The Taj Mahal


The Taj project, besides the main Tomb, consisted of twentyfive subsidiarybuildings and  a city, to sustain its institution. A site was selected, at some distance to the south of Agra, on the bank of the river Jamuna, down-stream the Agra Fort. The river turned here, from a north-south, to an easterly direction at 65 degree angle, and a water-shed was made where the thrust of the current was the minimum. This was the safest point just on the river-bank, amidst the unending greenery, under a tropical blue sky, in a quiet and beautiful situation, to combine architecture with nature and environment integrally. The river-bend created here a vast lake of pure glacier water, below and just in front of the Taj Mahal, with overwhelming moisture in the surrounding atmosphere, which was capable of absorbing dust, smoke or any other air pollution.

It was, in fact, a vast slope of alluvial soil mixed with ‘Kankar‘ (calcareous conglomerate), which gradually descended from south to north into the river facilitating its lay-out in several receding terraces and incorporation of a mosque in its plan correctly. The river Jamuna and the ever-changing blue blank, sky were, thus, integrally and inseparably associated with it as constituents of its design.


The Taj complex was laid out in several receding terraces on a north-south axis. Beginning from the south side, a city named ‘Mumtazabad’ was founded with squares, markets, inns and residential houses, with intermittent open spaces. On the second terrace, at a lower level, is the main court viz. the Jilu-Khanah, of the Taj Mahal, on which opens its main gate. It has symmetrical cloisters on all sides, tombs of Shah Jehan’s two other queens and entrance gates (on East, South and West), making up a spacious enclosure which provides an extremely beautiful approach to the monument. The garden with its annexes is situated on the third terrace, at a still lower level. The main mausoleum, flanked by a mosque and Mehman-Khanah is built on its northern side, just on the edge of the river, majestically towering over its surroundings. 


Its foundation was laid, in accordance with the technique of Mughal hydraulic architecture, on brick masonry wells, reinforced by full-width wheels of sal-wood (shorea-robusta), given at regular intervals along the vertical section. Each wheel has eight spokes, extending from the perimeter to the center where an axle interlocks them. These wheels are constructionally sunk into the brick masonry as integral part of the well. Their use bestows a flexibility upon each well which would otherwise have been a dead structure; in spite  of its almost monolithic form, it is sufficiently dynamic to resist any vibrations, or thrust caused by movement of water or earth, and it can withstand a flood or a quake. Such wells, built all along the foundations, were inter-connected by a frame of cross-arches of massive stone blocks, on which the main plinth, viz. the red stone base of the tomb-structure, was securely supported 


Its garden is a Char-bagh divided into four large quarters, separated by broad canals and double stone-paved causeways with intervening cypress avenues. The tomb is not situated in the centre of the garden, as is there in all earlier Mughal tombs; instead, a raised lotus-pond of white marble is built here. The tomb stands to the north of the garden, majestically facing it. It is through this garden-setting, with the fountains playing gorgeously in the central (N-S) canal, that the grand mausoleum is presented.

This garden does not play any part in the background of the Taj Mahal where there is the blank blue sky against which its white outlines silhoutte miraculously. The sky constantly changes its colour and complexion, from morning to night, and the Taj is always seen in this ever-changing and, hence, ever-new setting. Its shades are subtly reflected on its white marble surface which also changes its tints and tones accordingly. The Taj is, thus presented in innumerous beautiful moods and moments. It is never seen alone, but always in the context of this ever-changing natural background, each time like an ethereal image on the canvas of the blue sky! It is because of this novel design, with complete coalescence of nature with architecture, that it appears ever-new and ever-fresh.

Architecture and Decoration

The tomb-building is situated just on the edge of the river, in the middle of the rectangular red sandstone platform called ‘Chameli-Farsh‘ which measures 997 feet (east-west) by 373 feet (north-south) and is 42.6 feet high from the river and 4 feet from the garden-level. It has three-arched, three-domed red stone mosque on its west, and an identical building called ‘Mehman-Khanah‘ (Guest-House) on its east. The mausoleum stands in the centre of a second platform of white marble, called ‘Chhakka‘, which measures 320 feet square side, and is 18.6 feet high from the ‘ChameliFarsh‘. It has tapering minarets of white marble on its four corners. Each minar is 18.6 feet in diameter and 138.6 feet in height, in three storeys, separated by balconies, and is crowned by a beautiful chhatri. It has a spiralling stairway.

