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[an error occurred while processing this directive]Discovering the Taj Mahal, India

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Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.


[an error occurred while processing this directive] The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and among the most recognised icon of India. It was built as a mausoleum, by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife. While the principal designer of Taj Mahal is Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, the emperor himself clearly has a hand in deciding on how the mausoleum should look like. The Taj Mahal is the finest example of Mughal architecture which combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian and Islamic architectural styles. The Taj Mahal was inscribed by as a World Heritage Site in 1983 and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India, and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."

In 1631, Emperor Shah Jahan was griefstricken when his wife, Mumtaz Mahl, died giving birth to their 14th child, a daughter named Gauhara Begum. The name Taj Mahal means "Crown Palace" while "Mumtaz Mahal", a title rather than a personal name, means "Ornament of the Palace". Construction of the Taj began in 1632. The design drew inspiration from earlier Timurid and Mughal buildings, including the Gur-e-Amir, mausoleum for Timur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Humayun's tomb in Delhi, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's tomb in Agra, and another Shah Jahan structure, the Jama Masjid of Delhi. Shah Jahan refined Mughal architecture by using white marble instead of red sandstone. In addition to the building itself, Shah Jahan also included a formal Mughal garden. The Mughal garden, called Charbagh, was introduced by his grandfather Babur, the first Mughal emperor, based on Persian garden designs.

At the Taj Mahal, he laid a garden that measured 300m by 300 m. There are pathways that quarter the garden into four. In the middle where the pathways meet, there is a fountain. Running north-south along the length of the garden, between the mausoleum and the entrance, is a reflecting pool. It allows the reflection of the mausoleum to be appreciated from the far end of the garden. While most Mughal mausoleum has the tomb in the middle of the garden, in the case of the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum is located at the far end. This is because the river Yamuna is located behind the mausoleum, and Shah Jahan incorporates the river into the overall design, regarding it as the river that flows through his paradise.

The garden was originally planted with roses, daffodils and an abundance of fruit trees, but as the Mughal empire declined in prosperity, so too the maintenance of the garden. When the British took over the management of Taj Mahal, they changed the garden landscape to reflect the formal lawns in London. The Taj Mahal is bounded on three sides by a crenellated red sandstone wall, with the side facing the Yamuna river unwalled.


Where in the world is Taj Mahal?

Map of Agra showing location of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is about 200km from New Delhi. As one of the points in the Golden Triangle of Indian tourism that includes Delhi and Jaipur, Agra has good road and rail connections. There are no scheduled flights from Agra's airport, so all tourist come either by bus or by train. The following information is provided for the benefit of independent travellers.

By bus

The main intercity bus terminal is Idgah Bus Stand, in the heart of Agra, about 8km from the Taj Mahal.

By train

There are many trains between Agra and Delhi. Agra Cantt Railway Station is the main railway station. For booking details, visit the Indian Railways Online Passenger Reservation site, http://www.indianrail.gov.in/.

Taj Mahal Layout Plan

Layout of Taj Mahal

To enter the mausoleum complex, one goes through the main gate, called darwaza. The tomb is at the far end of the garden. It sits on a podium, or plinth. At each of the four corners of the plinth is a minaret. On both sides of the tomb is a pair of buildings that are mirror images of each other. The one on the left (west) side is the mosque. The one on the east side is another building that is the mirror appearance of the mosque, called the jawab.

The darwaza is a massive structure built of sandstone. It has the same archway design as the tomb. On its walls are calligraphy, bas-relief and inlaid decoration of floral designs called pietra dura. On top of the darwaza are small, onion-shaped domes lined in two rows, totalling 22. They denote the total number of years taken to build the mausoleum. Visitors catch their first sight of the famous tomb as they pass through the archway of the darwaza. It is for many an awesome sight, like a snow-white palace in paradise.

The tomb is the centrepiece of the complex. It follows the Persian design of an arch-shaped doorway, called iwan, topped by a large dome. The base is a cube with chamfered edges, roughly 55m on each side. On the front, and repeated on the back, is a massive vaulted archway, called a pishtaq. On either side of the main pishtaq are additional pishtaqs stacked one above the other in two storeys. The chamfered corners also carry the same two-storey stacked pishtaq motif.

The most spectacular feature of the tomb is its central dome. It is 35m tall, and sits on a cylindrical drum which adds another 7m to its height. The dome is decorated with a lotus design, and topped with a gilded finial, which is a Hindu decorative element added in to the otherwise Persian design. Placed at four corners are domed pavilions called chattris, also with gilded finials.

On each side of the plinth is a minaret, each 40m tall, and placed perfectly symmetrical with two on each side. Each minaret can be used by the muezzin to call for prayer. The minarets each have three equal parts separated by working balconies that ring them. At the top of the minaret is a chattri similar to those on the tomb. The minarets face slightly out; in the event of an earthquake, the will topple out rather than hitting the tomb.

Flanking both sides of the tomb are two identical buildings, mirror images of each other. The one on the left side (western side) is a mosque. Its design is similar to that of the Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, better known as Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India, and also built by Shah Jahan. It is a long hall topped with three onion-shaped domes.

On the east side of the tomb is the mirror image twin of the mosque. Called the jawab, meaning, the response or answer, its sole purpose is to maintain the architectural balance. Everything about the jawab is a mirror of the mosque, except that its floors have a geometric design while the mosque floor is laid out with the outline of 569 prayer rugs.

The Taj Mahal is richly embellished with decorations, with the finest reserved for the tomb. The decorative elements come in three categories: calligraphy, abstract geometric designs, and vegetative motifs. These decorations are created using three main methods: paint or stucco applied on the wall, stone inlay, and carvings.

The inner chamber of Taj Mahal is octagonal. Although there are doors on all eight sides, only the door on the south side facing the garden is open. There are eight pishtaq arches at ground level. A second pishtaq crowns the lower pishtaq half way up the wall. There are also four balconies. Their exterior window is curtained with intricate jali screen made from marble.

At the heart of the inner chamber is the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal. It is exquisitely embellished with semiprecious stones, and calligraphic inscriptions extolling the ninety-nine names of Allah. Her actual sarcophagus, in keeping with Muslim tradition that forbids elaborate decoration of graves, lies in a plain crypt directly under the inner chamber - you can see it from an opening as you enter the inner chamber. Shah Jahan's cenotaph lies to the west of his wife's, and his sarcophagus in the crypt directly underneath.

Visiting the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal has attracted numerous visitors since the time it was built. A bazaar complex sprouted up on the south of the Taj to serve the needs of these early visitors. Today, the Taj continues to receive 2 to 3 million visitors a year, of whom 200,000 are overseas visitors. The peak season are the cooler months of October, November and February. To reduce the effect of traffic pollution on the marble, only electric buses are allowed to ferry visitors to the gate.

The Taj Mahal is open every day except Friday, from 6:00am to 7:30pm. The admission fee is Rs. 250 (plus levy) for foreigners, and Rs. 20 for Indian nationals. In order to enjoy the full effect of the sunlight on the mausoleum, it is advisable to visit twice, at different times of the day - dusk and dawn are recommendable times. The Taj Mahal is also open during the full moon, and on the two days before and after full moon, allowing visitors to appreciate it in the light of the moon.

Security for entering the Taj Mahal is tight. Tripods are forbidden, and may be left at the security post for later retrieval. You are also prohibited from bringing in penknives, chewing gum, cigarettes, anything that can scar the stones, and even cellphones.

Travel Tools

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[an error occurred while processing this directive]Taj Mahal Gallery



Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.



Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.



Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.



Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.



Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Taj Mahal on a misty morning
Copyright © Timothy Tye.



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