The Taj Mahal
(English pronunciation: /ˈtɑːʒ
; Hindi: ताज महल
) is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, built by
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz
A brief History of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered the finest
example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements
from Persian, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and
was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the
universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
While the white domed marble mausoleum is its most familiar
component, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of
structures. Building began around 1632 and was completed around
1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen.
The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of
architects under imperial supervision including Abd ul-Karim
Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer.
In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's
period of greatest prosperity, was griefstricken when his third
wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth
child, Gauhara Begum.
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her
The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love
story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal.
The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the
surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.
Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions
of Persian architecture and earlier Mughal architecture.
Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal
buildings including; the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur,
progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand),
Humayun's Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the
Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While
earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red
sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid
with semi-precious stones, and buildings under his patronage
reached new levels of refinement.
Mumtaz Mahal in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built
The central focus of the complex is the tomb. This large,
white marble structure stands on a square plinth and consists of
a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway)
topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the
basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is essentially a large, multi-chambered
cube with chamfered corners, forming an unequal octagon that is
approximately 55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides.
On each of these sides, a massive pishtaq, or vaulted
archway, frames the iwan with two similarly shaped, arched
balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs
is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design
completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four
minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing
the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false
sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are
at a lower level.
The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is the most
spectacular feature. Its height of around 35 metres (115 ft) is
about the same as the length of the base, and is accentuated as
it sits on a cylindrical "drum" which is roughly 7 metres
(23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an
onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated
with a lotus design, which also serves to accentuate its height.
The shape of the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed
chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the
onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open through
the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall
decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base
walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome.
The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas.
The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial, which mixes
traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements.
The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced
by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This
feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional
Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a
moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward.
Because of its placement on the main spire, the horns of the
moon and the finial point combine to create a trident shape,
reminiscent of traditional Hindu symbols of Shiva.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres (130 ft)
tall, display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were
designed as working minarets — a traditional element of mosques,
used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each
minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two
working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower
is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the
design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same
decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial.
The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so
that, in the event of collapse, (a typical occurrence with many
tall constructions of the period) the material from the towers
would tend to fall away from the tomb.
Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the
finest to be found in Mughal architecture.
As the surface area changes the decorations are refined
proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying
paint, stucco, stone inlays, or carvings. In line with the
Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms,
the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy,
abstract forms or vegetative motifs.
Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur'an are used as
decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that the
passages were chosen by Amanat Khan.
The texts refer to themes of judgment and include:
Surah 91 – The Sun
Surah 112 – The Purity of Faith
Surah 89 – Daybreak
Surah 93 – Morning Light
Surah 95 – The Fig
Surah 94 – The Solace
Surah 36 – Ya Sin
Surah 81 – The Folding Up
Surah 82 – The Cleaving Asunder
Surah 84 – The Rending Asunder
Surah 98 – The Evidence
Surah 67 – Dominion
Surah 48 – Victory
Surah 77 – Those Sent Forth
Surah 39 – The Crowds
The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art
at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace
The calligraphy was created by the Persian calligrapher Abd
ul-Haq, who came to India from Shiraz, Iran, in 1609. Shah Jahan
conferred the title of "Amanat Khan" upon him as a reward for
his "dazzling virtuosity".
Near the lines from the Qur'an at the base of the interior dome
is the inscription, "Written by the insignificant being, Amanat
Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script,
made of jasper or black marble,
inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in
slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed
from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the
tomb is particularly detailed and delicate.
Abstract forms are used throughout, especially in the plinth,
minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab and, to a lesser extent, on the
surfaces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of the sandstone
buildings are worked with tracery of incised painting to create
elaborate geometric forms. Herringbone inlays define the space
between many of the adjoining elements. White inlays are used in
sandstone buildings, and dark or black inlays on the white
marbles. Mortared areas of the marble buildings have been
stained or painted in a contrasting colour, creating geometric
patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use
contrasting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns.
On the lower walls of the tomb there are white marble dados
that have been sculpted with realistic bas relief depictions of
flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasise the
exquisite detailing of the carvings and the dado frames and
archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of
highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The
inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade, polished and
leveled to the surface of the walls.
The Taj Mahal as
seen from the east view
The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal steps far beyond
traditional decorative elements. Here, the inlay work is not
pietra dura but lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones.
The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for
entry from each face, although only the south garden-facing door
is used. The interior walls are about 25 metres (82 ft) high and
topped by a "false" interior dome decorated with a sun motif.
Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level and, as
with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second
pishtaq about midway up the wall. The four central upper arches
form balconies or viewing areas, and each balcony's exterior
window has an intricate screen or jali cut from marble.
