The Crown of Palaces – The Taj Mahal
Famous globally for its breathtaking beauty and mirror-like symmetry, the Taj Mahal is India’s most famous landmark. Located in the city of Agra, it reportedly attracts more than 6 million visitors each year.
The Taj Mahal (Persian for “Crown of Palaces”) is an elaborate mausoleum or tomb. Built nearly 400 years ago by Emperor Shah Jahan of India it’s a memorial for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan met his future wife when he was 15 years old and she was 14, although they were not married until five years later in 1612. Their marriage was a happy one as the two loved each other and were good friends as well.
He bestowed on her the title Mumtaz Mahal, meaning “Chosen One of the Palace.” And together they had 14 children. It was during labour with her final child in 1631 that she died. Shah Jahan was distraught and resolved to construct a memorial for her in Agra, on the Yamuna River’s banks.
Building commenced in 1632, with more than 20,000 workers involved. Materials were transported by more than a thousand elephants. The style of the buildings was inspired by Persian, Islamic, and Indian architecture. The tomb was finished with huge slabs of white marble and decorated with many precious and semi-precious stones. Elaborate patterns of tile and even poems written on the walls in careful calligraphy decorated nearly every surface. The tomb took about 12 years to build, but the work was not over yet. The tomb itself is only part of a much larger complex and is surrounded by elaborate gardens with pathways and pools of water that are positioned to catch beautiful reflections.
There are also minarets, a mosque, and a gateway. Construction of the rest of the complex took an additional 10 years, meaning that the entire project took 22 years to build. The cost is estimated to have been 32 million Rupees – an equivalent of more than a staggering NZD 1,431 million (AUD 1,347 million; USD 1,062; GBP 819 million) in today’s terms.
It is reported that Shah Jahan intended to construct a second Taj Mahal across the river, as his own tomb, constructed entirely of black marble. But when his son overthrew him and rose to power the plans were discarded. Whether this is true or not, it is probably true that Shah Jahan did not plan to be buried in the Taj Mahal with his wife, but that is where his son buried him when he died. A slightly larger tomb for Shah Jahan was added adjacent to his beloved wife, marking the only place in the tomb that the symmetry is broken. Shah Jahan and his queen are not actually buried in the tombs that are on display. Those are empty. Instead, their bodies are buried beneath the Taj Mahal.
Through the centuries the Taj Mahal has survived. It has been described as poetry in stone, and a teardrop on the cheek of time, and has be designated a World Heritage Site for being the jewel of Muslim art in India, and a universally admired masterpiece. Today it is a symbol of India. And one of the most famous landmarks in the world, as well as an enduring symbol of a love that was meant to last forever.