What is the Taj Mahal?
The magnificent Taj Mahal rises over the River Yamuna as a testament to an Indian emperor's everlasting devotion to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Shah Jahan built the mausoleum, mosque, and monument to honor his deceased wife with opulent décor, religious piety, and unsurpassed beauty. With its characteristic tapered dome, delicate minarets, and glowing white marble façade, the Taj Mahal has remained "the jewel of India."
The strong Mughal Empire of the 17th century melded culture of the Hindus, Muslims, and other central Asians. Shah Jahan ruled with a peaceful authority compared to previous Shahs. He felt inspired by his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, to treat his subjects with justice. Right before she died during childbirth in 1630, she made him promise to build her a grand structure to commemorate her beauty and spiritual devotion.
Beginning in 1631, the Shah collected numerous advisors, architects, calligraphers, and religious leaders to advise him on the materials and design of the great building that would be known as the Taj Mahal. It took over 20 years, 20,000 laborers, and tons of marble and sandstone to complete the national treasure in the city of Agra. This enormous enterprise took advantage of mined gemstones and precious rocks of the Indian landscape to highlight the empire's natural splendor.
The Taj Mahal itself combines decorative gardens, a Muslim mosque, and the tomb with vaulted domes and an arching gateway. The rectangular foundation, made from reddish sandstone, contrasts with the opalescent white marble facing the central dome, walls, and minarets. The Shah probably designed the structure to seemingly alter color depending on the shade of sun or moonlight hitting its surface.
Intent upon perfection, the Shah finally completed one of the architectural wonders of the world in 1648. With the river reflecting its grandiose image, the Taj Mahal perfectly joins Islamic arts, Persian aesthetics, and innovative design. It is decorated with real inlaid gemstones that glitter in the light filtering through open lattices, and calligraphic lines from the Quran are inscribed throughout.
I've travelled to India, and spent two months in Mumbai and Goa; it was one the best trips of my life. My biggest regret is that I didn't make it north to see the Taj Mahal.
If I ever return to India, I certainly plan on visiting this man-made wonder. I can only image the love the Shah must have had for his wife.
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