In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters
through roof openings which are covered by chattris at the
corners. Each chamber wall has been highly decorated with dado
bas relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy
panels, reflecting in miniature detail the design elements seen
throughout the exterior of the complex. The octagonal marble
screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from
eight marble panels which have been carved through with
intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid
in extremely delicate detail with semiprecious stones forming
twining vines, fruits and flowers.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves and
hence Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are laid in a relatively plain crypt
beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and
towards Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal's cenotaph is placed at the precise
center of the inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of
1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) by 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in). Both the base
and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious
gems. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and
praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular
lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. Shah Jahan's cenotaph
is beside Mumtaz's to the western side and is the only visible
asymmetric element in the entire complex. His cenotaph is bigger
than his wife's, but reflects the same elements: a larger casket
on slightly taller base, again decorated with astonishing
precision with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies him. On
the lid of this casket is a traditional sculpture of a small pen
box. The pen box and writing tablet were traditional Mughal
funerary icons decorating men's and women's caskets
respectively. The Ninety Nine Names of God are to be found as
calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual tomb of
Mumtaz Mahal, in the crypt including "O Noble, O Magnificent,
O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious... ". The tomb
of Shah Jahan bears a calligraphic inscription that reads;
"He traveled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on
the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year
The complex is set around a large 300-metre (980 ft) square
charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised
pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden
into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water
tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and
gateway with a reflecting pool on a north-south axis, reflects
the image of the mausoleum. The raised marble water tank is
called al Hawd al-Kawthar, in reference to the "Tank of
Abundance" promised to Muhammad.
Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and
charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was
introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. It
symbolizes the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and
reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian
paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden'. In mystic Islamic texts
of Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of
abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or
mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion
in the center. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main
element, the tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the
discovery of Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side
of the Yamuna, the interpretation of the Archaeological Survey
of India is that the Yamuna river itself was incorporated into
the garden's design and was meant to be seen as one of the
rivers of Paradise.
The similarity in layout of the garden and its architectural
features with the Shalimar Gardens suggest that they may have
been designed by the same architect, Ali Mardan.
Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of
vegetation, including abundant roses, daffodils, and fruit
trees. As the
Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined,
and when the British took over the management of Taj Mahal
during the time of the British Empire, they changed the
landscaping to resemble that of lawns of London.
The Taj Mahal complex is bounded on three sides by
crenellated red sandstone walls, with the river-facing side left
open. Outside the walls are several additional mausoleums,
including those of Shah Jahan's other wives, and a larger tomb
for Mumtaz's favorite servant. These structures, composed
primarily of red sandstone, are typical of the smaller Mughal
tombs of the era. The garden-facing inner sides of the wall are
fronted by columned arcades, a feature typical of Hindu temples
which was later incorporated into Mughal mosques. The wall is
interspersed with domed chattris, and small buildings
that may have been viewing areas or watch towers like the
Music House, which is now used as a museum.
The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure
built primarily of marble which is reminiscent of Mughal
architecture of earlier emperors. Its archways mirror the shape
of tomb's archways, and its pishtaq arches incorporate
the calligraphy that decorates the tomb. It utilizes bas-relief
and pietra dura inlaid decorations with floral motifs. The
vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs,
like those found in the other sandstone buildings of the
At the far end of the complex, there are two grand red
sandstone buildings that are open to the sides of the tomb.
Their backs parallel the western and eastern walls, and the two
buildings are precise mirror images of each other. The western
building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer),
whose primary purpose was architectural balance, although it may
have been used as a guesthouse. The distinctions between these
two buildings include the lack of mihrab (a niche in a
mosque's wall facing Mecca) in the jawab and that the
floors of jawab have a geometric design, while the mosque
floor was laid with outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble.
The mosque's basic design of a long hall surmounted by three
domes is similar to others built by Shah Jahan, particularly to
his Masjid-Jahan Numa, or Jama Masjid, Delhi. The Mughal
mosques of this period divide the sanctuary hall into three
areas, with a main sanctuary and slightly smaller sanctuaries on
either side. At the Taj Mahal, each sanctuary opens onto an
enormous vaulting dome. These outlying buildings were completed
The Taj Mahal was built on a parcel of land to the south of
the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai
Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for
the land. An
area of roughly three acres was excavated, filled with dirt to
reduce seepage, and leveled at 50 metres (160 ft) above
riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with
stone and rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of
lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold
that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that
foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. According to
the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks
taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants
overnight. A fifteen kilometer (9.3 mi) tamped-earth ramp was
built to transport marble and materials to the construction site
and teams of twenty or thirty oxen pulled the blocks on
specially constructed wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley
system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water
was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an
animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage
tank and raised to a large distribution tank. It was passed into
three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex.
