Taj Mahal

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Mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex

The Taj Mahal is a large 17th century mausoleum complex, located on the south bank of the River Yamuna in Agra, India. The Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān commissioned the mausoleum for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal from whom the name is derived. Whilst the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is an extensive complex of buildings and gardens that extends over 22.44 hectares[a][1] and includes subsidiary tombs, waterworks infrastructure, the small town of 'Taj Ganj' and a 'moonlight garden' to the north of the river. Construction began in 1632 common era, (1041 AH), and was completed in 1648 CE (1058 AH).[2]


The Taj Mahal was variously referred to by 17th century CE Mughal chroniclers writing in Persian as Rauza-i munauwara, meaning 'building of the illuminated tomb', Rauzi-i muqqadas, 'the holy tomb' (carrying strong religious significance being the same name as the tomb of the prophet Muhammad at Medina) and the Imarat-i rauza-i mutahhara, 'building of the pure tomb'.[3] The present name derives from a European corruption of 'Mumtaz Mahal' which appears to have become its popular name at the time when Europeans arrived in significant numbers.[4]

Origins and architecture of the Taj Mahal

For more information, see: Origins and architecture of the Taj Mahal.

The architecture of the Taj Mahal represents the finest and most sophisticated example of Mughal architecture. Its origins lie in the moving circumstances of its commission and the culture and history of an Islamic Mughal empire adapting to rule a largely Hindu populace.

The distraught Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the mausoleum upon the death of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Whilst the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is an extensive complex of buildings and gardens that extends over 22.44 Hectares[a] and includes subsidiary tombs, waterworks infrastructure, the small town of 'Taj Ganj' and a 'moonlight garden' to the north of the river. Construction began in 1632 CE, (1041 AH), on the south bank of the River Yamuna in Agra, India and was completed in 1648 CE (1058 AH). The design was conceived as both an earthly replica of the house of Mumtaz in paradise and an instrument of propaganda for the emperor.

Who designed the Taj Mahal is unclear; although it is known that a large team of designers and craftsmen were responsible including Shah Jahan himself, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri considered the most likely candidate as the principle designer. The intention at its inception was to create the most beautiful building in the world. Few in its history have disagreed, with many finding the exquisite nature of its pietra dura decoration closer to lapidary than stonemasonry.

Post construction history and legacy

Immediately before the construction of the Taj, the first diplomatic links between European nations and the Mughals had been established. The subsequent history of the Taj would see it witness the decline of the Mughal empire, the rise of the Maratha Empire, the increasing influence of the British East India Company and eventually see India become the 'Jewel in the Crown' of the British Empire until India's independence in 1947. The reputation of the Taj as an exquisite work of architecture extended across continents even before it was completed. The Taj's form, execution and setting provided something for people from many cultures and periods of history to praise.

Decline of the Mughal empire

After the construction of the Taj, riverside garden form became the preserve of imperial nobility in other areas such as Shahjahanabad (Delhi).[5] Aurangzeb wrote to Jahan in 1652 CE (1062 AH) to inform him that the dome was leaking during the rainy season and requesting repairs. Until his death of in 1707 the complex was kept in a good state of repair but his demise saw the beginnings of the decline of Mughal power. During the war of accession between the emperors successors and other Mughal nobles the Agra fort was plundered and the pearl sheet (chadar) which Jahan had commissioned as a cover for Mumtaz's mausoleum. The situation in Agra became particularly precarious in the 18th century as indigenous and foreign powers exchanged control of the city. In an attempt to re-assert Mughal control under the reign of emperor Muhammad Shah new city walls were constructed and the earliest known plans of the Taj Mahal were prepared. When the Jats sacked the fort in 1761, part of their spoils included the doors of the Taj Mahal.[6]

European reactions

For European neoclassicists, the rigorous symmetry and the coincidental similarity of its façade’s tripartite composition to Roman triumphal arches made the Taj, although resolutely a product of indigenous and Islamic architecture, accessible to the European mindset. 19th century painters of the picturesque praised the (by then) overgrown naturalistic setting of the garden and the ruined Agra waterfront and the traditional conception of the Taj as a ‘monument to love’ was well publicised and captured the imagination of the romantics.

The earliest European visitors to the Taj were both French - Jean-Baptiste Tavernier visiting in 1640–1641 CE (1050–1051 AH) and Francois Bernier in 1659 CE (1069 AH). Bernier gave the following description and Shah Jahan's motive for building it:-

"I shall finish this letter with a description of the two wonderful mausoleums which constitute the chief superiority of Agra over Delhi. One was erected by Jehan-guyre [sic] in honor of his father Ekbar; and Chah-Jehan raised the other to the memory of his wife Tage Mehale, that extraordinary and celebrated beauty, of whom her husband was so enamoured it is said that he was constant to her during life, and at her death was so affected as nearly to follow her to the grave".[7]

The British and the Taj

The first artist to arrive from Europe was James Forbes (artist) in 1781 swiftly followed by Johan Zoffany in 1786. The first overall views of the Taj were made by William Hodges (1783) and Thomas and William Daniell who came in search of 'the sublime, picturesque and exotic'. The British East India Company established a presence in Agra in 1785 and from 1786-1798 Major William Palmer, would stay in the garden towers of the Taj.

Company painting http://www.indoislamica.com/miniatures/mini000038.html, http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-137784328.html


Thomas Daniell's Oriental Views (1808) and his other Indian watercolours and paintings would become the major instrument of influence upon British sensibilities both in India and back in the United Kingdom. He advised on the design of the gardens of Sezincote, which was visited by the Prince Regent in 1812 and so became a strong influence on John Nash's 1815 redesigns of the Royal Brighton Pavilion. The interior designs of this and later buildings such as parts of Osbourne House for Queen Victoria, and Elveden Hall in Suffolk for Duleep Singh both demonstrate an eastern exoticism that can trace its influence to the Taj Mahal. For other eastern parts of the British empire, particularly those with Islamic sensibilities, Mughal architecture provided a useful language to express imperial buildings. Accordingly, Kuala Lumpur has a very fine Moghul railway station.


Contemporary chronicles and court histories make it clear that Shah Jahan intended the Taj Mahal to be acclaimed by the entire world. It can be argued that he was almost entirely successful in this pursuit. The building has inspired admiration that transcends cultures and geography; so much so, that the personal and emotional responses to the building have consistently eclipsed the scholastic appraisals of the monument. Some of these responses and leaps of the imagination are now so old or compelling that they are imbedded in a global psyche and are often repeated as fact in opposition to the scholastic consensus. Others have attempted to use or promote misinformation about the Taj for political or self-serving advantage.[8]

A longstanding popular tradition holds that an identical mausoleum complex for Shah Jahan was to be built in black marble instead of white on the site of the moonlight garden.[9] Known as the 'black taj' this idea can trace its roots to the fanciful writings of an early European traveller called Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who visited Agra in 1665 whilst Jahan was incarcerated in the Agra Fort. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before the black version could be built. Excavations of the moonlight garden were carried out in the 1990s and found no evidence of such foundations in the ruins of the garden, only white marble features discoloured completely to black by pollution and the frequent flooding of the site. Speculation continues that the black taj may refer to the reflection of the Taj in the large pool of the garden or possibly the reflection, seen by Jahan in his last days from Agra fort, through imperfect mirrors.[10]

The lack of complete and reliable information as to whom the credit for the design belongs, has led to innumerable speculations. The most notable and frequently repeated is that the Taj Mahal's architect was Ustad Isa from Ottoman Turkey. Reliable sources suggest the story is fictitious, and was born of the readiness of the British in the 19th century to believe that such a beautiful building should be credited to a European architect. Local informants are also reported to have supplied the British with fictitious lists of workmen and materials from all over Asia.[11][12] A related and earlier notion, first documented by the Spanish friar Sebastian Manrique in 1641, suggests the monument was the work of the Venetian goldsmith called Geronimo Veroneo.[11][10]

In a pattern typical of many of the world's most famous buildings, a number of stories describe, often in horrific detail, the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the tomb. More conservative stories moderate the idea to that of a contract signed by those involved in the building's construction committing to have no part in any similar design. No evidence for these claims exist.[13]

There is an often-repeated story that Lord William Bentinck, governor of India in the 1830s, planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. There is no contemporary evidence for this story, which may have emerged in the late nineteenth century when Bentinck was being criticised for his penny-pinching Utilitarianism, and when Lord Curzon was emphasising earlier neglect of the monument, and presenting himself as a saviour of Indian antiquities. According to Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli, the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort and of the metal from a famous but obsolete Agra cannon.[14] However, others, led by the Archaeological Survey of India, still believe and argue that a sale by the British East India Company was planned under Lord Bentinck's watch, though no satisfactory buyers were found.[15][16]

In recent years, elements within India have become interested in the ideas of P.N. Oak. He claims that the origins of the Taj, together with all the other historic structures in the country currently ascribed to Muslim sultans, pre-date the Muslim occupation of India and have a Hindu origin.[17] In 2000 India's Supreme Court dismissed Oak's petition to declare that a Hindu king built the Taj Mahal and reprimanded him for bringing the action.[18][13]

