The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite Persian wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648.
Some dispute surrounds the question of who designed the Taj Mahal; it is clear a team of designers and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer.
The Taj Mahal (sometimes called “the Taj”) is generally considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as a “universally admired masterpiece of the world’s heritage.
In 1631 Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal’s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their daughter Gauhara Begum, their fourteenth child. Contemporary court chronicles concerning Shah Jahan’s grief form the basis of the love story traditionally held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
Construction of the Taj Mahal was begun soon after Mumtaz’s death. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648, and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.
The complex is set in and around a large charbagh (a formal Mughal garden divided into four parts). Measuring 300 meters × 300 meters, the garden uses raised pathways which divide each quarter of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and the gateway, and a linear reflecting pool on the North-South axis reflect the Taj Mahal. Elsewhere the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains
The Charbagh garden was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor Babur, a design inspired by Persian gardens. The charbagh is meant to reflect the gardens of Paradise (from the Persian paridaeza — a walled garden). In mystic Islamic texts of the Mughal period, paradise is described as an ideal garden, filled with abundance. Water plays a key role in these descriptions: In Paradise, these text say, four rivers source at a central spring or mountain, and separate the garden into north, west, south and east.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular in form, with a tomb or pavilion in the center of the garden. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end rather than at the center of the garden. But the existence of the newly discovered Mahtab Bagh or “Moonlight Garden” on the other side of the Yamuna provides a different interpretation — that the Yamuna itself was incorporated into the garden’s design, and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise.
The layout of the garden, and its architectural features such as its fountains, brick and marble walkways, and geometric brick-lined flowerbeds are similar to Shalimar’s, and suggest that the garden may have been designed by the same engineer, Ali Mardan.
Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including roses, daffodils, and fruit trees in abundance. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden declined as well. When the British took over management of the Taj Mahal, they changed the landscaping to resemble the formal lawns of London.
Myths about the Taj Mahal are now so old or compelling that they are often repeated as facts. A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a duplicate mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Jumna river. The ‘black taj’ idea originates in the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before the black version could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river, in the so-called Moonlight Garden (Mahtab Bagh) seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990s found only white marble features discoloured completely to black. The garden buildings had collapsed due to repeated flooding. Others speculate that the ‘black taj’ may refer to the reflection of the Taj in the large pool of the moonlight garden.
Numerous stories describe — often in horrific detail — the deaths, dismemberments and mutilations which Shah Jahan inflicted on various architects and craftsmen associated with the tomb. No evidence for these claims exist.
Sometimes misinformation about the Taj has been used for political or self-serving advantage. Lord William Bentinck, governor of India in the 1830s, supposedly planned to demolish the Taj Mahal and auction off the marble. There is no contemporary evidence for this story, which may have emerged in the late nineteenth century when Bentinck was being criticised for his penny-pinching Utilitarianism, and when Lord Curzon was emphasising earlier neglect of the monument. Bentinck’s biographer John Rosselli says that the story arose from Bentinck’s fund-raising sale of discarded marble from Agra Fort.