TAJ MAHAL, AGRA

   The Taj Mahal, an impressive mausoleum located on the bank of the Yamuna River at Agra in northern India, was built in 1632-1648 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a funerary monument for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex consists of a series of buildings and intricate gardens constructed by many architects and gardeners, but the principal architect is considered to have been Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Legends include various stories about how architects were required to sign contracts testifying that they would not reveal construction secrets from the mausoleum or design subsequent similar buildings. This emphasis on architectural secrecy is not unique but was apparently common in antiquity, although firm documentation has yet to be found concerning how, specifically, secrets were maintained about such locations as royal treasuries, burial tombs, and royal palace layouts.
   The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most famous example of Mughal architecture in India and reveals a dramatic departure from the prior Hindu and Buddhist architectural monuments constructed throughout India. Instead, it demonstrates a melding of Islamic, Persian, Indian, Turkish, and Byzantine architectural styles. Islam was introduced into India in the AD 700s, yet this initial Islamic settlement around the Indus River did not become markedly strong until three centuries later, when newly converted Turkish Muslims traveling across Central Asia began to settle in larger numbers in northern India. Gradually, Turks began to carve out regional centers of Islamic authority based in Delhi, and from the 1200s onward, these rulers, called sultans, began to construct monumental palaces, fortifications, mosques, and funerary monuments. This culture laid the foundation for Mughal advancement into India in the early 1500s. The Mughals were both Turkish and Mongol, and they unified power in northern India to become emperors. The first Mughal emperor was Muhammad Zahir-ud-Din, who ruled briefly from 1526 to 1530 after conquering Delhi and establishing his empire across Central Asia. His successors unified northern India under Mughal rule. This long-standing dynasty lasted until 1858, when the last Mughal emperor was exiled to Burma (Myanmar) by British forces seeking greater control over India.
   Mughal architecture consisted primarily of Islamic structures, which had already been established in India, but these newer buildings also reveal such newly introduced stylistic features as the horse-shoe arch and onion dome. These can be found at the Taj Mahal. The delicately carved white stone building is set into a carefully cultivated garden that features long rectangular pools and is divided into four parts, separated by broad paths lined with straight rows of fruit trees and flowers. The tomb monument rises up at the end of this formal Persian-styled garden, an unusual feature given that mausoleums were traditionally located in the center of gardens. New research, however, reveals the remains of another garden, called the Moonlight Garden, located behind the mausoleum and across the Yamuna River. That being the case, the river itself, symbolizing the River of Paradise, became a part of the complex, with the mausoleum located in the center of this two-part garden complex. Further excavations are expected to provide a more definitive understanding of this interesting discovery.
   The mausoleum itself is flanked by a smaller mosque on one side and a matching resting hall on the other. These structures are linked to the central tomb by a broad platform that visibly unites all three parts of the complex into one whole. Yet the side buildings are made from a red stone that allows the white marble tomb monument to stand out dramatically from its surroundings and to shine in the sunlight and be reflected in the water of the shallow pools. The tomb monument itself has a minaret at each of the four corners of its marble platform. The minarets are divided into three vertical parts, echoing the three vertical divisions of the tomb monument. While the minaret is an Islamic architectural feature used to call the faithful to prayer, here each minaret is topped by an open porch, or chattri, that traditionally appeared in earlier Indian palaces. The tomb itself is a perfectly square building, but the corners are cut at angles to suggest a subtle octagonal shape.
   The façade is further divided into three parts and has a tall curved and pointed arch niche above the central door. Each side of this door displays two pairs of these arched niches, one atop the other, for a total of four smaller arches on each side, with the outer niches set into the angled corners. This feature differs from the arch shape found in western Europe and is called an iwan. Cutting into the façade in such a way causes light and shadows to play off the front of the building, creating a richer appearance than if the façade were flat. On the top of the monument, octagonal chattris, located one in each corner of the building, surround the central onion dome that rises up above them on a delicately carved drum. The surface of the marble monument has blind arcades carved into it, while the entrance doors are framed by black marble inlay of verses from the Koran; very subtle colored stone inlay is found above the iwan arches. The stone inlay stands as testament to the farreaching mercantile prosperity of the Mughal Empire and consists of sapphire from Sri Lanka, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, turquoise from Tibet, jasper from India, and jade and crystal from China. The stones are set in a delicate floral pattern that echoes the surrounding garden and symbolizes paradise, thus contrasting the beauty of the physical world with the funerary context, as concluded inside the monument, with cenotaphs of the emperor and his wife.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Taj Mahal — The Taj Mahal (pronEng|tɑdʒ mə hɑl or pronEng|tɑʒ mə hɑl; Hindi: ताज महल; Persian/Urdu: تاج محل) , is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, that was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal… …   Wikipedia

  • Taj Mahal — Das Taj Mahal (deutsch: der oder das Tadsch Mahal, Perso Arabisch: ‏تاج محل‎, DMG tāǧ maḥal / Devanagari: ताजमहल tāj maha …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Taj Mahal und Perlmoschee: Meisterwerke indoislamischer Architektur —   Die beiden berühmtesten Werke der Mogul Architektur, das Grabmal Taj Mahalin Agra und die Perlmoschee (Moti Masjid) in der dortigen Festung, zeugen von einer zu höchster Entfaltung gelangten Bautätigkeit. Sowohl von den Baugedanken als auch von …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Taj mahal — (homonymie) Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Taj Mahal est le nom  : d un monument situé dans la ville d Âgrâ ; d un hôtel de luxe situé dans la ville de Bombay ; d un… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Taj mahal (homonymie) — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Taj Mahal est le nom  : d un monument situé dans la ville d Âgrâ ; d un hôtel de luxe situé dans la ville de Bombay ; d un musicien de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Taj Mahal —   [tadʒ ; von persisch taj »Krone« und mahal »Palast«, sehr wahrscheinlich aber eine (volkstümliche) Ableitung von Mumtaz Mahal »Auserwählte des Palastes«], Tadsch Mahal, in Agra, Indien, auf einer ausgebauten Flussterrasse (567 m × 305 m)… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Tâj Mahal — V. Tâdj Mahall. Tâdj Mahall ou Tâj Mahal mausolée de marbre blanc élevé aux portes d Âgra, de 1630 à 1652, sur l ordre de l empereur moghol Châh Jahân, désireux d honorer la mémoire de son épouse Mumtâz i Mahall …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Taj Mahal — mausoleum at Agra, India, built c.1640 by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, from Persian, lit. the best of buildings; second element related to Arabic halla to lodge. But some authorities hold that the name of the mausoleum is a corruption of the …   Etymology dictionary

  • Taj Mahal — Taj Ma*hal (t[aum]j m[.a]*h[aum]l ), prop. n. [Corruption of Per. Mumt[=a]z i Ma[.h]al, lit., the distinguished one of the palace, fr. Ar.] A marble mausoleum built at Agra, India, by the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his favorite wife.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Taj Mahal — Taj Ma|hal the Taj Mahal a beautiful building made of white ↑marble (=a type of smooth, hard rock) in Agra, northern India, built as a ↑mausoleum (=a building containing a grave) for his wife by the ↑emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. It is… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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