Why Was the Taj Mahal Built?
The Taj Mahal was built by the Mogul emperor Shah Jehan (1614-66) as a tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is situated at Agra in northern India and is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. When the Moguls arrived in India early in the 16th Century, they brought Persian civilization with them. The tomb is a perfect example of the Persian style of architecture.
The tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.
The name of the tomb means “Crown of the Palace”, one of the titles given to the Empress Mumtaz. It is built of white marble, inlaid with precious stones, and is eight sided, 130 feet across at its widest points and nearly 200 feet high to the top of the huge dome. It is flanked on each side by two slender minarets and stands on a vast marble terrace overlooking the River Jumna and surrounded by Persian gardens.
Inside, under the dome, are the marble cenotaphs or monuments of Shah Jehan and his empress, on which the sun flickers through marble screens as delicate and intricate as lace. The walls are covered in floral designs and inscriptions from the Koran, picked out in onyx, jasper, cornelian and other semi-precious stones. The tombs which hold the royal bodies are in a vaulted chamber below and, in contrast to the chamber itself, are quite plain.
According to a legend the marvelous building appeared to Mumtaz in a dream and the Shah searched the whole of India for an architect. The plans were said to have been drawn up only after the architect had been given a drug which enabled him to see a vision of the monument in all its splendor and glory.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (US$827 million). The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. Described by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore as “the tear-drop on the cheek of time”, it is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year. In 2007, it was declared a winner of the New7Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative.