Taj Mahal (/ˌtɑːdʒ məˈhɑːl, ˌtɑːʒ-/; meaning "Crown
of the Palace") is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south
bank of the
Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was
commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor,
Shah Jahan (reigned from
1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The tomb is the centrepiece 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.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but
work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years.
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 (U.S. $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
Taj Mahal was designated as a
World Heritage Site
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". 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
2 Architecture and design
2.2 Exterior decorations
2.2.1 Interior decoration
2.4 Outlying buildings
4 Later days
9 See also
11 External links
Taj Mahal was commissioned by
Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in
the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died
giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of
Taj Mahal began in 1632. The imperial court documenting Shah
Jahan's grief after the death of
Mumtaz Mahal illustrate the love
story held as the inspiration for Taj Mahal. The principal
mausoleum was completed in 1643 and the surrounding buildings and
garden were finished about five years later.
Architecture and design
Main article: Origins and architecture of the Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian
and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from
successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the
Gur-e Amir (the
tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand),
Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby
Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal
buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan
promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
Buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Shah Jahan on a globe" from the Smithsonian Institution
Artistic depiction of Mumtaz Mahal
The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal.
It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and
consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped
doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs,
the basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered
corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately
55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of
the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two
similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif
of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas,
making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building.
Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing
the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of
Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower
Taj Mahal from Main Entrance.
Four minarets frame the tomb.
Interior view of the vaulted dome over the tombs of
Shah Jahan and
The false sarcophagi of
Mumtaz Mahal and
Shah Jahan in the main
The actual tombs of
Mumtaz Mahal and
Shah Jahan in the lower
Main marble dome, smaller domes, and decorative spires that extend
from the edges of the base walls.
The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the
tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres (115 ft) high which is close
in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the
cylindrical "drum" it sits on which is approximately 7 metres
(23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an
onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a
lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of
the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed
at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The
dome is slightly asymmetrical. Their columned bases open through
the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall
decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and
provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is
repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are
topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and
Hindustani decorative elements.
The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy
made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides
a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu
decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical
Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres (130 ft) tall,
display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were designed as
working minarets—a traditional element of mosques, used by the
muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is
effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies
that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony
surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb.
The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design
topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly
outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical
occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material
from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.
The exterior decorations of the
Taj Mahal are among the finest in
Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, the decorations are
refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by
applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. In line with the
Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the
decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract
forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex are passages from
Qur'an that comprise some of the decorative elements. Recent
scholarship suggests that the passages were chosen by Amanat
The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads "O Soul, thou art at rest.
Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."
The calligraphy was created in 1609 by a calligrapher named Abdul Haq.
Shah Jahan conferred the title of "Amanat Khan" upon him as a reward
for his "dazzling virtuosity". Near the lines from the
the base of the interior dome is the inscription, "Written by the
insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi." Much of the calligraphy
is composed of florid thuluth script made of jasper or black
marble inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in
slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from
below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is
particularly detailed and delicate.
Abstract forms are used throughout, especially in the plinth,
minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab and, to a lesser extent, on the
surfaces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of the sandstone buildings
are worked with tracery of incised painting to create elaborate
geometric forms. Herringbone inlays define the space between many of
the adjoining elements. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings,
and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of the
marble buildings have been stained or painted in a contrasting colour
which creates a complex array of geometric patterns. Floors and
walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns.
On the lower walls of the tomb are white marble dados sculpted with
realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has
been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of the carvings.
The dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra
dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and
fruits. The inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade,
polished and levelled to the surface of the walls.
Detailed exterior design
Base, dome and minaret.
Finial, tamga of the Mughal Empire.
Calligraphy of Persian poems.
Marble jali lattice.
The interior chamber of the
Taj Mahal reaches far beyond traditional
decorative elements. The inlay work is not pietra dura, but a lapidary
of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The inner chamber is an
octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, although
only the door facing the garden to the south is used. The interior
walls are about 25 metres (82 ft) high and are topped by a
"false" interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Eight pishtaq arches
define the space at ground level and, as with the exterior, each lower
pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about midway up the wall.
