India: The Taj Mahal | CultureReady

Situated on the right bank of the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra district, the Taj Mahal is not only a highly recognized architectural achievement (and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World), but also a monument in the name of love and sorrow. The construction of the Taj Mahal began in AD 1632 and finished with all additions in AD 1653. This may seem like a short time at this point to complete such an undertaking – and it was; 20,000 workers were brought in and housed nearby to help complete the building and surrounding structures.

In 1631 Emperor Shah Jahan led his military to the Deccan some 400 miles from Agra to deal with an ongoing rebellion. His wife Mumtaz Mahal accompanied him even though he was heavily pregnant – she later gave birth in the camp nearby. Although she appeared to be fine at first, things took a turn and she died a day after giving birth to her daughter. Overcome with grief, Shah Jahan is said to have cried non-stop for eight days. He poured his emotions into designing a mausoleum for his wife to shame everyone else in front of it. At that time, this was also the first major mausoleum dedicated to a woman. He wanted the building to represent heaven on earth.

The Taj Mahal is not just a single building, but rather a complex of feminine, palatial structures. There is the main building, which sits on one of two large plinths, with two buildings on either side – the mosque and the guest house. Four thin white marble minarets sit at each corner of the second base. It is said that the only asymmetrical aspect of the Taj Mahal is the emperor’s coffin, which was built as an afterthought next to that of the queen when he died in 1666. The garden faces south. It has four quadrants divided by four “rivers” of water that gather in a central basin. The gardens and rivers were filled by the Yamuna River via a complex underground water system. Unfortunately, there is no record of the exact plants in these gardens.

The building’s white marble and large double-domed dome are the most striking features in photographs, but there are many other beautiful, intricate aspects of the Taj Mahal. Many passages written in calligraphy are inlaid with black marble in the mosque, the guest house and the large main gate at the southern end of the complex. There is a wealth of inland floral designs adorned with gems throughout, including lapis lazuli from Sri Lanka, jade from China, malachite from Russia, and turquoise from Tibet.

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