Built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for himself and his principal wife, the Taj Mahal sits onthe south bank of the Yamuna river, approx 2km downstream from the Red Fort at Agra . Directly across the river from the Taj, Shah Jahan built a Mahtab Bagh ( "Moonlight Garden",now largely overgrown), giving it exactly the same dimensions as the Taj itself. The Taj is flanked by a pair of large sandstone buildings. The one on the west was a mosque;its twin (jawab, "duplicate") on the east side was added for reasons of symmetry. The jawabspractical function is unknown.TajMahal Buried in the Taj Mahal are Shah Jahan and his principal wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whopredeceased him by 35 years. (The name "Taj Mahal" is a corruption of "Mumtaz Mahal".) The actual burials areunderneath the main floor. They are marked on the main floor by cenotaphs, as is usual inIslamic funerary monuments. Thus, the Taj Mahal is, technically, a mausoleum which containsthe two tombs and their cenotaphs.
Two legends have persisted about this monument which it is well to correct. First is theromantic story that Shah Jahan built the Taj as a memorial to his beloved wife. It is true thathe was fond of his wife, but Shah Jahan planned and built the Taj for himself. Naturally, sincehis wife died before him, she was buried there first. (In fact, she died in 1629 and was notinterred there until the building was completed in 1643.) The second legend refers to a so-called "Black Taj" which was allegedly to have been built onthe site of the Moonlight Garden as Shah Jahans own tomb, reserving the Taj Mahal for hiswife. The building is part of a complex which included many buildings beside the central tomb andgarden; to the south is a complex known as the chauk-i jilau khana, or ceremonial forecourt,which was flanked by four courtyards (two on each side) containing apartments for the tombattendants; directly south of these is a further area divided into four caravanserais by twointersecting streets, and south of this are two more caravanserais and a bazar built around asquare. A residential area grew up around this complex which was known as Mumtazabad.The revenue of this village together with that of thirty other villages in the vicinity wasdevoted to the upkeep of the building. Taj Mahal was incorporated into a formal garden of the Persian char bagh form where asquare garden wall encloses a garden divided equally into four. In the case of the Taj Mahal,however, a square pool forms the centre of the garden whilst the tomb building was locatedat the far end of it, overlooking the river. The walls of the garden tomb complex are strengthened by six octagonal towers capped withdomed chatris.
The gate to the complex consists of a large rectangular structure with engaged corner turretsplaced in the middle of a tall wall which effectively screens the Taj Mahal from view until thevisitor has passed through the gate. The effect of this is enhanced by the fact that the outerbuildings of the complex and the gateway are built and faced in red sandstone whereas thetomb and minarets are faced in white marble. The central part of the complex is raised on a rectangular podium decorated with arcades ofblind niches. At each corner of the podium is an octagonal base for a minaret whilst the tomb stands inthe centre. The gate is directly in line with the centre of the dome on the tomb, a symmetry which isemphasized by the minarets, two either side of the tomb. Each minaret is a tall (42 m),slightly tapering, cylindrical structure with two intermediate balconies and an open domedpavilion (chatri) on the top. Long pools divide the garden into four parts, one running east-west and the other runningnorth-south from the gate to the Taj Mahal. At either end of the east-west axis are largetriple-domed buildings with a central iwan. The building on the west side is a mosque whilstthat to the east is known as the jawab, or echo, as it has no other function than to balancethe view with the mosque on the other side. The north-south pools further emphasize thecentral axis of the gateway and dome11
