The construction of the Taj Mahal (literally translated from the Persian language as “Crown of the Mughals”) was associated with the name of the beautiful woman – Arjumand Bano Begum, or Mumtaz – “Queen of the Soul”.
At 200 kilometers from the capital of India, Delhi, on the high bank of the Ganges tributary – the Jamna – is the five-domed Taj Mahal mausoleum. The white-stone structure surprises and delights with its perfect proportions, an elegant mosaic of colored precious and semiprecious stones, and skillful carving.
The Taj Mahal is a whole complex of buildings. Taj – white, and around the fortress and minarets of red sandstone. The mausoleum has absolute proportions: on the base and height – an exact square, each side of which is 75 meters. Several paths stretch to the Taj Mahal, between them there is water in the pools, first the entire mausoleum is reflected in it, and as it approaches, its individual details.
Local architects worked together with artists from Damascus, gardeners from Constantinople and Samarkand to create the Indian pearl. When creating the interior, interior decoration of the mausoleum, the craftsmen used the best varieties of white, occasionally yellow and black marble, mother of pearl, jasper, agate, emeralds, aquamarines, pearls and hundreds of other stones.
QUEEN OF THE SOUL
Arjumand Bano Begum was only 19 years old when she became the second wife of Prince Guram (future Shah-Jahan). And although the prince had several more wives and many concubines, Mumtaz won the heart of her husband and undividedly owned him until the end of his days. It was an unusually romantic and poetic love. Mumtaz was not only his most beloved wife, but his most faithful companion since the turbulent times when Prince Guram wandered around the world, pursued by his father Jahangir, when he obtained his throne in a fierce struggle with his brothers. In 1627, Guram, having gained a final victory over them and seized his father’s throne, assumed the title of emperor, Shah-Jahan – “ruler of the world”. Mumtaz finally became the queen of India.
Shah Jahan adored his wife and each time he honored her, held lavish receptions and grandiose celebrations in her honor, without her any important ceremony would begin, and not a single state act would be adopted. Mumtaz was present at the meetings of the State Council; her opinion was almost never disputed by anyone.
The portrait of the queen, painted by her contemporary, has been preserved. Violating one of the strictest prohibitions of Islam – to draw portraits of animals and people, an unknown artist skillfully conveyed the beauty of Mumtaz, a white-faced Persian, a pearl of the East.
A happy life together ended abruptly. In the spring of 1636, Mumtaz suddenly fell ill: before dying, she turned to her husband with a request to take care of their eldest daughter, Jahanara Begum, and took an oath from him – to build a tomb worthy of their love, their joint nineteen-year-old married life. Mumtaz’s death shocked Jahan.
WHITE AND BLACK PALACES
Widowed, he commanded the construction of an unprecedentedly beautiful mausoleum. Shah was presented with many different projects, the authors of which were the best of the best architects of the East. Of these, he chose a project created by Indian architect Ystad Khan Effendi. Following this, a twenty-thousand army of builders was driven into Agra: masons, marble cutters, jewelers and handymen. Marble was brought from Makran near Jaipur, sandstone from Sikri, gems from India, Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia.
The entire complex of the mausoleum was created over twenty two years. Having fulfilled the mandate of “the queen of her soul”, Jahan proceeded to a new, no less grandiose construction – exactly the same mausoleum, but only of black marble, for himself – on the other (left) bank of the Jamna River. According to the Shah’s plan, both mausoleums, like marital chambers, were to be connected by a high lace bridge of black and white marble. Preparatory work has already begun, but this plan, unfortunately, was not destined to come true.
While Shah Jahan was building a new tomb, his sons fought among themselves. Having defeated the brothers, one of them – Aurangzeb – seized power in 1658, killed the brothers, arrested his father and imprisoned him in the Red Fort under reliable guard along with his beloved daughter Jahanara Begum. Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life in the marble palace that he had once built for Mumtaz, from where he could constantly see the Taj Mahal. Here he died on January 23, 1666. Fulfilling the last will of his father, Aurangzeb the next day ordered his body to be transported to the Taj Mahal and to be buried next to Mumtaz without any ceremony or honor.
The Taj Mahal mausoleum stands alone in its inexpressible beauty on the banks of the blue Jamna, reflecting its clean, proud appearance. He appears as a vision from another, better, cleaner world. “The Taj Mahal has a secret that everyone feels, but no one can interpret.”
