Rudyard Kipling described the monument as the embodiment of all things pure, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore as a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the maker, Emperor Shah Jahan (the fifth Mughal ruler, reign 1628-1658), claimed that it made the sun and moon shed tears from their eyes. Such is the beauty of this epic monument known as the Taj Mahal or popularly referred to as the Taj. The monument was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Built in 16351, Taj Mahal is originally a mausoleum which the emperor built to honor his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal’s death, who passed away during the birth of their 14th child in 1631. The monument is often symbolized as the ‘epitome of love’ as its believed that the Emperor was so heartbroken and shattered with his wife’s death that his hair turned grey overnight. Shah Jahan started building the monument the year after his wife’s death and though it wasn’t complete until 1653, it is claimed that the main building was completed in eight years. As some like to say, the Taj is like a poetry-in-marble. It is the ultimate proof of the emperor’s love and affection towards his deceased wife and it is this monument that many new and old-age couple in the country swear by.
It is said that while Mumtaz was still alive, she made Shah Jahan promise her four things – first, that he build the Taj; second, that he will marry again; third, that he be nice and kind with their children; and forth, that he visit the tomb every year on her death anniversary. However, the Emperor failed to fulfil her last wish due to being put in house arrest by his own son and successor to the throne, Aurangzeb. Legend has it that during his eight years long suffering and house arrest, Shah Jahan used to intensely view the Taj from his bed through a diamond fixed in the wall in front at a particular angle. (How wonderful is that?!!) After his death in 1666, his son Aurangzeb had Shah Jahan’s remains buried next to his beloved wife inside the Taj Mahal.
Located in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the Taj rises on a high red sandstone base topped by a huge white marble terrace on which rests the famous dome flanked by four tapering minarets. Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid cenotaph of the queen. It raised position implies that the Taj only has the sky as its backdrop and nothing else. This makes the monument look even more striking. There are beautifully carved 40m high minarets on each corner of the platform. It is believed that these minarets slightly bend outwards which was done intentionally so that if an earthquake occurs, the minarets will fall away from the main monument. There is a mosque made out of red sandstone standing in the west of the monument. The mosque is of high religious importance to the Muslims. The identical edifice to the east of the Taj was constructed to create visual symmetry. The four identical faces of the central Taj structure is beautifully carved with patterns and inscriptions from the Quran, the holy book of Muslims.
Best times to see the Taj – Sunsets and sunrises are arguably the best times to view the undiluted beauty of this architectural magnificence. You can also book a 5-day package to view the Taj during the full moon. Ticket reservation for this must be done a day in advance from the Archaeological Survey of India Office (also known as the Taj Mahal office by the rickshaw pullers). Number of entries permitted are restricted and it costs INR 510 for Indians and INR 750 for foreigners.
Taj and myths associated with it – There are quite a few myths associated with this grand structure. Some of the most popular ones include the claim that Taj was originally a Shiva Temple constructed in the 12th century and the ever popular story about a black Taj Mahal which was planned by Shah Jahan as his own mausoleum. The former claim was made by Purushottam Nag Oak, however, in 2000, the Supreme Court dismissed his petition of opening the sealed rooms at the basement of the monument in order to prove his claim. The latter theory claimed that Shah Jahan began the plan of constructing the Black Taj Mahal before his son imprisoned him, however, no such traces were found after several extensive excavations at Mehtab Bagh, and thus the same was dismissed as well. One more very common legend says that Emperor Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of all the craftsmen involved in building this monument be chopped of so that nobody can ever recreate anything even remotely as splendid as the Taj Mahal, however, no such recorded proof has ever been discovered.
It is also a great idea to visit the Taj Museum located within the same complex. The museum holds many original Mughal paintings along with a pair of ivory portraits of the emperor and his beloved wife from the 17th century. You can also find a collection of gold and silver coins from the same era plus a few architectural drawings of the monument and some mysterious utensils which are believed to change colors if anything with poison were being served on them.
No words, poems, paintings, and pictures can rightly describe the masterpiece that the Taj Mahal is. It is only justifiable to visit the monument at least once in a lifetime to truly inhale in the beauty of this structure.
For more information on the monument, please visit the official website of the Taj Mahal. And, DO NOT forget to bring a camera to capture some elements of this magical epitome of love and beauty.
There is a domestic airport in Agra, however, New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport is your safest bet. IGI airport is well-connected to the rest of the country and the world. Delhi also has major bus connectivity to Agra and after the construction of the new Yamuna Expressway, you can do a day trip of the Taj Mahal easily if you are short on time.
If you plan to arrive at Agra by train, there are two railway stations - Agra Fort station and Agra Cantonment station. Most trains such as from Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Varanasi and Delhi connect to Agra Cantonment but the ones from Jaipur and Gorakhpur connect to Agra Fort.
There is bus connectivity from Gwalior, Jaipur, Jhansi, Khajuraho, Bharatpur, and of course Delhi.