A Monumental Love Story – The Taj Mahal

Every year, thousands of tourists board an express train or hire a car in New Delhi and journey to Agra on a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal. In 2007, I was one of those people who made the journey.

The Taj Mahal is the symbol of eternal love, a visitor may often get lost in the memories of the stories he had heard from his child-hood looking at this structure as well as its image reflected in the pool below.
The story is that this beautiful structure was built by one of the most powerful emperors in the history of India in memory of his queen who passed away at a young age.

In 1612, one of the world’s greatest love stories began when Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess married Shah Jehan, known as Prince Khurram before he ascended to the throne in 1628 to become the 5th Mughal emperor. The queen’s real name was Arjumand Banu.

In the tradition of the Mughals, important women of the royal family were given another name when they married. Although Mumtaz was Shah Jehan’s second wife, she was considered his ultimate love match. By all accounts, Mumtaz and the emperor were soul mates. Mumtaz accompanied her husband throughout his travels and military expeditions, and was his most trusted political adviser. Unfortunately, as with any legendary love story, tragedy lurked in their future. In 1630, Mumtaz died while giving birth to her 14th child.

The death of Mumtaz reportedly affected the emperor so deeply that his black hair and beard turned snow white in just a few months. The emperor was overcome with grief, and vowed to keep his beloved wife’s memory alive forever. He decided to build her a monument of eternal love. Because Mumtaz had endeared herself to the people with her kindness, the emperor’s subjects were inspired to help build the spectacular monument.

After twenty-two years and the combined effort of over twenty thousand workmen and master craftsmen, the monument was finally completed in 1648 at a cost of 32 million rupees. (That’s just over 1 million Canadian dollars¾a lot of money in the 17th century!) It was built with material from all over India and central Asia and required 1000 elephants to transport the material to the site. Construction documents show that Ustad Isa, a renowned architect of his time, was the genius behind the structure. The emperor also sought the skills of expert craftsmen from other cities and countries.

The Taj Mahal, built entirely of white marble, uses an architectural design known as interlocking arabesque. Each element of the structure can stand on its own and integrate with the main structure. The central dome, called the Taj, is 58 feet in diameter and 213 feet high. The marble walls inside the dome are covered with intricate mosaic patterns and precious stones. Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid tomb of the queen. The only asymmetrical object in the Taj Mahal is the casket of the emperor. (After stealing the throne, Shah Jehan’s son imprisoned him for 8 years. When Shah Jehan died, he was buried in the Taj beside his beloved Mumtaz.)

Four domed chambers surround the Taj. The main archways are chiselled with passages from the Holy Quran. The mausoleum is part of a vast complex with a main gateway, garden, mosque, guesthouse and several other palatial buildings. A large garden is divided at the centre by four reflecting pools. Like the Taj, the garden elements follow the Arabesque concept, standing on their own and constituting the whole.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Taj Mahal is the magical quality of its changing colours. The Yamuna River behind the Taj reflects light onto the white marble. Depending on the hour of the day or the season, the colours of the Taj are different. The best time to view its stunning beauty is at dawn or sunset.
The name Taj Mahal may come from the Persian for “The greatest palace,” or it may be a variant of Mumtaz Mahal’s name. Literally, her name meant “the greatest,” or “the chosen one.”