 p.m. At this time tourists are not permitted to enter the complex.
On full-moon nights, and one night before and after a full-moon, the Taj Mahal complex is open for visitors who wish to view the Taj by moonlight - a truly spectacular sight. The moonlight viewing sessions are not permitted during the month of Ramadan and on Fridays.
While travelling to the Taj Mahal complex, do note that security restrions apply at the complex and the only items a tourist may carry into the grounds are the following: mobile phones, still cameras, small video cameras, small purses carried by ladies, and water in transparent bottles.
Taj Mahal Entry Fee
The entry fees for the Taj Mahal are different for Indian and international tourists.
Foreign tourists: INR 750/
Citizens of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand: 510/-
Indians: Rs. 20/-
Tickets for the Taj Mahal can be purchased at any of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.
There is no Entry fee for children below the age of 15 years, irrespective of whether they are Indians or Foreigners.
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).
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.
Significance of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal has great significance as the epitome of Mughal architecture in the Indian subcontinent. The mausoleum and its surrounding complex of buildings are a lesson in both Mughal history and Mughal architecture. Studying the calligraphy, the inlaid carvings, the perfect proportions of the buildings, and the geometric precision of their construction, once cannot but marvel at the excellence of the craftsmanship that has stood the test of time, but also the inspiration behind this timeless wonder. Scholars of history, architects, textile and jewellery designers, painters and photographers have all found inspiration in the perfection of this historic tomb, a monument to love, an aesthetic wonder, and a delight to the eye.
The Taj Mahal not only has great significance as the epitome of Mughal architecture in the Indian subcontinent, but also as an inspiration for other monuments, both in Mughal and more recent times. Some of the buildings inspired by the Taj Mahal are: the Bibi Ka Maqbara in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, (the tomb of Aurangzeb's wife, Dilras Banu Begum or Rabia-ud-Daurani), the Taj Mahal Bangladesh (a replica of the original built in 2008, in Sonargaon near Dhaka), the Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (this is not a religious building and is an example of Moorish revival architecture), and the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City (a casino in New Jersey, USA).
Taj Mahal Facts
Construction: The Taj Mahal was contructed over a time span of 23 years. Construction began in 1632 (after Mumtaz Mahal's death in 1631) and was completed around 1653.
Timeframe: Construction of the main mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were completed after another five years.
Number of workers: Twenty-thousand artisans and craftsmen worked to construct the building, lay the lawns and carry out the intricate carvings and inlay work.
Architects: The chief architect was Ustad Ahmad Lahauri or Ustad Isa. Other craftsmen who worked on the building were: Amanat Khan from Shiraz in Iran, who was the chief calligrapher, Chiranjilal, a n expert on precious stones, from Delhi, who was the chief decorative sculptor, Muhammad Hanif, who was chief supervisor of the masons and Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan and Makramat Khan who managed the finances and the daily production on the construction site.
Role of elephants: Over a 1,000 elephants were put to work on the construction site, to lift, carry and transport logs, blocks of marble and any other material that was required across the construction site.
Source of the material used in construction: About 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stones were used in the inlay work inside the tomb. The stones included lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire came from Sri Lanka, turquoise was from Tibet, jade and crystal from China, carnelian from Arabia and jasper from Punjab. The white marble was sourced from Makrana in Rajasthan.
Total cost of the construction: Scholars have estimated that the total cost of constructing the Taj Mahal may have been about 32 million Rupees at that time.
Shah Jahan's imprisonment: Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb, in 1654, one year after the construction of the Taj Mahal was completed. Shah Jahan lived out the last decade of his life, till his death in 1666, as a prisoner in Agra Fort. He spent his days gazing across the Yamuna river to the monument he had built in memory of his lost love. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, Aurangzeb had him entombed beside his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. There they rest, united by death, never to be parted again.
Architecture of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is considered the pinnacle of aesthetic achievement in Mughal architecture. The Mughals had previously built many impressive structures in India, including the imposing forts at Delhi and Agra, the city of Fatehpur Sikri, the grand Jama Masjid in Delhi, and the austere tomb of Akbar in Sikandra. The Taj Mahal, was inspired by the rich tradition of Mughal architecture and the tombs of their ancestors, such as the tomb of Timur the Lame, called Gur-e-Amir, in Samarkand; the grand tomb of Humayun in Delhi; and the tomb of Mirza Ghias Beg (Itimad-ud-Daulah, the royal treasurer and father of Nur Jehan) in Agra, which is also known as the Baby Taj because of its fine marble inlay work. In his construction of the The Taj Mahal, however, Shah Jahan further developed the architectural expression of the Mughal style and raised it to perfection carved in stone.
One of the major design changes that Shah Jahan brought about in the Taj Mahal was the predominant use of white marble. Previously, tombs - such as Humayun's tomb - were constructed mostly out of red sandstone. The use of marble and its decoration with semi-precious and precious stones in the form of detailed inlay work was a new innovation that raised the tomb from a mausoleum to a work of art.
The Taj Mahal Complex
The main Mausoleum
The main mausoleum is a symmetrical square building that rests on a high plinth. It can be entered through an iwan, or high arched doorway, and its roof is a giant onion-shaped dome topped with a proud gilded finial. The external walls of the square mausoleum are 55 metres long on each side and have chamfered corners, which lead to the building being shapeed like an unequal octagon. On each long wall there is a vaulted archway or pishtaq around the iwan. On both sides of the arch are smaller pishtaqs in the form of arched balconies. These structures also appear on the chamfered corners of the octagon adding to the overall symmetry of the structure.
Dome of the Taj Mahal
The base of the chattris form openings into the main hall of the tomb, allowing light to enter from each corner.
