Chances are if you know anything about India, if you ever even seen anything remotely related to India then you know the Taj Mahal (Crown of the Palace). Since its construction from 1634-1653, this intricate work of art has become an icon both for the Mughal rulers and now for all of India. Much like Humayun’s tomb in New Delhi, the impressive design of the Taj Mahal served little else but to serve as a mausoleum though in this case for the wife of Shah Jahan who tragically died during child birth.
I had been in India for awhile yet most of my time had centered around New Delhi due to volunteering there. Before leaving the country I decided to travel and what better place as my first stop but Agra, former capital of Mughal India and the focal point for many of their architectural works. I, of course, could not miss the opportunity to go to this iconic place. The weather was in my favor on the day of my visit, warm and sunny as opposed to foggy weather that tends to be common during India’s winter. I was able to sneak into the Taj without paying the foreigner price in part due to my darker skin but also thanks to wearing Indian-style clothes.
From my guide I learned quite a few things about how the mausoleum was constructed and designed. At the time the construction of the Taj Mahal was expensive, even by today’s standards the usage of white marble and the elaborate detail placed into every corner of the complex would run a tremendous price. Such was the love that Shah Jahan, Emperor of the Mughals, had for his wife that he commissioned the two decade long construction of the architectural wonder. Like many of Mughal India’s buildings, the Taj was a syncretism of different styles, most apparent in the design of the “onion dome” that uses Hindu and Buddhist motifs such as the white lotus artwork but mixes Islamic and Persian designs such as the crescent moon.
The real detail though is in the outer decorations that use Arab calligraphy in the from of black marble overlaid over the white marble. Floral and plant designs also go from top to bottom, progressively getting bigger at the top and creating the illusion of uniformity. Throughout the surrounding gardens there countless fountains, a marble reflecting pool and rows of trees in the style of Persian gardens. Following the end of the Mughals, the British Empire changed the landscape of the gardens making them look much like those of London.
The Taj Mahal remains a fantastic symbol of both old and new India that transcends divides of religion. Yet as a result of its weight, age and pollution there are possibilities that the Taj Mahal might not be around for very long so it is highly recommended if you get the chance.
In the center of the mausoleum, sit the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife, forever together until the end.