A more poetic story relates that once a year during the rainy season, a single drop of water falls onto the cenotaph, paralleling the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore's description of the tomb as "one solitary tear hanging on the cheek of time". Another myth suggest that if the silhouette of the finial, set into the paving of the riverside forecourt, is beaten then water will come forth. To this day officials at the Taj Mahal find broken bangles surrounding the silhouette.[19]

The Taj today and its future

Pollution from small scale industry and an oil refinery 40 km north of Agra threatened to discolour the marble and weaken the sandstone of the complex and provoked the establishment of the 'Taj Trapezium' in 1982 to restrict such activities within an area of approximately 50 km radius around Agra. In the same year the complex was awarded UNSECO world heritage status. Criticism has been made that although the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort both enjoy this status, the contextual surroundings of the Agra waterfront and its traditions of residential and pleasure gardens remain unprotected. The case for conservation sits in opposition to the interests of those trying to improve Agra's economic activity, who naturally see the restrictions imposed by the UNESCO heritage status as limiting. In 1984 an emissions-free green belt was established around the complex because the Taj Trapezium measures had proved ineffective. In 1996, after a supreme court ruling, further measures were taken to reduce pollution, including the banning of polluting vehicles within 500 m and iron foundries in the wider vicinity. It also removed the shops and bazaar traders from within the Taj complex and established a no-build zone within 200 m. The full appreciation of the Taj Ganj and its integration with the rest of the complex did not come until after the ruling and so now, if the law were applied to the letter, all new building in the Taj Ganj would be prohibited.[20][21]

Research is currently being undertaken to determine the original planting scheme with the intention of replanting the garden with the original Mughal design. This will mean the loss of the historic 1906 garden design but the more ecological methods of gardening proposed will benefit the local community.[22]

Taj Heritage Corridor Project
In July 2003 work was stopped on the construction of a US$1.8 billion project that would have linked the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort with 2km of riverside walkway flanked by shopping malls, restaurants and tourist facilities. India's supreme court ordered the stoppage and an investigation into why the project was started despite numerous irregularities in the procurement of the work and the planning of a design within the Taj trapezium. UNESCO voiced concerns that the work that had been carried out to the Jamuna river bank had diverted the flow of the river, changed the water table and created mass landfill, leading to a possible risk for the Taj's foundations and further detrimental effects to other heritage sites downstream. The body requested an explanation and conducted their own investigations to determine whether the monument should be put on the "World Heritage in Danger" list. The resultant political scandal engulfed the Uttar Pradesh government. The Central Bureau of Investigation was called in and the Chief Minister Mayawati Kumari is currently facing corruption charges although further accusations have been made that delays bringing the cases to court are the result of political pressure.[23][24][25][26]

Wakf case
In 2005 an attempt was made to designate the Taj Mahal as a wakf property (an inalienable religious endowment in Islam, typically devoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes). This would have taken legal ownership of the Taj from the government, administered by the Archaeological Survey of India to the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board and entitled them to a 7% share of the profits to be used for maintenance. The Sunni Central Wakf Board argued that the complex was willed as a wakf property by Shah Jahan, that the Indian Supreme court had previously observed that all mosques and graveyards are wakf property. The Shia Wakf Board responded by filing their own claim asserting that since Mumtaz Mahal was a Shia then it was a Shia wakf property. The case had implications in Indian law that would have either required the Ancient Monuments Act and the Central Wakf Act to be modified to exclude protected monuments of national importance from the purview of the Wakf Act or to allow all such properties to cede to the Wakf board. In the event the Supreme Court found in favour of the Archaeological Survey of India who had argued that there was considerable historical evidence to support the claim that the complex had been in the ownership of the Government since the British abolished the waqf that financed the tomb's upkeep in 1803 and assumed responsibility for it themselves.[27][28][29][30]

Political threats
2001 visit and vandalism - pakistan camouflage

The Taj Mahal attracts 2 million visitors every year of whom 200,000 come from overseas, making it one of the most popular international attractions in India. Most tourists visit during the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourist must either walk from the car parks or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras are currently being restored for use as a new visitors' center.[1][31][32]

Compiled lists of recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj Mahal, which also appears in several listings of Seven Wonders of the World|seven wonders of the modern world. The most recent of which was the result of an Internet poll of 100 million people. The poll itself drew criticism, particularly from UNESCO who argued that the wonders of the world should not be drawn from a popular vote, and other criticism which highlighted the attendant statistical skews in polls for 'wonders' in countries with large populations.[33]