The central dome of the Taj Mahal is very tall (the finial is 73 m above ground level) and israised up above the pishtaqs or the surrounding iwans by a tall circular drum about 15 mhigh. The dome is composed of two parts, an inner dome and an outer shell. The inner dome isapproximately the same height as the iwans whilst the outer dome towers above. The use ofan inner dome keeps the height of the inner space in proportion whilst the outer domemakes the height of the building correspond to its mass and with the minarets makesbuilding stand out visually. Directly below the centre of the dome is the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal and next to it thatof her husband Shah Jahan. The actual tombs, however, are in a vault or cave directly beneath the cenotaphs. Thecenotaphs in the main chamber are surrounded by an octagonal pierced screen with twogates with pietra dura inlay on the posts. The walls of the interior are divided into blind arches alternating with arched doorwayswhich give access to the four circular side chambers. Around each of the arches is a frame ofQuranic inscriptions whilst the marble dadoes are also lavishly decorated with naturalisticdepictions of flowers in low relief. The whole arrangement of the tomb, in particular the octagonal screen and the cavebeneath, recalls the arrangement of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The Taj Mahal complex is organized in a rectangle, measuring approximately 310 x 550meters. It comprises a number of buildings and structures, all functioning together as thefunerary monument for Mumtaz Mahal. From the south, the first part of the complex consists of a (former) bazaar, the forecourt andentry gates; the second part consists of a large garden and garden pavilions, axially arrangedalong a riverfront terrace with the three main structures: the mosque, the mausoleum andthe mihmankhana (literally, "guest house," probably used as an assembly hall). The complex was planned on the basis of a unit called a gaz, approximately 32 inches (81.28cm). Multiples of this "gaz" unit were used throughout the Taj Mahal complex. Overall, thecomplex is organized in 3 linearly arranged modular squares, each measuring 374 gaz perside, or 374 gaz wide by 1,122 gaz long. The caravanserai (Taj Ganj) and entry forecourt (jilaukhana) areas are organized on a moduleof 17 gaz, whereas in the area from the entry gate (darwaza-i rauza) to the riverfrontterrace, the complex follows a 23-gaz module. This 17-gaz jilaukhana module multiplied by22= 74 gaz (the width of the complex). The caravanserai measures 416.5 gaz in length, or 17x 24.5 gaz, and the jilaukhana measures 153 gaz, or 17 x 9 gaz. The garden is further divided into 23 x 16 gaz, and the riverfront terrace measures 138 by 23x 6 gaz. These gaz modules lend themselves to an axial arrangement, with a cascadinghierarchy: each building in the complex is further organized on a smaller grid based on thegaz module. For example, the mosque, mausoleum and mihmankhana are based on a 7-gazgrid, while the great gate (darwaza-i rauza) is based on a 3-gaz grid. This grid functions notonly in plan, but also in elevation.
Taj Ganj and Entrance Gates The Taj Ganj market aligned on axis with the southern entrance gate of the Taj complexonce served as a vital part of the entire complex The Taj Ganj area leads to the southern gate (Sidhi or Sirhi Darwaza) into the forecourt(jilaukhana) of the Taj Mahal complex, although the eastern (Fatehabadi Darwaza) andwestern (Fatehpuri Darwaza) gates of the jilaukhana are more frequently used bytourists.Exterior views from the southwest of the entrancegate (darwaza-i rauza) leading to the gardencomplex from the forecourt (jilaukhana) The latter two gates are identical, with central pointed-arch pishtaqs flanked by octagonalpilasters crowned with guldastas (ornamental flower pinnacles). The red sandstone parapet of the gateways contains multi-cusped crenellations carved inrelief that contrast with the buff sandstone of the spandrels. The southern gate is similar to the east and west ones in its verticality. Due to the naturalgradient of the site, which slopes toward the riverbank, this gate lies 2.4 m above the groundelevation of the jilaukhana itself. Two bazaar streets begin at the east and west gates and lead to the jilaukhana. Formerly anintegrated part of the complex, these bazaars contributed financially to the maintenance ofthe mausoleum. The bazaars consist of individual rooms (hujra) along an arcaded verandahof multi-cusped arches that are supported on slender columns. The stone overhangs (chajjas)projecting from this arcade are supported by voluted brackets.
