While the country was enjoying great prosperity in 1631, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was grief stricken by the death of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who had died during the birth of their fourteenth child. Built in loving memory of Mumtaz, work began on the Taj Mahal in 1632 and ended in 1653 in an unused area in the south of the walled city of Agra, India. The emperor divided the grounds into four distinct sections: the Taj gateway, the Taj garden (Charbagh), the tomb and the Pietra Dura (the crypt and cenotaphs).
The Taj Mahal
A beautiful monument to his late wife, find out how the Mughal emperor built India’s Taj Mahal!
Three acres of land was carefully excavated for the foundations of the Taj Mahal, and replaced with dirt and rubble to reduce seepage from the nearby river. In the area that was to house the tomb, deep wells were dug down to water level and later filled with stone to form the secure footings that would hold the building firmly in place. One well remained unfilled to track the water changes over time, but the rest of the 580m x 300m site was leveled to 50 metres (i6oft| above the river bank.
A construction team of over 20,000 labourers was recruited from the north of the country to build the monument and included a creative contingent of 37 artisans who were disciplined in the arts of sculpting, calligraphy, inlaying, stone cutting, turret building and marble art carving. Furthermore, over 1,000 elephants were used to transport the sourced materials from all over India and Asia. In order to transport the materials to the site a 9.3 mile (15k) ramp of tampered earth was carved into the land allowing smoother access for the teams of up to 30 oxen and mules that were used to heave the blocks of marble on specially designed wagons.
It was typical at this time to use bamboo scaffolding for the workers to construct buildings, but for this project the architects fashioned a revolutionary brick-based framework, favoured for its longevity and rigidity. To elevate the blocks into position a post and beam pulley system was employed; to hoist two upright marble posts to hold a marble beam horizontally across the top, resulting in a free-standing framework which was gradually extended.
Drawn from the riverbed by a series of purs (an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism), water was deposited into a large storage tank; from this over a dozen other purs raise the liquid to a large distribution tank above the ground. The water flowed from the tank to three subsidiary containers and was piped into the complex. A pipe hidden 1.5m underground travelled parallel to the main walkway, filling the main pools of the garden. Extra copper pipes were utilised to disperse the water to the fountains in the north-south canal and subsidiary channels were created to irrigate the rest of the grounds.
Design inside and out
The building features what is considered the best example of Mughal design; a fashion which fused the styles of Persian, Indian and Islamic architecture of the time. However, Shah Jahan broke with tradition in a bid to reach unprecedented levels of sophistication by using vast quantities of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, instead of the more traditional red sandstone. Employing a fleet of mules, oxon and elephants Shah Jahan imported white marble from Rajasthan, jade and crystal from China, jasper from Punjab, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka and carnelian for Arabia.
The tomb is enclosed in a garden of fountains, segmented flowerbeds and ornamental trees and the entire complex was intended to be riddled with reflections, symmetry, symbolism and hierarchy to emphasis the key elements of the property. In total the plinth took 12 years to finish, whereas the minarets, mosque and jawab, and finally the gateway, took an extra decade.
Facts about Taj Mahal
The tomb – The tomb is a multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners to form an unequal octagon approximately 55 metres on each of the four longest sides.
Dome - The marbled dome roof of the tomb is 35m and is known as the onion dome. The iconic dome sits on a 7m cylindrical tower to accentuate its height.
Lighting – Four replica smaller domes, known as chattris, are placed at each of the corners of the main dome. It is through their open-columned bases that light can flood in through the roof of the tomb.
The Charbagh garden – Introduced by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, the Charbagh garden features four flowing fountains -symbolizing the four flowing rivers of Jannah (paradise) which were said to flow from a central spring separating the garden into north, south, east and west.
Minarets - They stand at 40m and are divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that circle the tower, with a third balcony adorning the top.