“The Taj Mahal attracts you like a magnet. You can stand for hours and all look and look at this marvel, at this fabulous ghost, ascending into a bottomless azure sky. The illumination of the Taj Mahal changes like a mirage. It glows from the inside, changing hues depending on the position of the sun: it suddenly turns light pink, then bluish, then pale orange. At night, under the moon, against a black sky, it looks dazzling white. Just coming very close, you notice that he is covered in the finest patterns woven over white marble, the marble blocks are encrusted with gems and seem to shine through, emitting a flickering light.”
The dazzling white walls of the mausoleum are covered with mosaics – garlands of flowers made of precious stones. Branches of white jasmine from mother-of-pearl shimmer with red pomegranate flower from carnelian and delicate tendrils of grapevine and honeysuckle, and delicate oleanders peek out from the lush green foliage. Each leaf, each petal is a separate emerald, yacht, pearl or topaz; sometimes there are up to one hundred of such stones for one branch of flowers, and there are hundreds of similar ones on the panels and grids of the Taj Mahal!
DEATH NOT SHARED
In the central hall of the mausoleum are two sarcophagi sculpted from white-pink rocks of marble, decorated with floral ornaments. These are the cenotaphs of the dead, symbolic projections of those who are in the lowest part of the mausoleum. There, in the underground vaulted room, dusk reigns. Both tombs with the remains of the royal spouses, Mumtaz and Jahan, like a screen, are surrounded by a white marble carved fence about two meters high, decorated with fabulous flowers – red, yellow, blue, along with green garlands, interlacing of marble leaves and flowers.
What is the power of the impression made by the Taj Mahal? Where does the insurmountable impact on everyone who sees it come from?
“Neither marble lace, nor the thin carving covering its walls, nor mosaic flowers, nor the fate of the beautiful queen — none of this alone could make such an impression. There must be a reason for something else. However, something in the Taj Mahal fascinated me and thrilled me. … It seemed to me that the mystery of the Taj Mahal is connected with the secret of death, i.e. with that secret, regarding which, in the words of one of the Upanishads, “even the gods were at first in doubt.” Above the tomb, where the queen’s body lies, a light burns. I felt that this is where the beginning of the clue lies. For the light shimmering over the tomb, where its dust lies, this light … is a small transient earthly life. And the Taj Mahal is a future eternal life.”
PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE
The creation of the Taj Mahal dates back to the time of the conquest of India by Muslims. The grandson of padishah Akbar Jahan was one of those conquerors who changed the face of a vast country. A warrior and statesman, Jahan was at the same time a fine connoisseur of art and philosophy; his courtyard in Agra attracted the most prominent scientists and artists of Persia, which at that time was the center of culture throughout West Asia.
The son of Jahan Aurangzeb (“the beauty of the throne,” 1665-1706) was nothing like his father. He was a stern, withdrawn and ascetic-religious monarch. While still a prince, he disapproved of the useless and devastating, as he believed, activities of his father. Aurangzeb spent his entire long and hectic life in military campaigns aimed at maintaining power over the empire.
Aurangzeb raised a rebellion against his father, accusing him of spending all the state revenue on the mausoleum. He imprisoned the former lord in an underground mosque in one of the inner palaces of the Agra fortress. Shah Jahan lived in this underground mosque for seven years; sensing the approach of death, he asked him to be transferred to the so-called Jasmine pavilion in the fortress wall, to the tower of lace marble, where was the favorite room of Queen Arjumand Bano. There, on the balcony of the Jasmine Pavilion overlooking the Jamna, from where the Taj Mahal was visible at a distance, Shah Jahan died.
This is the brief history of the Taj Mahal. Since then, the mausoleum of Queen Mumtaz has gone through many vicissitudes. During the wars that continued in India in the 17th and 18th centuries, Agra repeatedly passed from hand to hand and was often plundered. The conquerors removed the large silver doors from the Taj Mahal, carried out precious lamps and candlesticks, and tore ornaments from precious stones from the walls. However, the building itself and most of the decoration remained intact. The Taj Mahal is now restored and carefully guarded.
But today, the Taj Mahal is partially dressed in scaffolding due to the fact that cracks appeared on the walls. The marble Taj Mahal weighs many hundreds of thousands of tons. A huge mass presses on the soil, and it gradually settles. Over the past centuries, as a result of soil displacement, the mausoleum leaned toward the river, although it is invisible with a simple eye. Once the high-water Jamna came close to the building, but then the river became shallow and receded. This last circumstance changed the structure of the soil and also affected the stability of the mausoleum. Now it is decided to plant trees on the banks of the Jamna in order to stop soil erosion.