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Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a monument located in Agra in India, constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of more than twenty thousand. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned its construction as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, who was known as Mumtaz Mahal.

The Taj (as it is often called) is generally considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Hindu and Persian architectures. The Taj has achieved special note because of the romance of its inspiration. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj is actually a complex of elements.

Design elements

Consistent repeated design elements are employed throughout the complex. These unify the complex with a single aesthetic vocabulary.

  • Finial: decorative crowning element of the Taj domes
  • Lotus decoration: depiction of lotus flower sculpted on tops of domes
  • Onion dome: massive outer dome of the tomb (also called an amrud or apple dome)
  • Drum: cylindrical base of the onion dome, raising it from the main building
  • Guldasta: decorative spire attached to the edge of supporting walls
  • Chattri: a domed and columned kiosk
  • Spandrel: upper panels of an archway
  • Calligraphy: stylized writing of verses from the Qu'ran framing main arches
  • Arch: also called pishtaq (Persian word for portal projecting from the facade of a building)
  • Dado: decorative sculpted panels lining lower walls

Most of the elements can be found on the gateway, mosque and jawab as well as the mausoleum.

Origins of the name

The name comes from Taj Persian, the language of the Mughal court, meaning crown, and Mahal means palace. Most sources suggest that Taj Mahal is a shorter variant of Mumtaz Mahal, the nickname of Arjumand Banu Begum, meaning First Lady of the Palace. As early as 1670, the French traveler Francois Bernier referred to the place as Tage Mehale.


Soon after its completion, Shah Jahan was deposed and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb. Legend has it that he spent the remainder of his days gazing through the window, at the Taj. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal, next to his wife, the only disruption of the otherwise perfect symmetry in the architecture.

By the late 19th century, parts of the Taj Mahal had fallen badly into disrepair. During the time of the Mutiny, the Taj faced defacement by British soldiers, sepoys and government officials who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls.

At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a massive restoration project, completed in 1908. He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber (modeled on one hanging in a Cairo mosque, when local craftsmen failed to provide adequate designs). It was during this time that the garden was remodeled with the more English-looking lawns that are visible today. By the 20th century the Taj Mahal was being better taken care of. In 1942, the government erected a behemoth scaffolding over it in anticipation of an air attack on it by the German Luftwaffe and later by the Japanese Air Force (see photo). During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, scaffoldings were erected by the government to mislead would-be bomber pilots.

Its most recent threats came from environmental pollution on the banks of the Yamuna River, including acid rain occurring due to the Mathura oil refinery (something opposed by Supreme Court of India directives).

As of 1983, the Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was "constructed by Iranians (Persians), or designed and constructed in the style of Iranian architecture". Today it is a major tourist destination.

Recently, the Taj Mahal was declared Sunni Wakf property, on the grounds that it is the grave of a woman whose husband, Emperor Shah Jahan was a Sunni. The Indian government has dismissed claims by the Muslim trust to administer the property, saying that their claims were baseless and the Taj Mahal is Indian national property.

The Taj is often described as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Millions of tourists have visited the site -- more than three million in 2004, according to the BBC -- making it one of the most popular international attractions in India.

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