For the eternal love of a woman: The Iconic Taj Mahal

For the eternal love of a woman: The Iconic Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal always has visitors flocking to it.

The magnificent Taj Mahal is said to be the symbolic representation of eternal love. Located on the banks of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, it was built by Mughal ruler Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz. Our happy wanderers in India once again visited this spot, and whilst we have previously written about its illustrious history, today let’s simply explore a series of interesting facts! 

The Taj Mahal is named after Shah Jahan’s favourite wife – Mumtaz Mahal. Born Arjumand Banu Begum, she was rechristened “Mumtaz Mahal” (meaning the “Jewel of the Palace” in Persian) by Shah Jahan after they were married.  Betrothed in the April of 1607, she was 14 years old at the time and he was 15. They married five years later, when she was 19 years old. She was his favourite wife and he was completely enamoured with her. She was his constant companion and trusted confidant, travelling with him throughout his earlier military campaigns and then again during his subsequent rebellion against his father. She eventually died at age 37 whilst giving birth to their 14th child in 1631.

Lifelong friends, Mark van der Griendt (left) and Ian Georgeson, CEO of Cross Country Insurance Company.

White Marble represents purity and peace. The marble used to build the Taj Mahal came from Makrana, Rajasthan which is about 400 km from Agra. Which doesn’t sound terribly far, until you remember that they didn’t have motorised transport! The exact amount used to build the Taj Mahal is not known but is estimated at between 50 000 and 70 000 metric tons! A convoy of 1000 elephants hauled the marble blocks from the quarries, each of which weighed around two tons – although some weighed up to six tons.

In 1942, during World War II, the British believed that the Taj Mahal was vulnerable to bombing from the air by the Japanese and the German Luftwaffe. The British and Indian governments successfully protected the Taj Mahal from enemy air raids by covering its dome and white walls with bamboo covers and scaffolding! This was apparently done twice again when India fought wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.

The shimmering white marble lends itself to taking on the hues of the environment around it, and thus the Taj Mahal seems to have ever-changing moods… In the early dawn, it has a pinkish hue which progresses to a warm orange at sunrise, it’s bright white during the day, appears golden at sunset and when the moon shines on it, it becomes a delicate shade of blue. The stone’s ability to draw and hold light, together with the river’s mirroring, creates an almost spiritual experience – which, according to historians, was always part of the Shah’s plan. This beautiful shrine attracted 7.3 million visitors in 2019.

Some of the landscape surrounding the Taj Mahal is green and luscious.

One sits and wonders about the foundation of such a magnificent building. I was most surprised to discover that the foundations include wood. The height of the Taj Mahal is around 73 meters, and the weight of the dome alone is 12,000 tons. The inner diameter of the dome is 17.6 m with a thickness of just over four meters. That’s a huge ask on any foundations – never mind those located on clay! The excavation for the foundation of the Taj Mahal was very deep, said to be around 17.5 meters. Bricks, stones, mortar, iron, and wood were then used in the foundation, and if it’s something that interests you, there’s a link to an article in the info block at the end of this article. It’s absolutely fascinating!

The interior walls of the Taj Mahal are adorned with holy calligraphy, especially inscriptions from the holy book of the Quran. Verses from it can also be located on the tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. In Mumtaz Mahal’s actual tomb, there are about 99 different names of Allah featured as calligraphic inscriptions.

There was almost a black Taj Mahal as well! Shah Jahan wished to create a black Taj Mahal for himself on the other side of the river. The project was started, but he was unable to complete it as he was taken captive by his son Aurangzeb.

When observing the four minarets surrounding the Taj Mahal, one notices that they are built with a slight outward lean. This is to protect the Taj if they collapse, to ensure that they fall away from the tomb in case of calamities such as an earthquake.

The city of Agra grew up around the Taj Mahal.

Whilst the architecture of the Taj Mahal is incredible, equal attention to detail was also given to the finishing touches, specifically the gem inlays. The inlay of numerous gems to create thousands of designs throughout the buildings on the grounds is quite amazing. Shah Jahan acquired his vast collection of jewels for the Taj Mahal largely because of the key role India played in the global gem trade. The ancient trade routes included the Silk Road, as well as emeralds from the present-day Colombian mining areas. Travel was by camel caravans, which could vary from several hundred to several thousand animals. The various gems were chosen not only for their colour, but also for the spiritual properties attributed to each of them at that time. If the gems and their trade routes are of interest, see the link below.

One can carry on and on about the Taj Mahal. There is an almost unlimited amount of facts and quirky statistics about this phenomenal building. The architecture, the symmetry, the workers – one can literally write books on the subject. So, whether you’re an armchair traveller, or you travel out there in the real world, a visit to the Taj Mahal is highly recommended!!


Taj Mahal: Construction of its Invincible Foundation:

Gemstones in the Era of the Taj Mahal and the Mughals:

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