Overlooking the River Yamuna, and visible from the fort
in the west, the Taj Mahal stands at the northern end of vast gardens
enclosed by walls. Though its layout follows a distinctly Islamic theme,
representing Paradise, it is above all a monument to romantic love. Shah
Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Arjumand
Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal ("Elect of the Palace"),
who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child, in 1631.
the Chosen City
Approach to the Taj: The walled complex is approached from the south
through a red sandstone forecourt, Chowk-i Jilo Khana, whose wide paths,
flanked by arched kiosks, run to high gates in the east and west. The
original entrance, a massive arched gateway topped with delicate domes and
adorned with Koranic verses, stands at the northern edge of Chowk-i Jilo
Khana, directly aligned with the Taj, but shielding it from the view of
those who wait outside. Today's entrance, complete with security checks, is
through a narrow archway in the southern wall to the right of the gate.
Proud Architects of Taj Mahal
The names of the chief architect who worked on the Taj have been noted.
Ismail Afandi, who designed the hemispheres and built the domes was from
Turkey. Qazim Khan came from Lahore to cast the gold finial that would top
the dome. Chiranji Lal was called from Delhi to pattern the mosaic. From
Shiraz in Persia came master calligrapher, Amanat Khan. Stone cutter Amir
Ali was from Baluchistan. Ustad Isa of Tukey is however credited to have
been the main architect. It is believed that his design embodied much of
what the Emperor wanted to express.
The south face of the tomb is the main entrance to the interior: a high,
echoing octagonal chamber flushed with pallid light reflected by yellowing
marble surfaces. A marble screen, cut so finely that it seems almost
translucent, and decorated with precious stones, scatters dappled light over
the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal in the centre of the tomb, and that of Shah
Jahan next to it. Inlaid stones on the marble tombs are the finest in Agra;
attendants gladly illuminate the decorations with torches. The 99 names of
Allah adorn the top of Mumtaz's tomb, and set into Shah Jahan's is a pen
box, the hallmark of a male ruler. These cenotaphs, in accordance with
Moghul tradition, are only representations of the real coffins, which lie in
the same positions in an unadorned and humid crypt below that's heavy with
the scent of heady incense and rose petals.