Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum that sits gracefully on the pedestal of Agra with its perfect image mirrored in the reflection pool in front of it giving it a surreal appearance. It is said that the place changes color by reflecting the ever-changing hues of the sky during different weather, seasons, and times of the day. The changing colors of the walls make the mausoleum feel like an alive and enchanted symbol of love.
The Taj Mahal is often called the “epitome of Mughal architecture” and was acknowledged as the “jewel of Muslim art” by UNESCO. This article discusses the architecture of this majestic World Wonder in-depth so that you know what to look for when visiting yourself.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built this architectural wonder in the memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during the birth of their fourteenth child in 1631. The Taj Mahal itself houses the tombs of the queen and emperor. On the grounds, there is also an exquisite mosque, beautiful gardens, and a large guesthouse.
An esteemed art critic Percy Brown once remarked, “As it was the proud statement of Augustus that he found Rome built of bricks and left it of marble, similarly Shah Jahan had found the Mughal cities of stones, he left them of marble”. Shah Jahan had a passion for building and architecture and besides the Taj Mahal constructed many other famous monuments including the Agra Fort and Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Delhi.
With the chief architect Ustad Ahmad in charge of construction, the Taj Mahal was completed in 20 years with the help of 20,000 workers, artisans, and stonemasons as well as 1,000 elephants to carry the materials. The entire project is thought to have cost around 32 million rupees at the time
The Taj Mahal emits a sense of peace and harmony which is mainly caused by the structure’s near-perfect symmetry, the main dome and surrounding minarets, and the division of the gardens by four canals that meet at a raised central lotus pond.
The perfect geometry of the complex is what leaves a visitor in awe and is so perfect that one cannot find a single element out of place adding to the structure’s grandeur. The symmetry of the Taj Mahal makes a statement of absoluteness which is a mark of architectural superiority and reflects universal harmony.
To achieve the desired other-worldly experience, the Taj Mahal’s minarets are placed in a specific way to create an optical illusion. Because the architects and craftsmen were masters of proportions, they were able to build the monument in such a way that as soon as you enter the gate, the monument appears close and large. But as you approach it, it shrinks in size.
This particular illusion was created to avoid any visual interruptions and to add a touch of mystery to the place and was achieved through the minarets that appear to be perfectly upright but actually lean outward.
In addition to creating the illusion of greater size, the lean of the minarets protects the main crypt in case of natural disasters like earthquakes. This way, they will always fall away from the central dome.
The hierarchal use of stones and colors in the building of the Taj Mahal adds many layers to its meaning. Before the Taj was built, red sandstone was used in most Mughal architecture, but Shah Jahan was greatly influenced by Hindu color coding for different castes.
By taking the liberty of using white stone reserved for Brahmins (priestly caste) and Red Stone reserved for Kshatriyas (warrior caste) the Mughals identified with India’s two leading classes and announced themselves as their rulers.
The white marble also serves as a canvas for the changing light of the day and is said to reflect the various moods of Shah Jahan during his time with Mumtaz Mahal.
In order to add a holy aura to the place, the walls of the monument are covered with beautiful calligraphy and pietra dura. Pietra dura is a method of inlaying marble with precious stones like amber, coral, jade, and lapis lazuli.
Since Islam condemns anthropomorphic art, the walls are carefully decorated with abstract art and vegetative motifs. Multiple techniques are used for the adornment of these walls including; mosaic art, murals, and incised painting.
The monument’s walls are also decorated with fine calligraphic inscriptions done with carefully selected passages that evoke the themes of judgment and rewards for believers.
Minarets hold a lot of significance in Islamic architecture. The word “minaret” comes from Arabic and means a place of light. Also, the Muslim call for prayer is given from the top of minarets symbolizing spiritual guidance. The Taj Mahal is surrounded by four minarets of equal height that lean slightly outwards to protect the tomb in case they collapse during a natural disaster. Minarets were not used in Mughal architecture before Shah Jahan and were introduced by him.
