Updated: Mar 14
THIS MARBLE-CLAD MAUSOLEUM, CONSIDERED THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BUILDING IN THE WORLD AND SAID BY ITS CREATOR TO HAVE MADE THE SUN AND MOON SHED TEARS, TAJ MAHAL IS THE JEWEL OF THE INDIA’S CROWN.
A cup of chai in hand, from the rooftop cafe you take in a view of the Taj Mahal that is second to none. The pure white marble gradually turns pink as the red sun sinks on the horizon. Dusk shifts to dark, and the full moon casts an eerie glow over the distinctive silhouette of the mausoleum.
The next day, you approach the complex through the impressive red-sandstone south gate. Standing beneath the vast 30m-high arch, the smaller arch ahead perfectly frames the Taj Mahal,gleaming white in the early morning sun. This image is so well known – domes, turrets, arches, all seemingly perfectly symmetrical. You follow the shallow pools towards the mausoleum. As you move closer, the intricate carvings on the portals and above the arches reveal themselves. Removing your shoes, you step into the dark interior, switching on your small torch to inspect the delicate mosaics and calligraphy.
You marvel at the intricately carved marble lattice screens embracing the tomb of the very queen in whose memory this stunning mausoleum was built.
An Indian poet once described the Taj Mahal as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of eternity’, alluding to the sad tale behind the beautiful mausoleum’s construction, and its role in a never-ending love story.The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by the ruler of India’s Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan, after the death of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. They were, forced together in an arranged marriage at a young age, but fell deeply in love.
Shah Jahan, whose name meant ‘Ruler of the World’, was favored by his father, known as the Great Mughal. He was not the eldest son, but had his sights set on the throne, which was not automatically given to the first born. After his father’s death, Shah Jahan ruthlessly eliminated his rivals one by one – brotherly love meant nothing in those harsh days where it was kill or be killed.
During his reign Shah Jahan proved himself as a strong yet fair ruler, and created a prosperous and stable empire. The 100- million-strong population saw business thrive, with Shah Jahan welcoming foreigners. Europeans brought silver to trade for gems, fabrics and spices. But the boom years could not last forever. Civil StrifeBy 1629, unrest was bubbling in distant parts of the empire. Over the next two years, Shah Jahan responded to uprisings, marching his army across the lands, quashing rebellions.
His cherished queen Mumtaz Mahal followed faithfully; it was on these travels that she fell pregnant with their 14th child. But a diffi cult birth led to her demise, and she died in Burhanpur on 17 June 1631. Shah Jahan was bereft, fasting for eight days after her death. His hair is said to have grown grey overnight. Eventually, he emerged from his gloomy state, intent on carrying out his wife’s dying wish: the creation of a grand mausoleum in the empire’s capital, Agra.In 1632, at the heart of the Red Fort, which was home to the ruling Mughals, a vast workforce of 20,000 started construction on the magnifi cent Taj Mahal, in honour of its namesake Mumtaz Mahal.Famine & Ruin The mausoleum itself was finished in 1640, with the whole complex taking a decade longer to complete. But to feed the vast workforce for so many years, Shah Jahan diverted grain to Agra, creating a famine elsewhere in the country. Alongside his decadent lifestyle, such a lavish edifice sucked the imperial treasury dry and almost sealed the ruin of the once-great empire. Shah Jahan’s disillusioned son, Aurangzeb, overthrew his father in 1658, imprisoning him in the Red Fort until his death in 1666, aged 74. He was interred next to his beloved queen in the secret marble chamber below the Taj Mahal.