See also


a. ^ The UNESCO evaluation omits the Taj Ganj and Moonlight garden from its area calculations - the total area with the historic Taj Ganj is 26.95 ha
b. ^ Mewar (1615 CE, 1024 AH), the Deccan (1617 and 1621 CE, 1026 and 1030 AH), Kangra (1618 CE, 1027AH).
c. ^ In the Mughal empire, inheritance of power and wealth was not determined through primogeniture, but rather by princely sons competing to achieve military success and consolidate power at court.
d. ^ The grandson of Raja Man Singh of Amber and a relative of Shah Jahan through his Great Uncle Raja Bhagwant Das.[34]
e. ^ The Islamic Calendar is lunar and so the anniversary dates vary when expressed in the Gregorian Calendar.
f. ^ In 1637–39 CE (1047–1049 AH), an Indian servant of the Dutch East India company could expect to receive 36 rupees a year, a mansabdar would receive 9000 rupees a year.
g. ^ "May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be paradise".[35]
h. ^ There is some disagreement as to whether the translation of darogha imarat is 'Superintendent of Buildings' as Begley and Koch contend or 'Chief architect' as Qaisar contends.[36]
j. ^ 1643 (1053 AH) by Lahouri.[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Periodic Reporting Exercise On The Application Of The World Heritage Convention (English). UNESCO. Retrieved on 2007-03-21.
  2. ICOMOS advisory body evaluation (English). ICOMOS (1983). Retrieved on 2007-03-21.
  3. Koch, p.152-154
  4. Asher, p.210
  5. Koch, p.24
  6. Latif, p.59
  7. Bernier, François [Written at Dehli [sic] the first of July 1663] Letter to Monsieur de la Mothe le Vayer.
  8. Koch, p.231
  9. Asher, p.210
  10. 10.0 10.1 Koch, p.249
  11. 11.0 11.1 Koch, p.89
  12. Taj Mahal History (English). Travel guide (2007-07-09). Retrieved on 2007-07-06.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Koch, p.239
  14. Rosselli, J., Lord William Bentinck the making of a Liberal Imperialist, 1774-1839, London Chatto and Windus for Sussex University Press 1974, p.283
  15. Sinha, Saurabh (2005-20-08). East India Co tried to sell Taj Mahal (English) 1. The Times of India. Retrieved on 2007-03-02.
  16. Waldman, Amy (2004-16-05). The Taj Mahal is a Glorius Survivor (English) 1. New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-03-02.
  17. Oak, Purushottam Nagesh. The True Story of the Taj Mahal (English). Stephen Knapp. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
  18. Supreme Court Dismisses Oak's Petition
  19. Koch, p.240
  20. Prothi-Khanna, Nupur (October 2004). Conflicting perceptions (English). Working Conservation - a symposium on protecting our culture and heritage. India Seminar.
  21. Koch, p.252
  22. Storah, Richard. India Study Tour - Agra and Delhi (English). University of York. Retrieved on 2007-03-22.
  23. Convention Concerning The Protection Of The World Cultural And Natural Heritage - Twenty-seventh session (English) p.93. UNESCO. Retrieved on 2007-03-22.
  24. Devraj, Ranjit (2003-7-24). Marring the Taj Mahal with malls (English). Online Asia Times. Retrieved on 2007-03-03.
  25. Tripathi, Purnima S. (July 2003). Saving the Taj Mahal (English). Frontline Magazine. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  26. Taj Heritage Corridor: Hearing deferred till June 1 (English). Indlaw.com (23). Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  27. Koch, p.100
  28. Chowdhury, Debasish Roy (July 16 2005). Tug-of-war over the Taj Mahal (English). Online Asia Times. Retrieved on 2007-03-26.
  29. Menon, Parvathi (2005-7-30). The Taj is not wakf property, Interview with Irfan Habib (English). Frontline. Retrieved on 2007-07-06.
  30. Legal Correspondent (2005-05-12). SC stays Waqf Board order on Taj (English). The Tribune, Chandigarh. Retrieved on 2007-07-06.
  31. Koch, p.120
  32. Koch, p.254
  33. Travel Correspondent (2007-07-09). New Seven Wonders of the World announced (English). The Telegraph. Retrieved on 2007-07-06.
  34. Asher, p.212
  35. Koch, p.20
  36. Dunkeld, Malcolm (Ed) (June 2007). Construction history society newsletter (English). Chartered Institute of Building. Retrieved on 2007-07-23.
  37. Koch, p.120