Shah Jahan’s romantic gesture: The Taj Mahal
Shah Jahan was a member of the Mughal dynasty that ruled the majority of northern India from the 16th to mid-18th century. Following the death of King Jahangir, his father, in 1627, Shah Jahan surfaced as the victor of a bitter power struggle with his brothers, and in 1628 crowned himself emperor. Arjumand Banu Begum, famously known as Mumtaz Mahal, who he married in 1612 and adored as the favourite of his three queens, was at his side.
Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 after giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. The grieving Shah Jahan commissioned the building of a majestic mausoleum from his own royal palace at Agra, across the Yamuna River. Construction commenced around 1632 and carried on for the next twenty years. The chief architect was most likely Ustad Ahmad Lahouri. In total, more than 20,000 workers from India, Europe, the Ottoman Empire and Persia, as well as about 1,000 elephants, were brought in to build the mausoleum.
Design and Construction of the Taj Mahal
Named the Taj Mahal in honour of Mumtaz Mahal, the mausoleum was built using white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones such as turquoise, amethyst, lapis lazuli, crystal and jade; forming detailed designs in a technique known as pietra dura. Its central dome achieved a height of 240 feet (73 metres) and was surrounded by four smaller domes. In line with Islamic tradition, verses from the Quran were inscribed on the entrances to the mausoleum, as well as several other sections of the complex. The real sarcophagus containing Mumtaz Mahal’s remains lay below, at garden level, while the false tomb (or cenotaph) was inside the mausoleum in an octagonal marble chamber embellished with semi-precious stones and carvings.
As the story has it, Shah Jahan had plans to build a second grand mausoleum across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, which would house his own remains after he died. However, when he died in 1666, he was buried next to his wife.
The Taj Mahal over the years
Under Aurangzeb’s (Shah Jahan’s third son with Mumtaz Mahal) long rule, the Mughal Empire reached the height of its strength. Unfortunately, his militant Muslim policies, including the destruction of several Hindu shrines and temples, eroded the enduring strength of the empire and resulted in its demise by the mid-18th century. As the Mughal Empire crumbled, the Taj Mahal suffered from disrepair and neglect in the two centuries following Shah Jahan’s death. Near the turn of the 19th century, then British viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, ordered a huge restoration of the mausoleum complex in a colonial attempt to preserve India’s cultural and artistic heritage.