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The
remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and
were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab, and
gateway. Since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies
exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on
"completion". For example, the mausoleum itself was essentially
complete by 1643, but work continued on the rest of the complex.
Estimates of the cost of construction vary due to difficulties
in estimating costs across time. The total cost has been
estimated to be about 32 million Rupees at that time.
The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over
India and Asia and over 1,000 elephants were used to transport
building materials. The translucent white marble was brought
from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from
China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from
Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the
carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious
and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
A labour force of twenty thousand workers was recruited
across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers
from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India,
stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets,
another who carved only marble flowers were part of the
thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit. Some of the
builders involved in construction of Taj Mahal are:
- Ismail Afandi (a.ka. Ismail Khan) of the Ottoman
Empire — designer of the main dome.
- Ustad Isa and Isa Muhammad Effendi of Persia — trained
by Koca Mimar Sinan Agha of the Ottoman Empire and
frequently credited with a key role in the architectural
- 'Puru' from Benarus, Persia — has been mentioned as a
- Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore - cast the solid gold
- Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi — the chief sculptor
- Amanat Khan from Shiraz, Iran — the chief calligrapher.
- Muhammad Hanif — a supervisor of masons.
- Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz — handled
finances and management of daily production.
Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed
by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra
Fort. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the
mausoluem next to his wife.
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen
badly into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of
1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and
government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis
lazuli from its walls. At the end of the 19th century, British
viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a massive restoration project, which
was completed in 1908.
He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber,
modeled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden
was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place
In 1942, the government erected a scaffolding in anticipation
of an air attack by German Luftwaffe and later by Japanese Air
Force. During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971,
scaffoldings were again erected to mislead bomber pilots.
More recent threats have come from environmental pollution on
the banks of Yamuna River including acid rain
due to the Mathura Oil Refinery,
which was opposed by Supreme Court of India directives. The
pollution has been turning the Taj Mahal yellow. To help control
the pollution, the Indian government has set up the Taj
Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 10,400 square kilometre (4,015 square
mile) area around the monument where strict emissions standards
are in place.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage
The Taj Mahal attracts from 2 to 4 million visitors annually,
with more than 200,000 from overseas. Most tourists visit in the
cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting
traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either
walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus. The
Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are currently being restored
for use as a new visitor center.
The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or
Mumtazabad, originally was constructed with caravanserais,
bazaars and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen.
Lists of recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj
Mahal, which also appears in several listings of seven wonders
of the modern world, including the recently announced New Seven
Wonders of the World, a recent poll
with 100 million votes.
The grounds are open from 6 am to 7 pm weekdays, except for
Friday when the complex is open for prayers at the mosque
between 12 pm and 2 pm. The complex is open for night viewing on
the day of the full moon and two days before and after,
excluding Fridays and the month of Ramzan. For security reasons
only five items—water in transparent bottles, small video
cameras, still cameras, mobile phones and small ladies'
purses—are allowed inside the Taj Mahal.
Ever since its construction, the building has been the source
of an admiration transcending culture and geography, and so
personal and emotional responses have consistently eclipsed
scholastic appraisals of the monument.
A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum
to be built in black marble across the Yamuna river.
The idea originates from fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste
Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. It was
suggested that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb
before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the
river in Moonlight Garden, Mahtab Bagh, seemed to support
this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found
that they were discolored white stones that had turned black.
A more credible theory for the origins of the black mausoleum
was demonstrated in 2006 by archeologists who reconstructed part
of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A dark reflection of the
white mausoleum could clearly be seen, befitting Shah Jahan's
obsession with symmetry and the positioning of the pool itself.
No evidence exists for claims that describe, often in
horrific detail, the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations
which Shah Jahan supposedly inflicted on various architects and
craftsmen associated with the tomb. Some stories claim that
those involved in construction signed contracts committing
themselves to have no part in any similar design. Similar claims
are made for many famous buildings.
No evidence exists for claims that Lord William Bentinck,
governor-general of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to
demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. Bentinck's
biographer John Rosselli says that the story arose from
Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort.
In 2000, India's Supreme Court dismissed P.N. Oak's petition
to declare that a Hindu king built the Taj Mahal.
Oak claimed that origins of the Taj, together with other
historic structures in the country currently ascribed to Muslim
sultans pre-date Muslim occupation of India and thus, have a
A more poetic story relates that once a year, during the rainy
season, a single drop of water falls on the cenotaph, as
inspired by Rabindranath Tagore's description of the tomb as
"one tear-drop...upon the cheek of time". Another myth
suggests that beating the silhouette of the finial will cause
water to come forth. To this day, officials find broken bangles
surrounding the silhouette.