The use of one central dome has been a part of Mughal architecture for a long time. The dome of the Taj Mahal is a classic Persian dome. There are actually two main domes in the Taj Mahal including an outer dome built over an inner dome, in between the two is a large concealed empty space. The double dome technique is used for the aesthetics and appeal of the inner chamber and to retain correct proportions. When Put together, the double dome structure signifies the heavenward elevation of the soul.
Another interesting aspect of the architecture of the Taj Mahal is the iconography of the plants engraved in the walls and floors of the mausoleum. Researchers from around the world have long been intrigued by the types of plants used in the architectural ornamentation of the mausoleum and continue to study them for symbolic meaning to this day.
So far, it has been established that 46 species of plants appear in the decoration of the walls and floors of the mausoleum. While researchers continue to dig for meaning, many motifs have been found to have symbolic significance according to their placement and design.
For example, the use of lotus depicted across the mausoleum suggests purity, beauty, rebirth, and eternity. The cypress symbolizes strength, tulips mean love, and the use of fruits like pomegranate suggests abundance and fertility. These carefully chosen plants carved and engraved in stone evoke images of paradise and the overall themes of calm, peace, and eternal life.
While the mausoleum itself is full of symbols and meanings, the garden of the Taj Mahal also holds great significance. Unlike typical Mughal gardens, the Taj Mahal’s garden leads up to the tomb instead of surrounding it. The holy rivers of India are incorporated in the design of the garden, which is divided into four quarters by four intersecting canals that meet at an elevated, central lotus pond.
The lotus pond serves as a reflecting pool for the mausoleum and is one of the most popular places to take photos.
The four canals symbolize the four rivers of paradise, while the fountains lined with cypress suggest longevity and the lotus flowers symbolize transition and rebirth. The carefully crafted garden is said to represent the perfection and beauty of heaven replicated on earth and fits perfectly with the themes of the architecture of the Taj itself.
The number 4 appears everywhere in the Taj Mahal because of its numerological significance. Four divides into equal parts, has several geometric representations, and is associated with logic and rigor which were characteristics sought by the Mughal builders.
The perfect symmetry of the Taj is achieved through the architectural application of this number. The four canals divide the garden into four equal parts. The mausoleum is surrounded by four minarets and its main dome is surrounded by four small ones.
The great gate looks like a defensive fort and is the entrance to the gardens of the Taj Mahal. Its design is meant to resemble ideas of a gateway to a holy place and its made from a series of 11 identical domed pavilions called guldastas.
The gate is two-toned with the primary material being red sandstone and white marble inlay. The structure is positioned in such a manner that it separates the inner courtyard from the gardens, creating a symbolic passage between the terrestrial life illustrated by the inner courtyard and spiritual life represented by the gardens and the mausoleum.
The reflecting pool at the Taj Mahal is one of the most popular in the world and is a famous spot to catch the perfect photo of this world wonder. The reflection of the sublime structure of the Taj Mahal in a perfectly still body of water catches one’s eye before one sees the original structure.
The idea behind the reflecting pool is to purify the vision of those who enter. The sight of the colossal white mausoleum set against soft blue sky reflecting in the pool below creates the illusion of having the whole structure suspended, giving it an almost magical appeal.
Inspired by the words of Bibadal Khan (a goldsmith and a poet), "May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be paradise", Taj Mahal was built as a reflection of Mumtaz Mahal’s house in paradise. The design was meant to create the image of a heavenly garden on Earth and suggest that while the soul of the departed queen lives in heaven, her body too rests in earthly heaven surrounded by beauty and peace.
The form of the Taj Mahal was inspired by a Persian architectural technique called “hasht bihisht” (eight paradises). This type of structure often contains square, rectangular, or radial buildings with central domed chambers surrounded by eight elements.
Echoes of this way of building can also be found in the nearby Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, which is also known as the Baby Taj because of its architectural similarities to the World Wonder. This tomb was built by Empress Nur-Jehan for her father who was also the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal. From the use of white marble to the “center and side” burial strategy, the Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah marked a new era of Mughal architecture and set architectural foundations for the Taj Mahal.
Learn more about Interesting Facts About the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is the most famous monument in India, which is an ambassador of Shah Jahan's strong interest in building and artistic innovations. Contact our India tour experts to help you plan for a memorable journey to discuss the jewel of Muslim art in India
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