Jilaukhana, Khawasspuras, and Saheli BurjGeneral view looking east at thesaheli burj and the darwaza-i rauzain the distanceview from the jilaukhana lookingnorthwest at the arcaded galleriesView looking southwest at the arcadedkhawaspurras terminating in a three-story towerGeneral view of the khawaspurrasand the darwaza-i rauzaoverlooking the garden (bagh-ifirdaus aim) on the left side of theframeExterior view of the double arcadedkhawaspurrasView looking southeast at the three-story tower with the khawaspurras tothe right side of the frame
The jilaukhana ("in front of the house"), or forecourt, served Mughal ceremonial purposesand acted as a transition space between the street and the palace or royal building. The jilaukhana consists of a large courtyard with 128 hujra rooms opening directly onto thecourtyard. The openings to the rooms are framed by multi-cusped arches and capped by achajja overhang. The jilaukhana rooms served as accommodation for a long period of time, and later fell intodisrepair until the British colonial period. During their occupation, the British wereresponsible for the restoration of the bazaar streets and arcades in the jilaukhana of the TajMahal.Jilaukhana To the northeast and northwest of the jilaukhana are the khawasspuras, two residentialenclosures. The north side of the khawasspuras abuts the southern galleries that flank the great gate tothe east and the west. The khawasspuras served as living quarters for the caretakers of the tomb and the personswho performed the funerary services. These enclosures are arranged around rectangularcourtyards surrounded by arcaded verandahs, two of which form the rear side of thejilaukhanas rooms. The khawasspuras were entered through the wall adjoining the main garden to the north ofthe southern galleries. The outer southern corners of the enclosures in the khawasspuras have rooms giving accessto latrines, and from conjectural reconstruction it has been determined that these latrinesconsisted of a long platform with openings and a channel below.Khawasspuras
The two saheli burj (inner subsidiary tombs) enclosures to the east and west of the jilaukhanaare the tomb complexes of two other wives of Shah Jahan. The saheli burj enclosures have gardens arranged in the chahar bagh style, with a pool ofwater in the center surrounded by paved walkways. The tomb buildings are octagonal, single-story structures, built on a plinth. The walls areformed of multi-cusped arcades, and each side has a door filled with hexagonal jali work.Above the arches, brackets support a chajja, and two guldasta columns (per side of theoctagon) stand on the roof behind the parapet. The building and its plinth are clad in red sandstone; the structure is topped by a bulbouswhite marble dome. Moving inside, the south door of both of the saheli burj tombs leads tothe cenotaph within. The colors of the exterior cladding are reversed in the interior: the walls are clad in whitemarble, while the jalis and ceiling are sandstone. Eight squinches provide the transition intothe circular base of the double dome. The two tombs only differ in the decoration of the cenotaphs; the eastern one is finished inpietra dura and is more elaborate than its western counterpart, which is finished with reliefmouldings. To the northeast and northwest of the two saheli burj was a single-story building thatcorresponded to each tomb; only one of the pair, that related to the eastern tomb, nowsurvives. This building has a verandah and two hujra rooms; its external walls are decorated withshallow chini khana motifs.Saheli burj
Darwaza-i Rauza The great gate (darwaza-i rauza) that leads from the north of the jilaukhana to the garden,and ultimately to the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal, is a large structure with triadicopenings. The base of the gate measures nearly 38 meters and its peripheral walls, including thecupolas, are 30 meters in height. The central pishtaq, also including the cupolas, is 33 metersin height and 19 meters wide. The gate is composed of red sandstone with decorative panels and accents in white marble.The surface treatment of the pishtaqs is elaborate: it is framed in white marble and inlaidwith precious stones. Its central arch is delineated by a triple rope moulding and surroundedby a frame containing the Daybreak Sura (Sura al-Fajr) in thuluth script. The entry iwan contains muqarnas in red sandstone, which contrast with the white plasterpaint outlining each segment. (The northern elevation of the gate is identical to the southernone; the lower left corner of its framed inscription also contains the signature of thecalligrapher, Amanat Khan). Topping the central pishtaq is a series of eleven arches in red sandstone, capped by a chajja;eleven white marble chhatris crown the chajja. A single column rises from the pishtaq to complete each end of the arcade; this columnterminates in a finial above the chhatris. This same column runs in engaged form along theheight of the pishtaq itself. The towers are capped with sandstone chhatris with white marble domes. The pointed archon the south elevation of the darwaza-i rauza partially frames the visitors first glimpse of themain structure, the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal.
