Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal
/tahzh" meuh hahl", tahj"/
a white marble mausoleum built at Agra, India, by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan (fl. 1628-58) for his favorite wife.

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Mausoleum complex on the southern bank of the Yamuna River, outside Agra, India.

It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahān in memory of his wife, Mumtāz Maḥal, who died in 1631. The Taj complex, begun с 1632, took 22 years to complete. At its centre lies a square garden area bounded by two smaller, oblong sections, one comprising the mausoleum and the other an entrance gateway. The mausoleum, of pure-white marble inlaid with semiprecious stones, is flanked by two red sandstone buildings, a mosque on one side and an identical building for aesthetic balance on the other. It stands on a high marble plinth with a minaret at each corner. It has four identical facades, each with a massive central arch 108 ft (33 m) high, and is surmounted by a bulbous double dome and four domed kiosks. Its interior, with fine, restrained stone decoration, centres on an octagonal chamber containing the marble tombs, enclosed by a perforated marble screen, with sarcophagi below. Regarded as one of the world's most beautiful buildings, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Steps have been taken since the late 1990s to reduce air pollution that has damaged the facade of the building.

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mausoleum, Āgra, India
also spelled  Tadj Mahall  
mausoleum complex in Agra, northern India, on the southern bank of the Yamuna (Jumna) River (Yamuna River). In its harmonious proportions and its fluid incorporation of decorative elements, the Taj Mahal (World Heritage site) is distinguished as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a blending of Indian (India), Persian, and Islamic styles. One of the most beautiful structural compositions in the world, the Taj was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

      It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (Shāh Jahān) (reigned 1628–58) to immortalize his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”). She died in childbirth in 1631, after having been the emperor's inseparable companion since their marriage in 1612. The name Taj Mahal is a corruption of her title. The plans for the complex have been attributed to various architects of the period, although the chief architect was probably Ustad Ahmad Lahawri, an Indian of Persian descent. The five principal elements of the complex—main gateway, garden, mosque, jawab (literally “answer”; a building mirroring the mosque), and mausoleum (including its four minarets)—were conceived and designed as a unified entity according to the tenets of Mughal building practice, which allowed no subsequent addition or alteration. Building commenced about 1632. More than 20,000 workers were employed from India, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe to complete the mausoleum itself by about 1638–39; the adjunct buildings were finished by 1643, and decoration work continued until at least 1647. Construction of the 42-acre (17-hectare) complex spanned 22 years at a cost between four and five million rupees.

 Resting in the middle of a wide plinth 23 feet (7 metres) high, the mausoleum proper is of white marble that reflects various hues according to the intensity of sunlight or moonlight. It has four nearly identical facades, each with a wide central arch rising to 108 feet (33 metres) and chamfered (slanted) corners incorporating smaller arches. The majestic central dome, which reaches a height of 240 feet (73 metres) at the tip of its finial, is surrounded by four lesser domes. The acoustics inside the main dome cause the single note of a flute to reverberate five times. The interior of the mausoleum is organized around an octagonal marble chamber ornamented with low-relief carvings and pietra dura; therein are the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Muhal and Shah Jahan. These false tombs are enclosed by a finely wrought filigree marble screen. Beneath the tombs, at garden level, lie the true sarcophagi. Standing gracefully apart from the central building, at each of the four corners of the square plinth, are elegant minarets.

      Flanking the mausoleum near the northwestern and northeastern edges of the garden, respectively, are two symmetrically identical buildings—the mosque, which faces east, and its jawab, which faces west and provides aesthetic balance. Built of red Sikri sandstone with marble-necked domes and architraves (architrave), they contrast in both colour and texture with the mausoleum's white marble.

      The garden is set out along classical Mughal lines—a square quartered by long watercourses (pools)—with walking paths, fountains, and ornamental trees. Enclosed by the walls and structures of the complex, it provides a striking approach to the mausoleum, which can be seen reflected in the garden's central pools.

 The southern end of the complex is graced by a wide red sandstone gateway with a recessed central arch two stories high. White marble paneling around the arch is inlaid with black Qurʾānic lettering (calligraphy) and floral designs. The main arch is flanked by two pairs of smaller arches. Crowning the northern and southern facades of the gateway are matching rows of white cupola-like chattris (chhattris), 11 to each facade, accompanied by thin ornamental minarets that rise to some 98 feet (30 metres). At the four corners of the structure are octagonal towers capped with larger chattris.

 Two notable decorative features are repeated throughout the complex: pietra dura and Arabic calligraphy (calligraphy). As embodied in the Mughal craft, pietra dura incorporates the inlay of semiprecious stones of various colours, such as lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst, in highly formalized and intertwining geometric and floral designs. The colours serve to moderate the dazzling expanse of the white Makrana marble. Under the direction of Amanat Khan al-Shirazi, Qurʾānic verses were inscribed across numerous sections of the Taj Mahal in calligraphy, the centre of Islamic artistic tradition. One of the inscriptions in the sandstone gateway is known as Daybreak (89:28–30) and invites the faithful to enter paradise. Calligraphy also encircles the soaring arched entrances to the mausoleum proper. To ensure its uniform appearance from the vantage point of the terrace, the lettering increases in size according to its relative height and distance from the viewer.

      A tradition relates that Shah Jahan had originally intended to build another mausoleum across the river to house his own remains, the two structures to be connected by a bridge. He was deposed by his son Aurangzeb, however, and imprisoned for the rest of his life in Agra Fort, on the right bank of the Yamuna River 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the Taj Mahal.

      Over the centuries the Taj Mahal has been subject to neglect and decay. A major restoration was carried out at the beginning of the 20th century under the direction of Lord Curzon (Curzon, George Nathaniel Curzon, Marquess, Viscount Scarsdale, Baron Ravensdale), then the British viceroy of India. More recently, air pollution caused by emissions from foundries and other nearby factories and exhaust from motor vehicles has damaged the mausoleum, notably its marble facade. A number of steps have been taken to reduce the threat to the monument, among them the closing of some foundries and the installation of pollution-control equipment at others, the creation of a parkland buffer zone around the complex, and the banning of nearby vehicular traffic. A restoration and research program for the Taj Mahal was initiated in 1998. Progress in improving environmental conditions around the monument, however, has been slow.

      The Taj Mahal has come increasingly to be seen as an Indian cultural symbol. Some Hindu nationalist groups have attempted to diminish the importance of the Muslim influence in accounting for the origins and design of the Taj Mahal.

Additional Reading
Pratapaditya Pal et al., Romance of the Taj Mahal (1989), collects essays on the court of Shāh Jahān. W.E. Begley and Z.A. Desai (compilers and trans.), Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Mughal and European Documentary Sources (1989), examines sources on all aspects of the building and the people who designed and built it. Jean-Louis Nou, Amina Okada, and M.C. Joshi, Taj Mahal (1993; originally published in French, 1993), discusses the architecture and contains many photographs.

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Universalium. 2010.

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