The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas, and
each balcony's exterior window has an intricate screen or jali cut
from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light
enters through roof openings covered by chattris at the corners. The
octagonal marble screen or jali bordering the cenotaphs is made from
eight marble panels carved through with intricate pierce work. The
remaining surfaces are inlaid in delicate detail with semi-precious
stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers. Each chamber wall is
highly decorated with dado bas-relief, intricate lapidary inlay and
refined calligraphy panels which reflect, in miniature detail, the
design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex.
Detailed interior design
Flowers carved in marble.
Detail of pietra dura jali inlay.
Delicacy of intricate pierce work.
Archways in the mosque.
Finial floor tiling.
Detail of jali.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the
bodies of Mumtaz and
Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt
beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right, towards
Mecca. Mumtaz Mahal's cenotaph is placed at the precise centre of the
inner chamber on a rectangular marble base of 1.5 by 2.5 metres
(4 ft 11 in by 8 ft 2 in). Both the base and
casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gems.
Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On
the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest
a writing tablet. Shah Jahan's cenotaph is beside Mumtaz's to the
western side, and is the only visible asymmetric element in the entire
complex. His cenotaph is bigger than his wife's, but reflects the same
elements: a larger casket on a slightly taller base precisely
decorated with lapidary and calligraphy that identifies him. On the
lid of the casket is a traditional sculpture of a small pen box.
The pen box and writing tablet are traditional Mughal funerary icons
decorating the caskets of men and women respectively. The Ninety Nine
Names of God are calligraphic inscriptions on the sides of the actual
tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. Other inscriptions inside the crypt include, "O
Noble, O Magnificent, O Majestic, O Unique, O Eternal, O Glorious...
". The tomb of
Shah Jahan bears a calligraphic inscription that reads;
"He travelled from this world to the banquet-hall of Eternity on the
night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076
Walkways beside reflecting pool
The complex is set around a large 300-metre (980 ft) square
charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide
each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or
flowerbeds. Halfway between the tomb and gateway in the centre of the
garden is a raised marble water tank with a reflecting pool positioned
on a north-south axis to reflect the image of the mausoleum. The
raised marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar in reference to
the "Tank of Abundance" promised to Muhammad.
Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees labeled
according to common and scientific names and fountains. The
charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced
India by Babur, the first Mughal emperor. It symbolises the four
flowing rivers of
Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden
derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden'. In mystic
Islamic texts of the Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal
garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or
mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the
Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the
tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of
Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna, the
interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of
India is that the
Yamuna river itself was incorporated into the garden's design and was
meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise. Similarities in
layout and architectural features with the Shalimar Gardens suggests
both gardens may have been designed by the same architect, Ali
Mardan. Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of
vegetation, including abundant roses, daffodils, and fruit trees.
Mughal Empire declined, the
Taj Mahal and its gardens also
declined. By the end of the 19th century, the British Empire
controlled more than three-fifths of India, and assumed management
of the Taj Mahal. They changed the landscaping to their liking which
more closely resembled the formal lawns of London.
The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza) is the main entrance to the tomb.
Taj Mahal complex is bordered on three sides by crenellated red
sandstone walls; the side facing the river is open. Outside the walls
are several additional mausoleums, including those of Shah Jahan's
other wives, and a larger tomb for Mumtaz's favourite servant.
The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily
of marble, and reminiscent of the
Mughal architecture of earlier
emperors. Its archways mirror the shape of the tomb's archways, and
its pishtaq arches incorporate the calligraphy that decorates the
tomb. The vaulted ceilings and walls have elaborate geometric designs
like those found in the other sandstone buildings in the complex.
At the far end of the complex are two grand red sandstone buildings
that mirror each other, and face the sides of the tomb. The backs of
the buildings parallel the western and eastern walls. The western
building is a mosque and the other is the jawab (answer), thought to
have been constructed for architectural balance although it may have
been used as a guesthouse. Distinctions between the two buildings
include the jawab's lack of a mihrab (a niche in a mosque's wall
facing Mecca), and its floors of geometric design whereas the floor of
the mosque is laid with outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble.