The main hall of the Taj Mahal
The main hall contains the false decorative tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. This area has some of the finest marble lattice-work carvings and pietra dura inlay work that the world has ever seen. The actual tombs of the Mughal Empress and Emperor are placed below the main hall and can be viewed by climbing down a flight of stairs to a lower chamber. This was a precaution to prevent looting and desecration of the actual tombs.
Decorative elements of the Taj Mahal
Forbidden by their religion to depict any human forms, the craftsmen and artisans covered the walls of the tomb with symmetrical, geometric designs, floral motifs, and calligraphed inscriptions from the Quran. Abd ul-Haq, one of the calligraphers who worked on the tomb received the title Amanat Khan from Shah Jahan in recognition of his excellence. He has left his mark on the tomb by incribing the line "Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi" on the base of the inner side of the dome. The pietra dura or marble inlay work seen in the Taj Mahal required skilled craftsmanship of a very high degree. Floral and geometric designs were cut into the polished white marble and cut sections of semi-precious and precious stones were embedded in them to create intricate paterns on the tombs and inner walls of the mausoleum. The stones used for the inlay work include jade, jasper and black and yellow marble.
The actual tombs in the Taj Mahal
The false tombs in the main hall of the Taj Mahal are surrounded by finely carved latticework or jali screens. Placed in an octagonal shape the jalis screen the tombs from the gaze of onlookers. The actual tombs are placed in a chamber below the main hall. A marble casket containing the remains of Mumtaz Mahal rests on a marble base in the centre of the lower chamber. Inscribed on the casket are words that name and praise her . Her casket is decorated with elaborate inlay work and a carving of a writing tablet, often seen on the tombs of Mughal noblewomen. Shah Jahan's tomb, which is larger in size and covered with similar elaborate inlay work, is placed off centre. The inscribed words on his tomb names him and mentions the date of his passing away from this world. The carving on his tomb is of a pen box, often seen on tombs of Mughal noblemen and emperors.
The Charbagh Gardens of the Taj Mahal
The Mughals were very fond of gardens and built many beautiful parks and green spaces in their cities and within their palaces. Their tombs are usually placed in the centre of a charbagh (four-quartered) garden. The Taj Mahal differs from this pattern because the tomb is set at one end of the 300-metre garden. However, the recent discovery by the Archaeological Survey of India of the moonlit garden on the far side of the Yamuna river suggest that the Taj Mahal and its associated structures may not be restricted to one bank of the river, and the river itself may be an integral part of the design of the Taj Mahal complex. Apart from fountains and water channels along the main walkway, there is also a pool halfway along its length, in which the sublime reflection of the Taj Mahal can be seen. The design of the gardens are similar to the Shalimar Bagh, a beautiful garden in Kashmir, built by the Emperor Jahangir. The British introduced some changes to the gardens around the Taj Mahal during their reign, but much of the original splendour still remains.
Together, the gateway, the gardens, the tomb with its impressive onion dome and surrounding minarets, and the white marble perfection of the Taj Mahal, provide a sublime and humbling experience. The story of the great love that inspired an emperor to create this wonder of the world, and the incredible craftsmanship at each stage of the construction and decoration of this mausoleum is a testament to the human spirit and its need to strive for perfection. In this tribute to his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan created not only a mausoleum for his Empress, but also an inspiration for lovers worldwide, and proof carved in stone of what can be achieved when an Emperor resolves to achieve his dream.
Taj Mahal Controversy
A controversy was sought to be created about the Taj Mahal by the self-proclaimed professor Purushottam Nagesh Oak (1917 - 2007), who founded the Institute for Rewriting Indian History in 1964. He was the author of many articles and books on Indian history, most of which propounded his ideas that many of the world's civilizations emerged from the Hindu civilization. He also claimed that many iconic structures such as the Kaaba, the Vatican,and the Taj Mahal were originally Hindu temples.
His views were not given much credence and when he filed a public interest litigation claiming that the Taj Mahal was not built during the reign of Shah Jahan, and was a pre-existing Hindu structure, his petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court of India, in the year 2000. P.N. Oak claimed that the Taj Mahal was an existing mansion and the property of a Hindu nobleman. He also claimed it was a Hindu structure called the Tejomahalaya. He was unable to subtantiate his claims, however, and the Supreme Court of India censured P.N. Oak,describing his petition as 'misconceived' and 'an abuse of the process of the court'. The Justices of the court, Ms. Justice Ruma Pal and Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha claimed the petitioner had a 'bee in his bonnet' about the pre-existence of a Hindu structure, which he had been unable to prove. Another petition by Mr Amar Nath Mishra, claiming the Indian government should investigate his views that the the Hindu ruler Parmar Dev built the Taj Mahal in 1196, was dismissed by the Allahabad high court in 2005.
Mr Oak's brand of history has been criticized by eminent historians both in India and abroad. Dr K. N. Panikkar, a Marxist historian and former member of the University Grants Commission and Indian Council for Social Science Research has placed P.N. Oak's book Taj Mahal: The True Story, in the realm of attempts to create a communially polarized interpretation of the history of India, while Dr Srinivas Aravamudan, Professor of English, Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University, describes him as a 'mythistorian'. Dr Giles Tillotson, former Director of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, has described his Oak's work as 'a startling piece of pseudo-scholarship'.
The Taj Mahal, is now one of the most recognized structures worldwide, and has been voted one of the modern seven wonders of the world. As a symbol of excellence it has inspired not only scholars, poets and architects, but in India you will find a popular brand of tea named after it and also a chain of luxury Taj Mahal hotels. Many Indian restaurants worldwide cash in on its brand name recognition as a symbol of Indian excellence. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Taj Mahal has been recognized as part of the cultural heritage of the world and a monument that has withstood the ravages of both time and controversy.
Last Updated on: December 11, 2013