The Taj Mahal is a grand mausoleum built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is considered to be one of the greatest monuments made by the Mughals because of its unique architecture, made of white marble. Taj Mahal’s beauty is accentuated by the embedded precious and semiprecious stones on its walls, the various Quaranic inscriptions and a well-planned garden around it. It is located on the banks of the Yamuna river in Agra. The campus also has a historic mosque and guesthouse on either side of the Taj Mahal.
Visiting the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, has been on my bucket list for quite some time. There are multiple ramps across which make the Taj Mahal campus accessible for wheelchair users. Although I had a great time wheeling around, I think there is still scope for improvement in making the monument accessible. For example I was not able to visit the mosque or go inside the Taj Mahal to see the tomb up close. I didn’t even see any accessible restroom.
Read on to know more about the monument that I have learned from my tourist guide.
History behind Taj Mahal – keeping a promise made to the queen
Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal ruler after Babur, Humayun, Akbar, and Jahangir. Mumtaz Mahal was his third wife and also his most beloved. She died in 1631 during the childbirth of their 14th kid. Briefly before her demise, she called Shah Jahan by her bedside and expressed that she was not keeping well and might not be able to live with him longer. Shah Jahan held her hand and listened. She went on to describe two promises that she would like him to keep after her death. The first one was that he should not marry again, but take care of their existing 14 children. And, the second promise was that he should make one building for her that has never been made and will never be made in the future. She knew he had a keen interest in building new magnificent buildings.
Mumtaz died in 1631 in a city called Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh. Her initial tomb was made in this city. After three-years her body was brought to Agra and buried in the garden next to the Masjid. And then finally inside the Taj Mahal.
Designing the Taj Mahal – inspired by multiple Mughal and Persian monuments
Shah Jahan called out for architects from India and Persia to design a new tomb/ mausoleum. Many engineers and architects came with blueprints, but Shah Jahan did not like any of the designs. This went on for almost a year.
Finally two architects from Persian and Mughal origin were briefed about the task to make a monument. Before designing, they visited the tombs of Shah Jahan’s forefathers to understand more about their background and history. After visiting all the popular monuments, the architects decided to take inspiration from each of the old structures to design the Taj Mahal. The final design is a mixture of 4 to 5 monuments.
- If you exclude the central mausoleum, only the four pillars will remain. These are inspired by Jahangir’s tomb situated in Lahore, Pakistan. Jahangir was the father of Shah Jahan.
- Now exclude all the pillars and take a look at the central dome-shaped mausoleum architecture. This is inspired by Humayun’s tomb in Delhi. While that one is made of red sandstone, the Taj is made of white marble.
- The main entrance gate of the Taj Mahal is also called Akbar’s Tower. This structure is similar to the entry gate Akbar’s tomb, also located in Agra.
- The domes on top of this entry gate are inspired by the tomb of Saint Niyan Abdulla from Iran
The total height of the Taj Mahal is 73 meters. It looks identical from all four sides. The height of the pinnacle on the top is 11.5 m. The half-moon on top of the pinnacle is 8 feet wide. It is inscribed with the words “Allah hu Akbar” on both sides
All the four towers on the side are slightly leaning towards the outside. In case there is an earthquake, they will fall on the outer side and not on the centre structure. If they were straight, then you would have got the illusion that the pillars are leaning towards the Taj.
Whenever there is a full moon, the gates of the Taj open at midnight. This happened five days in a month. Only 400 people, in groups of 50, are allowed inside. When the moon is bright, all the precious and semiprecious stones on the Taj Mahal sparkle.
Air pollution has taken a toll on his monument as well. As a result the marble gets discoloured/ appears yellow. The marble facade of the Taj Mahal is cleaned by Multani Mitti. It is applied all over the surface and cleaned off after 3 to 4 days.
Mystery around the Taj Mahal – two of its kind?
My tourist guide brought our attention to an interesting motif on the walls of the mosque. It indicated that Shah Jahan had plans to build two identical Taj Mahals. One for his wife and another for himself. His plan was to make another one on the other side of the Yamuna River in Blackstone. This is also the location of the Mehtab garden, made by Babar.
Babar had constructed over 42 gardens on both sides of the Yamuna River, in Agra. Shah Jahan had already laid the foundation of the Blackstone Taj Mahal for himself. However, his son Aurangazeb felt that this was a waste of money. The money belonged to the citizens who have paid these as taxes. According to Islam, the one who wastes money is the devil’s brother. This was the first reason for not building the second structure.
The second reason was that Aurangazeb wanted to become the next king. Shah Jahan was going to announce his eldest son as his successor, and Aurangzeb felt that he was not deserving. He spoke to his father and said that he has spent his entire life in expanding the Mughal Empire, but when it came time to announce the new king, he chose his brother. Aurangazeb ultimately fought with his brothers and killed to become the king. He also placed Shah Jahan under house arrest at the Agra Fort. Shah Jahan spent the last eight years of his life here. He died in 1606. He was also buried inside the Taj Mahal, next to Mumtaz.
How to travel to Agra
Agra is around 230 km from Delhi. There is no airport at Agra. You can either drive down on the Yamuna expressway or take a train. None of the trains in India are wheelchair accessible. While most of them do have a disabled compartment, it is not comfortable. There is also no accessible public transport or taxi service in the city.
I rented a Innova car from New Delhi for three days and drove down to Agra. The driver was with us all throughout and was extremely helpful to shift me from the wheelchair to the car and the other way. I also prefer this model of the car because my motorised wheelchair fits in perfectly.
I have visited the Taj Mahal many years before as a school kid. Except for photographs, I don’t have much memory of that visit. But I do recall not being too impressed. This time however I have left the city of Agra truly impressed and in awe of the vision of love struck Mughal emperor, the resourceful architects, and the skilled artisans who handcrafted this beautiful monument.
In the comment section below, please share your Taj Mahal story. Have you ever visited? What impressed you/ or didn’t?
You can also check out my video of the Taj Mahal on YouTube.
Linked to Skywatch.