The mosque's basic design of a long hall surmounted by three domes is
similar to others built by Shah Jahan, particularly the Masjid-i
Jahān-Numā, or Jama Masjid, Delhi. The Mughal mosques of this period
divide the sanctuary hall into three areas comprising a main sanctuary
and slightly smaller sanctuaries on either side. At the Taj Mahal,
each sanctuary opens onto an expansive vaulting dome. The outlying
buildings were completed in 1643.
Taj Mahal and outlying buildings as seen from across the
Taj Mahal is built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled
city of Agra.
Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large
palace in the centre of
Agra in exchange for the land. An area of
roughly 1.2 hectares (3 acres) was excavated, filled with dirt to
reduce seepage, and levelled at 50 metres (160 ft) above
riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and
rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo,
workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb.
The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take
years to dismantle.
Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over
Asia. It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport
building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from
Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from
China. The turquoise was from
Tibet and the
Lapis lazuli from
Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from
Sri Lanka and the carnelian
from Arabia. In all, twenty-eight types of precious and semi-precious
stones were inlaid into the white marble.
According to the legend,
Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the
bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants
overnight. A 15-kilometre (9.3 mi) tamped-earth ramp was built to
transport marble and materials to the construction site and teams of
twenty or thirty oxen pulled the blocks on specially constructed
wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise
the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a
series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a
large storage tank and raised to a large distribution tank. It was
passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The remaining
parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and were completed in
order of minarets, mosque and jawab, and gateway. Since the complex
was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to
differing opinions on "completion". Construction of the mausoleum
itself was essentially completed by 1643 while work continued on
the outlying buildings. Estimates of the cost of construction vary due
to difficulties in estimating costs across time. The total cost at the
time has been estimated to be about 32 million Indian rupees, which
is around 52.8 billion Indian rupees ($827 million US) based on 2015
Abdul Hamid Lahauri in his book
Badshahnama refers to
Taj Mahal as
rauza-i munawwara, meaning the illumined or illustrious tomb. Soon
after the Taj Mahal's completion,
Shah Jahan was deposed by his son
Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby
Agra Fort. Upon Shah
Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his
wife. In the 18th century, the
Jat rulers of Bharatpur invaded
Agra and attacked the Taj Mahal, the two chandeliers, one of agate and
another of silver, which were hung over the main cenotaph, were taken
away by them, along with the gold and silver screen. Kanbo, a Mughal
historian, said the gold shield which covered the 4.6-metre-high
(15 ft) finial at the top of the main dome was also removed
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen into
disrepair. During the time of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Taj
Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who
chiselled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the
end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a
sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908. He
also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modelled
after one in a
Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was
remodelled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.
Protective wartime scaffolding
In 1942, the government erected a scaffolding to disguise the building
in anticipation of air attacks by the Japanese Air Force.
India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, scaffolding were
again erected to mislead bomber pilots.
More recent threats have come from environmental pollution on the
banks of the
Yamuna River including acid rain due to the Mathura
Oil Refinery, which was opposed by Supreme Court of India
directives. The pollution has been turning the
Taj Mahal yellow.
To help control the pollution, the Indian government has set up the
Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 10,400-square-kilometre
(4,000 sq mi) area around the monument where strict
emissions standards are in place.
Concerns for the tomb's structural integrity have recently been raised
because of a decline in the groundwater level in the
basin which is falling at a rate of around 1.5 m (5 ft) per
year. In 2010, cracks appeared in parts of the tomb, and the minarets
which surround the monument were showing signs of tilting, as the
wooden foundation of the tomb may be rotting due to lack of water. It
has been pointed out by politicians, however, that the minarets are
designed to tilt slightly outwards to prevent them from crashing on
top of the tomb in the event of an earthquake. In 2011, it was
reported that some predictions indicated that the tomb could collapse
within 5 years.
