Taj Mahal – One of the New Seven Wonders of the World
Referred to as the “Crown of the Palaces”, Taj Mahal is one of India’s most iconic buildings. This stunning 17th-century structure sits right near the bank of the famous River Yumuna in Uttar Pradesh state in northern India. Between the 17th century and the 19th century, the Taj Mahal was largely neglected. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century when British-Indian authorities paid attention to it and conducted a full-scale restoration work.
As a result of the remarkable history surrounding the construction and restoration of the Taj, several millions of tourists visit the place annually. In 1983, the United Nations designated it as a World Heritage site. As a result, the building has become a major symbol of India.
What else do we know about Taj Mahal, its builders, and the cost involved in construction?
Below is everything that you need to know about it, including why it is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Architecture and construction
Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal emperor, commissioned the mausoleum in 1632. The city of Agra was chosen as the site for the building. The emperor traded one of his palaces in the center of Agra for the parcel land that belonged to Maharajah Jai Singh.
The emperor appointed the famous royal architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri to supervise the construction of the 42-acre complex. The design of the building was inspired by not just Mughal architecture but also Indo-Islamic content. It’s been said that architects on the project took some bit of inspiration from the Gur Amir, the mausoleum of Turco-Mongol ruler Timur the Great in present day Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
In addition to housing the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, the complex includes a mosque, a garden, and a guest house. White marble was the dominant material used for the buildings.
In the main chamber, there is a false sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The actual graves of the royal couple is beneath the chamber. The dome above the tomb measures about 35 meters (115 ft).
Construction of Taj Mahal took about 22 years. It took builders about 12 years to complete the tomb. The remaining 10 years were used to complete the mosque, gateway and the minarets.
It required a workforce of about 20,000. The materials used in the construction were sourced from all over Asia and the Indian subcontinent. For example, translucent white marble came from Makrana, Rajasthan, while crystals used in the building came from China. Sapphire and turquoise came from what are today Sri Lanka and Tibet respectively. The builders used several hundreds of elephants and oxen to bring those materials to the construction site.
Taj Mahal has four minarets which measure more than 40 meters (130 ft) in height. The designers of the building designed them to be working minarets from where Muslims could be called to the daily prayer five times a day. Mounted on top of each of the minaret is an exquisitely decorated chattri, an elevated, dome-shaped pavilion.
Notable facts about the Taj Mahal complex
For the 300-metre (980 ft) square garden of Taj Mahal, a Mughal garden was used. Originally influenced by Persian gardens (charbagh), Mughal gardens were aimed to communicate the peaceful co-existence of humans and nature. It is said that those type of gardens, which often have four quarters, were first introduced to India by Babur, the first Mughal emperor. The four quarters of the Mughal gardens are believed to symbolize the flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) in Islam.
Here are a few more interesting facts about the Taj:
- There is a raised marble water tank in the garden that has a reflecting pool. The marble water tank is known as “Tank of Abundance” (al Hawd al-Kawthar).
- It was often the case that the tombs are placed in the center of the garden. The Taj deviates from this tradition. The builders placed the tomb at the end of the garden.
- Builders of the Taj Mahal placed red sandstone walls around three sides of the complex. Just outside the complex are small mausoleums of the wives of Shah Jahan. Also a tomb was built for Mumtaz’s favorite servant.
- The Taj Mahal complex contains two grand red sandstone buildings located at the far ends of the complex. Completed in 1643, both buildings face the tomb. The western building is a three-domed mosque, while the eastern building is believed to have served as a guest house.
Calligraphy used on the Taj Mahal
The designers of Taj Mahal kept up with the Islamic tradition by not using anthropomorphic forms in the decoration of the building. Instead calligraphy and abstract forms make up the decorations. Also a number of passages taken from the Qur’an feature prominently on the building. Much of the calligraphy work was created by Abdul Haq (also known as “Amanat Khan”).
On the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal in the inner chamber are calligraphic inscriptions of the Ninety Nine Names of God. Those names are the various names ascribed to God in Islam. The names are mainly found in the Qur’an and the hadith. Some examples of those appellations are: The Beneficent, The Most Merciful, The Giver of Peace, and the All Praiseworthy.
The name Taj Mahal is Persian, which translates to something like “crown of the palaces”. In the 1636 book titled Padshahnama, famous Mughal Empire historian and traveler Abdul Hamid Lahori described the building as rauza-I munawwara, which means “illustrious tomb”.