Though the white marble tomb is, essentially, a square of 186.6 feet side, its angles have been chamfered and it has assumed an octagonal plan called ‘Baghdadi Muthamman‘.  Each façade is composed of a grand iwan – portal in its centre, flanked on both sides by double alcoves, one over the other. Similar alcoves are given on the corners. They are rectangular on the facades, while on the corners they are semi-octagonal. Each section of the façade is well demarcated, on both sides of the portal, by attached pilasters or miniature turrets which rise from the plinth level to the parapet and are crowned by beautiful pinnacles with lotus-buds and finials. These turrets have a chevron pattern inlaid with black and yellow on white marble, and are flanked at the base by horizontal panels which have similar borders. Their pinnacles gorgeously ornament the superstructure and help to break the skyline exquisitely.

Spandrels of alcoves and portals are decorated with extremely elegant arabesques, inlaid in polychrome with semi-precious stones. Quranic verses have been tastefully calligraphed around the portals and the arches inside them. Portals have dados which have natural plant compositions carved in relief, with stylized borders inlaid with semi precious stones. Semi soffits of portals and alcoves have stalactite; all other mural surfaces have been judiciously panelled with arched niches, to break the monotony. The decoration is minimal and adequate plain surfaces have been provided to lay emphasis on the inlaid and carved designs

A bulbous double-dome which has a broad, overspreading mahapadma (sheath of 24 lotus petals) and kalash-finial which originally measured 29.3 feet, crowns the tomb. It is 293 feet in circumference, and 285.3 feet high from the river level to the top of the kalash. It is flanked, on the four angles, by octagonal chhatris which complete the Five-Jewelled plan of the superstructure, unitarily and harmoniously

The interior plan is composed of an octagonal cenotaph-hall, called Hujrah, which is 58.6 feet in diameter and 85 feet in height from the pavement to the apex of the soffit, four rectangular rooms on its sides and four octagonal rooms at the corners, all interconnected through passages. Except entrances, all other arches are closed by jalis, perforations whereof are filled in by translucent glasses. This plan is repeated on the first floor. The Shah-Nashin alcoves on the eight sides of the cenotaph hall (hujrah) have extremely beautiful dados with floral compositions in high relief (carvo-relievo) and borders in inlaid stylized designs. It is a simple plant design composed of slender twigs, twisting leaves and bold flowers, emitting gracefully out of a water-vase. The carved pattern combines rhythmically with the inlaid border composed of a highly stylized design with set curves and twists. It provides a delicate framing to the kalash-plant (ghata-pallava). These bas-reliefs of the Taj are unrivalled by any other example of its class.

However, the chef d’oeu-vre of elegance of the art of Taj Mahal is exquisitely inlaid white marble jali screen, called Jhajjhari which encloses the cenotaphs in the middle of the hall. Extremely refined inlay of semi precious and rare stones has been executed on its borders in stylized floral designs, to combine gorgeously with equally sophisticated jali-work. It is unique and remains unexcelled by any architectural ornamentation in the world.


Originally, there were, in the Taj Mahal, a large number of loose fittings, e.g. furniture of sandal and ebony, some of which were inlaid with precious stones; golden enclosures; jewelled, gold enamelled and plain thrones; woollen and silk carpets; curtains of gold embroidered silks, velvets and brocades; canopies; doors of ebony, sandal and brass; gold-plated lamp-stands; brass-chains; chandeliers and stars; and other articles. An idea of their value can be had by the fact that only eight pairs of ebony doors of the ‘A’inah-Mahal (Glass Palace), around the central cenotaph hall, costed Rs. 45,418/- (when gold was sold @ Rs.15 per 11.66 grams). All these loose fittings were plundered in the subsequent ages of anarchy, and now only the bare skeleton of the Taj Mahal has remained, without its original paraphernalia.



School of Mughal Architecture Consultancy for Mughal Architecture MARBLE PLAQUES OF MUGHAL ARCHITECTURE

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