Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the second wife of emperor Shah Jahan. Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their fourteenth child in 1631. Shah Jahan built this ode to love in her memory unaware of what future held for him. This colossal mausoleum houses the bodies of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan in an earthly paradise built to mirror Islamic depictions of heaven.
People often talk about the beautiful architecture of the Taj Mahal and many are left to wonder what's on the inside of this glorious monument. This article explores the internal structure of the Taj Mahal and addresses that question in detail.
The Body of Mumtaz Mahal
Mumtaz Mahal, born as Arjumand Banu, was a Persian princess and a queen of the Mughal Empire from 1628 to 1631. Mumtaz was an intelligent young woman with a passion for learning, she mastered Arabic and Persian and even wrote poetry in the latter.
She was known for her modesty and straightforwardness which made her desirable to many, but she ended up falling in love with and marrying Shah Jahan who would one day become the Mughal Emperor. Together, the two had fourteen children.
Shah Jahan married thrice but his two of the other marriages are believed to have been merely for political alliances. It is said that Shah Jahan showed little interest in his other wives. According to the members of the royal court, the affection and love he had for Mumtaz Mahal were missing from his other marriages.
It is said that the two were inseparable and despite several pregnancies, Mumtaz accompanied Shah Jahan on his tours and even to war. She was his most trusted advisor and he consulted her in both public and private matters.
Shah Jahan attributed multiple titles to Mumtaz Mahal including Malika-i-Jahan (Queen of the World), Malika-uz-Zaman (Queen of the Age) and the one by which the world still remembers her: Mumtaz Mahal (the exalted one of the palace). During her life, her palace was adorned with gold and had rose water fountains. Upon her death, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal for her which until this day is a glorious piece of architecture that stands as a symbol of love.
It is said that Shah Jahan promised Mumtaz on her deathbed that he would build her the greatest mausoleum ever seen. Her body was initially buried in another site as Amanat, a temporary burial, and was moved to the site of Taj Mahal six months later and was buried in the center of a small dome over which the Taj Mahal was eventually built.
Read more on interesting facts of the Taj Mahal.
The Body of Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan, born as Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram, was the fifth Mughal emperor (1628 to 1658). He was regarded as the finest of all emperors and not only proved himself on the battlefield but in monuments. It was his love for building and architecture that gave him the most recognition and also created some of the most extraordinary and timeless monuments in India.
Shah Jahan is also known for his unique bond with his wife and their love has long been the subject of Indian and celebrated in both literature and cinema.
Despite being regarded as the best Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan had an unfortunate life. When he fell severely ill in September 1657, his sons started fighting over the succession of the throne. Aurangzeb, the third son won the fight but Shah Jahan recovered. In 1658 Aurangzeb overthrew Shah Jahan and ordered him to be imprisoned in Agra Fort with a view of the Taj Mahal where he spent the rest of his days until his death (January 1666).
Shah Jahan was buried next to Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj Mahal but speculators believe that he never intended to be buried there. His cenotaph is a blemish in the otherwise perfect symmetry of the Taj. While Mumtaz Mahal's cenotaph rests in the center of the tomb, Shah Jahan's lies right next to her (off-center) leading people to believe that it was not a part of the original, perfectly symmetrical design.
Two Empty Cenotaphs
Cenotaphs are monuments erected to honor the dead whose bodies are buried somewhere else. Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan's cenotaphs, honoring their bodies that lie underneath in the burial chamber, are decorated with inlaid precious and semi-precious gemstones. Because Muslim tradition forbids the elaborate decoration of graves, the empty cenotaphs in the main chamber are decorated with intricate patterns while the real burial site remains unadorned.
The two cenotaphs are enclosed in an eight-sided elaborate chamber decorated with pietra dura and a marble lattice screen. Down below in a quiet room at garden level lie Mumtaz and Shah Jahan in a comparatively simple marble room.
Following Islamic tradition, the two are buried with their faces turned towards Mecca (the direction in which all Muslims pray). The base and the caskets are decorated with stones and calligraphy inscriptions. Inscribed on Mumtaz's tomb are the ninety-nine names of Allah and verses from the Quran. Shah Jahan's tomb bears a calligraphic inscription that reads "He traveled from this world to the banquet hall of eternity on the night of the twenty-sixth of the month of Rajab, in the year 1076 Hijri.
Walls Inlaid with Precious Stones
The interior decoration of the octagonal chamber of the mausoleum is particularly exquisite. It is inlaid with elaborate and intricate designs containing more than thirty types of precious and semi-precious stones. The whole chamber features floral and abstract patterns. The royal cenotaphs are enclosed by an intricately carved octagonal marble screen which is heavily ornamented with detailed patterns of fruits, flowers, and vines.
The use of such inlaid precious stones is often seen in Mughal architecture for spaces associated with the emperor or his immediate family. These ornamental decorations also serve the purpose of emphasizing the cardinal points and the center of the chamber. The exquisite walls of the chamber evoke images of the gardens of paradise full of all the riches in abundance.
The stones decorating the walls of the chamber came from around the world and include jasper from Punjab, jade from China, turquoise from Tibet, Lapi lazuli and sapphire from Sri Lanka, and real white diamonds from Panna, Rajasthan.
The Floors Covered in Octagonal Stars
The floor is paved in a geometrical pattern consisting of octagonal stars alternating with pointed cruciform shapes, formed by black marble inlaid in white marble. Around the whole floor is surrounded by a border of lobbed cartouches of alternating size. The same border surrounds the cenotaph of Mumtaz, but not the one of Shah Jahan, which was introduced later.
Large vases filled with flowers appear here instead of the individual flowering plants of the halls outside. The flowers follow botanical species more closely and one can easily identify the Mughal favorites including irises, tulips, daffodils, and narcissus.
All vases have the same general shape and all are set on little hills with small flowering plants in mirror symmetry on each side. The octagonal stars on the floor are symbolic of the eight paradises. Their presence on the floor signifies walking on the grounds of paradise, a recurrent theme in the decoration of the mausoleum.
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