In addition to being a symbol of Shah Jahan’s undying love for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal in a way communicates the Mughal emperor’s enormous wealth and power. The Mughal Empire witnessed considerable growth and economic prosperity all throughout the 30-year reign of Shah Jahan. Some scholars have suggested that Shah Jahan aimed for the Taj Mahal to symbolize earthly splendor and the afterlife, which are in turn symbolized the use of red sandstone and white marble respectively.
Why does the color of the Taj Mahal change?
At the start of the day, Taj Mahal usually has a slight pinkish color. As noon approaches, the color changes to bright white. Come night, the amazing structure turns into a faintly gold color. So the question is: why does the Taj Mahal go through those color changes in the day? It turns out that the materials used in its construction are what gives the building those colors. Famously built with sapphire, jade and turquoise stones, Taj Mahal takes different colors when light strikes it. For example, when the sun is up at noon, a different wavelength of light gets reflected back to our eyes. As a result, the building’s color changes to bright white.
Cost involved in building the Taj
It’s been estimated that the total cost involved in the construction of Taj Mahal was in the region of 33 million rupees back then. In today’s dollar equivalent, that amount is around $1 billion.
In whose honor was the Taj Mahal built?
The Taj, which took more than two decades to erect, was built in honor of Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631). The Indian ruler buried Mumtaz, who died in 1631, in an underground chamber in the Taj Mahal. And upon the death of Shah himself, the children of the deceased ruler buried him beside Mumtaz.
So who was Mumtaz Mahal? Known as “Chosen One of the Palace” or “the exalted one of the Palace”, Mumtaz was very much beloved by her husband, Shah Jahan. She was born around 1593 in Agra to an influential Persian family. Mumtaz Mahal, whose birth name was Arjumand Banu Begum, tied the knot with Prince Khurram (the future Mughal emperor Shah Jahan) around 1612. She and the emperor gave birth to 14 children, including Princess Jahanara Begum, Princess Gauhar Ara Begum, and Aurangzeb. The latter would overthrow his father and become the sixth Mughal emperor.
On June 17, 1631, Mumtaz tragically died during childbirth. The royal consort is said to have died from postpartum hemorrhage in Burhanpur in the present day Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Completely rocked by the death of his beloved wife, Shah Jahan set out to build the world’s greatest tomb in her honor. Construction of mausoleum began in 1632. The wonderful edifice, which was named by the locals as Taj Mahal, was aimed at showing the Mughal emperor’s unending love for his deceased empress.
The effects of air pollution on the Taj Mahal
In recent years, experts have taken note of how the deplorable air in area has caused considerable damage on this magnificent palace. It’s also been found out that acid rain poses a significant threat to the building. As a result of decades of air pollution, the outer surface of Taj Mahal has begun to turn yellow-brown. To safeguard the building against further air pollution, authorities have placed emission standards around the area, including the banning of non-electric vehicles in the area.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World
In 2007, the Taj Mahal made it onto the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It ranks up there with other spectacular structures such as Machu Picchu, a 15th century monument from the Incas civilization; the Great Wall of China, the more than 5,000 mile-colossal wall built during the Ming Dynasty in China; the Roman Colosseum; and Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Did you know?
- Shah Jahan’s reign was cut short in 1658 when his son Aurangzeb (reigned – 1658-1707) placed him under house arrest in Agra Fort. The emperor spent the remainder of his life in the fort.
- It’s been stated that the Taj Mahal was plundered by British troops in India around the mid-19th century. Several invaluable artifacts, including parts of the wall, were stolen by the British.
- Towards the end of the 19th century, a huge restoration, under the auspices of Lord George Curzon, then-British viceroy of India, was undertaken in the Taj Mahal. The restoration saw the remodeling of the garden complex, changing it from Mughal-style garden to a European style.
- At the peak of World War II, authorities in India, fearing that the building could be destroyed by attacks by Japan, placed a huge scaffolding around the building. This form of disguise was again used during India’s wars with Pakistan in the 1965 and 1971.
- In May 2022, an Indian high court ruled against Bharatiya Janata Party’s request to have the 22 permanently sealed rooms in the underground chambers of Taj Mahal opened. According to the right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the sealed rooms house a shrine to Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. Rumors often float around in today’s India that the Taj was built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.
Taj Mahal: Quick Facts
Location: Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Commissioned in: 1632
Commissioned by: Shah Jahan of the Mughal Empire
Year of completion: 1653
Area: 42 acres (17 hectares)
Lead architect: Ustad Ahmad Lahauri
Estimated construction cost: about $1 billion in today’s equivalent