Garden (Bagh-i Firdaus-ain) and Naubat Khanas The garden (bagh-i firdaus-ain) of the Taj complex is laid out as a cross-axial chahar bagh: alarge square divided into four equal quadrants by two large primary intersecting walkways(khiyaban). Each of these quadrants is further divided into four sections by smaller secondaryintersecting walkways. The primary cross-axial walkways all terminate at an outer peripheral walkway that framesthe garden as a whole. A shallow water canal (nahr) runs along the centre of the primary walkways; a line ofequidistant water fountains runs down the center of the nahr. Geometric patterns in red sandstone depicting regular and elongated stars decorate theedges of the central pathways running on each side of the nahr. At the intersection of the primary walkways is a raised platform with a square water tank(hauz) at its center. Five fountains are located within the tank, one at each of its four corners and one in itscenter. The four corners of the tank have floral edged designs. Four marble benches, all placed atright angles to one another on each side of the square tank. The east-west walkways terminate in two-story pavilions (naubat khanas) that merge into theouter garden walls
The two naubat khanas (drum houses) project into the garden where the main east-westgarden pathway meets the garden walls (approximately halfway between the darwazaand the mausoleum). The naubat khanas are constructed on raised platforms and have two floors. On each level, the naubat khanas have a triple archway in the center of the east and westelevations, respectively. On the ground level, the arches are closed with a jali screen; on the upper level, theyremain open. The floor slab of the upper story projects beyond the wall above and below to form abalcony as long as the building; carved red sandstone handrails run along its length, andcarved sandstone brackets help support it from below. The roof of the pavilion is accessed from an internal staircase that emerges externally onthe upper level, overlooking the garden, and continues to the roof. In the center of the rooftop is a large chhatri capped with a marble dome.Riverfront Terrace In historic accounts of the Taj Mahal complex, the riverfront terrace supporting themausoleum has been referred to as the kursi, or throne. This terrace, and the marble plinthupon it, supports the mosque, mausoleum and the mihmankhana
Mausoleum At the north end of the garden is the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal (rauza-i munauwara,rauza-i muqqadas, rauza-i mutahhara), the central element of the Taj Mahal complex. The plan of the mausoleum is based on the nine-fold hasht-bihisht (eight paradises) planoften employed by the Mughals for tomb and pavilion design in the 16th and early 17thcenturies. In this system, a square plan is divided into nine spaces: a central chamber withfour additional spaces in the center of each elevation and four rooms at each corner. In the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal complex, the central chamber is double-height andoctagonal in plan. At its center rest the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The chamber is capped by a shallow dome and decorated with niches on each two-storywall. These niches on the cardinal axes have jali screens, fitted on the external faces of thewalls, which allow light into the room. The niches on the diagonal axes hold rectangular doors. The niches are separated into lowerand upper stories by an inscription band that runs around the interior. The upper and lowerniches are identical but for the frames on the lower niches. On the upper level, these frames are replaced by muqarnas that begin to transform theoctagonal plan into a circular ring for the dome. The shallow dome, which is the lowerportion of the double dome used for construction, thus appears as decorated with anextended pattern of the muqarnas that support its base.
The walls and ceilings of the shish mahal rooms are composed of of glass-filled decorativepatterns. These rooms are not accessible to visitors. The floor of the tomb chamber is tiled with octagonal marble stars in alternatingcruciform modules, each outlined with inlaid black stone. The delicate marble screen that currently surrounds the cenotaphs of Shah Jahan andMumtaz was set up in 1643 in place of the original gold-enameled one that was made in1633 on the second anniversary (urs) of Mumtazs death. Each side of this marble octagonal screen is divided into three panels; only one opens toaccess the cenotaph. The screen replicates the outer structure of the tomb and echoes its architectural forms,including its engaged shafts and inlay work. Pietra dura work in precious stones fills theopaque surfaces of the screen. The lower tomb chamber, which is now closed to the public, can be reached by a pointedbarrel vault staircase that lies to the south of the cenotaph. This chamber is completely cladin marble with an undecorated ceiling and contains Mumtazs cenotaph, on a lightlydecorated platform, placed beside Shah Jahans cenotaph, which is also more simplydecorated than its counterpart on the upper story. On the roof of the mausoleum is a high drum, topped with a bulbous dome measuring 25.6meters high by 17.6 meters wide. Four diagonally placed chhatris flank the drum. Theterrace provides a view of the garden below; it is accessed by staircases from the groundfloor that lie on either side of the entrance to the mausoleum.
The four elevations reflect the symmetry of the mausoleums plan. Each major (N,E,S,W)elevation is similar; each is divided into three frames, with a central pishtaq measuring 32.6meters in height. The two frames flanking the central pishtaq contain blind arched niches on the upper andlower levels. Each corner of the building presents a chamfered elevation (to the northeast,northwest, southeast, and southwest).Minarets Four marble-clad minarets flank the mausoleum, one at each corner of the mausoleumplinth. The minarets were still not detached from the main structures. Each minaret at the Taj Mahal mausoleum contains an internal winding staircase made ofrough sandstone that accesses its roof. Each of the minarets also has three projecting balconies accessible by a door on each level,and is topped with a chhatri supported by slender columns and multi-cusped arches. Each chhatri is capped with a kalasa finial.