Visitors at Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal attracts a large number of tourists.
more than 2 million visitors in 2001, which had increased to about
7–8 million in 2014. A two-tier pricing system is in place, with
a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens and a more
expensive one for foreigners. Most tourists visit in the cooler months
of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed
near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking lots or
catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are
currently being restored for use as a new visitor centre.
The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or
Mumtazabad, was originally constructed with caravanserais, bazaars and
markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen. Lists of
recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj Mahal, which
also appears in several listings of seven wonders of the modern world,
including the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World, a
recent poll with 100 million votes.
The grounds are open from 06:00 to 19:00 weekdays, except for Friday
when the complex is open for prayers at the mosque between 12:00 and
14:00. The complex is open for night viewing on the day of the full
moon and two days before and after, excluding Fridays and the
month of Ramadan. For security reasons only five items—water in
transparent bottles, small video cameras, still cameras, mobile phones
and small ladies' purses—are allowed inside the Taj Mahal.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, one of the first European visitors to the Taj
Ever since its construction, the building has been the source of an
admiration transcending culture and geography, and so personal and
emotional responses have consistently eclipsed scholastic appraisals
of the monument. A longstanding myth holds that
Shah Jahan planned
a mausoleum to be built in black marble as a
Black Taj Mahal
Black Taj Mahal across
Yamuna river. The idea originates from fanciful writings of
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited
1665. It was suggested that
Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son
Aurangzeb before it could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across
the river in Moonlight Garden, Mahtab Bagh, seemed to support this
legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found that they
were discoloured white stones that had turned black. A more
credible theory for the origins of the black mausoleum was
demonstrated in 2006 by archaeologists who reconstructed part of the
pool in the Moonlight Garden. A dark reflection of the white mausoleum
could clearly be seen, befitting Shah Jahan's obsession with symmetry
and the positioning of the pool itself.
No evidence exists for claims that describe, often in horrific detail,
the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which
Shah Jahan supposedly
inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the
tomb. Some stories claim that those involved in construction signed
contracts committing themselves to have no part in any similar design.
Similar claims are made for many famous buildings. No evidence
exists for claims that Lord William Bentinck, governor-general of
India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to demolish the
Taj Mahal and
auction off the marble. Bentinck's biographer John Rosselli says that
the story arose from Bentinck's fund-raising sale of discarded marble
Another myth suggests that beating the silhouette of the finial will
cause water to come forth. To this day, officials find broken bangles
surrounding the silhouette.
In 2000, India's Supreme Court dismissed P. N. Oak's petition to
declare that a Hindu king built the Taj Mahal. In 2005 a
similar petition was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court. This case
was brought by Amar Nath Mishra, a social worker and preacher who says
Taj Mahal was built by the Hindu King Parmar Dev in 1196.
As of 2017, several court cases about
Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple
have been inspired by Oak's theory. In August 2017,
Archaeological Survey of
India (ASI) stated there was no evidence to
suggest the monument ever housed a temple.
A theory that the
Taj Mahal was designed by an Italian, Geronimo
Vereneo, held sway for a brief period after it was first promoted by
Henry George Keene in 1879 who went by a translation of a Spanish work
Itinerario, (The Travels of Fray Sebastian Manrique, 1629-1643).
Another theory that a Frenchman, Austin of Bordeaux designed the Taj
was promoted by
William Henry Sleeman based on the work of
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. These idea were revived by Father Hosten and
discussed again by E.B. Havell and served as the basis for subsequent
theories and controversies.
Eastern view in the morning
Western view at sunset
Taj Mahal through the fog
A panoramic view looking 360 degrees around the
Taj Mahal in 2005
Architecture of India
Mehtab Bagh, a garden directly across the river from Taj Mahal
Fatehpur Sikri, a nearby city and World Heritage Site
Bibi Ka Maqbara, a similar building in the Deccan
Taj Mahal replicas and derivatives
Inside, a 1968 new-age music album recorded in the building
Uttar Pradesh portal
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Media related to
Taj Mahal at Wikimedia Commons
Quotations related to
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Taj Mahal travel guide from Wikivoyage
Official website of the Taj Mahal
Description of the
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Profile of the
Taj Mahal at UNESCO
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