Taj Mahal

Published 26 Dec 2016

The Taj Mahal was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The structure was designed by Ustad Ahmad Lahuari and completed in 1648. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Angra, India. This structure is widely regarded as the finest example of Mughal architecture, and combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. The Taj Mahal became a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1983. UNESCO stated that the Taj Mahal is “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage” (UNESCO, 2008). The white domed marble and tile mausoleum is the most recognizable structure in the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal consists of an integrated symmetric of complex structures.

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Although Ustad Ahmad Lahauri is highly regarded as the main designer for the Taj Mahal, many other designers contributed to this complex architectural structure. The main dome designer was Ismail Afandi, who was considered a premier dome and hemisphere designer during the Ottoman Empire. Puru from Benarus has been cited as one of the supervising architects. The gold finial was cast by Qazim Khan, who was a native of Lahore. The chief sculptor and mosaicist was Chiranjilal, who was a lapidary from Delhi. The chief calligrapher was Amanat Khan from Shiraz, Iran. Khan’s name is inscribed at the end of the inscription on the Taj Mahal gateway. The supervisor for the masons was Muhammad Hanif. Mir Abdul and Mukkarimat Khan, both from Shiraz, Iran, supervised the finances and the management of daily production (PBS, 2008).

Due to the limited technology of the time, the Taj Mahal took over twenty years to complete. The plinth and tomb took over twelve years to complete, and the remaining structures took an additional ten years to complete. Even though the mausoleum was completed by 1643, work continued on the remaining structures of the Taj Mahal. The estimated total cost of creating this structure is 32 million rupees which converts to trillions of dollars in modern times (Zahor & Haq, 1997).

Materials and workers from all over Asia were used in the construction of the Taj Mahal. Over twenty thousand workers were recruited from across Northern India to assist in the construction of this incredible structure. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The materials used in construction of the Taj Mahal were translucent white marble from Rajasthan, jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka, and carnelian from Arabia. There were twenty eight precious stones inlaid into the white marble (Chaghtai, 1938).

The main structure of the Taj Mahal is the large, white marble Tomb. The tomb is of Persian origin, and is a symmetrical building consisting of an iwan, or an arch-shaped doorway, topped with a large white dome. The base of the tomb is a cube with chamfered edges and is 55 meters on each side. A massive vaulted archway frames the iwan. Additional archways are stacked above and below on either side of the main archway. The design of the tomb is completely symmetrical on all sides. The marble dome is the most spectacular architectural element of the tomb.

The dome is decorated with a lotus design in order to accentuate its height. There are four smaller domes called chattris on all sides of the main dome. Tall decorative spires extend from the base walls to accentuate the height of each chattri. The lotus design is repeated on the spires and the chattris. The main dome is topped with a gilded spire and the chattris are topped with a gilded finial, which during the 1600s was made out of gold (Koch, 2006).

The exterior of the Taj Mahal consists of decorative elements. These decorative elements were created by the use of stucco, stone inlays, and carvings. The calligraphy on the exterior of the Taj Mahal was created by Amanat Khan, who also signed several of the panels. The calligraphy was crated by using jasper inlaid into white marble panels.

Abstract art forms grace the exterior walls of the Taj Mahal, and were created by tracery and incised painting in order to create geometric forms. Vegetative motifs can be found on the lower walls of the tomb. The white marble dados were sculpted to portray realistic flowers and vines (Koch, 2006). The Taj Mahal is surrounded by 300 meters of a Mughal Garden. The garden has raised pathways piding each of the four quarters of the garden. Each quarter consists of 16 sunken flowerbeds. There is a raised marble water fountain at the center of the garden, which sits halfway between the gateway and the tomb. On the North-South axis there is also a reflecting pool which reflects the image of the Taj Mahal (Begley, 1979).

The interior of the Taj Mahal consists of inlays of precious and semiprecious gemstones, which goes beyond the traditional decorative elements of the time. The interior of the inner chamber is shaped like an octagon with walls that are 5 meters high and topped by a false dome that is decorated with a sun motif. There are eight phistaq arches each topped with and second phistaq midway up the wall, mirroring the architectural design of the exterior walls. Balconies or viewing areas are created by the four central phistaqs and each balcony consists of a window that has been cut into the marble. The majority of the surfaces in the interior of the Taj Mahal have been inlaid with precious or semiprecious stones in extremely intricate detail and replicate flowers and vines (Koch, 2006).

By the late 19th century the Taj Mahal had fallen into disrepair. In 1857, the British troops defaced the Taj Mahal by chiseling out the some of its precious stones. Lord Cruzon, a British viceroy, ordered a massive restoration project on the structure which was completed in 1908. The Taj Mahal came under threat of defacement again in 1942, 1965, and 1971, but scaffoldings were erected in order to mislead bomber pilots (Allan, 1958). Today the Taj Mahal receives 2 to 4 million visitors every year and is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (Koch, 2006).

Works Cited

  • Allan, John. The Cambridge Shorter History of India. (1958). Cambridge. S. Chand
  • Begley, Wayne E. “The Myth of the Taj Mahal and a New Theory of Its Symbolic Meaning.” The Art Bulletin Volume 61 (2007).
  • Chaghtai, Muhammad Abdullah. Le Tadj Mahal d’ Agra (Inde). Histore et description. (1938). Brussels Editions de la Connaissance
  • Koch, Ebba. The Complete Taj Mahal: And the Riverfront Gardens of Agra. (2006). Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  • Treasures of the World. Taj Mahal. (2008). Retrieved on March 27, 2008 from: http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/taj_mahal/tlevel_2/t3build_design.html
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Le Taj Mahal. (2008). Retrieved on March 27, 2008 from: http://whc.unesco.org/fr/list/252
  • Zahoor, Dr. A., & Haq, Dr. Z. Taj Mahal, Mausoleum of Mumtaz MahalI. (1997). Retrieved on March 27, 2008 from: http://www.islamicity.com/Culture/Taj/default.htm
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