Mosque and Mihmankhana The mosque and mihmankhana are located to the west and east (respectively) of themausoleum building. Symmetrical and identical in design, it is conjectured from records thatthe mosque was built first, followed by the mihmankhana. The mihmankhanas function was, speculatively, to accommodate visitors during Mumtazsurs, and to balance the architectural composition. In an extended illustration of this theory,the mosque has an ablution tank, while the mihmankhana also has a corresponding tank -one with no actual function. Both buildings were constructed on the plinth that extends into the riverfront terrace, andboth also follow the central design scheme within the complex. A central pishtaq, flanked with blind arched openings on either side, is decorated with redsandstone and white marble. These arched openings are also framed with marble spandrels and rope moldings. Green and dark yellow semiprecious stones form the inlay on the marble cladding. Bothbuildings are capped with three domes, the central one being largest, which are placed ondrums decorated with an interlocking motif pattern of alternating white marble and redsandstone. Amalaka and kalasa finials top the domes.General view looking northwestat the mosque from the garden(bagh-i firdaus aim)
Materials and Construction The materials most frequently used in the Taj Mahal complex are bricks, sandstone andwhite marble. Brick The sandstone used in the complex has a color varying from soft red to red with a yellowtint. White marble came from the quarries of Makrana in Rajasthan, approx. 400 kms southeastof Agra The marble used in the complex was a white one with black and grey streaks. Althoughdifficult to work, it was hard enough for detailed carving, with a translucent appearance. Thistranslucence is most visible during changes in daylight, when the monument appears to glow. A polished plaster coating, locally known as chuna, was applied to brick walls; this chuna wasused as an economical substitute for marble. The chuna was composed of burnt lime, groundshells, calciferous stones, and plant fibers. The greatest technical problem in the construction of the Taj Mahal was securing thefoundations of the heavy superstructures near the riverfront. This was accomplished usingwells cased in wood and filled with rubble and iron, spaced at 3.75 meters on center. Theseworked as pile foundations.
The buildings in the Taj Mahal complex are built of brick and faced with sandstone or marble,using a technique called the "Mughal bond. A final piece of sandstone acts as simple cladding, placed on the façade perpendicular to itsbedding plane, held in place by mortar backing and iron dowels or clamps. Vaults, such as the inner dome of the mausoleum, were constructed with concentric rings ofbrick plastered with thick layers of mortar. The surface of the platform, below the white marble plinth whichsupports the building, is decorated with ornamental tiling. In thepattern used here, the repeating stars have paired arms of unequalwidth, the adjacent rows and columns being offset by half a unit.(Tiling is a mathematical term that means any space-filling,geometric, pattern. The material used on the platform is cut stone,not ceramic tile.)Platform TilingTaj Mahal, AgraRecessed ArchTaj Mahal, Agra This is one of the lesser (but still quite large) recessed arches thatare stacked along the faces of the building, some surrounding thegreat arches and others recessed into a corner face. Lovely pietradura inlay occupies the triangular space between the outline of thecurved arch and its enclosing rectangle.
Precious and semi-precious stones are used more extensively in the decoration of themausoleum than elsewhere in the complex. These stones include lapis lazuli, sapphire,cornelian, jasper, chrysolite and heliotrope Floral relief carvings are found on the marble and sandstone walls; these carvings arestylistically related to the pietra dura work, yet are worked according to the material of thebuilding they adorn. Overall, the decoration elements with the Taj Mahal complex work to bind the numerousbuildings together, in keeping with the formal hierarchy of the complex: each structure,according to its position, uses the established decorative vocabulary realized in the materialassigned to its position.MuqarnasTaj Mahal, Agra Muqarnas ("stalactites") is the ribbing on the underside of anIslamic dome. It is seen here at the top of the photo, above therepeated "cookie cutter" outlines of missing inlay. It is used inIslamic architecture to smooth the transition between arch anddome, and has the additional effect of softening the visual textureof the stone surface.Marble workTaj Mahal, Agra The cusped arches and panel of flowers are missing their inlay, butthe vegetal band around the flowers survives (or, perhaps, has beenrestored; it is not always easy to tell the difference). Also present is avertical Koranic inscription. Calligraphy is made larger as the writingclimbs up the building, so that all the letters appear the same sizewhen seen from the ground.