Many years ago Bayard Taylor, the American poet and travel writer, likened the Taj Mahal to a castle conjured up in the heavens, then set down on earth to be marveled at forever. He was correct; this heavenly castle continues to cast its spell of wonder on the peoples of the earth. Very few have not heard of this exquisite manifestation of love created in pure white marble. Visitors arrive from the four corners of the earth, crossing oceans and continents, to admire its beauty. Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor, built this architectural masterpiece in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife. Construction commenced in 1631 and for the next 17 years the very best craftsmen labored to create this Islamic art treasure. Never before or since has a king paid homage to his beloved in such an astonishing symbolic way.
The Taj Mahal photographed from the Red Fort, Agra © Michail Vorobyev
For centuries the Taj Mahal’s exquisite beauty has captivated and astonished people from all over the world. It was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and called a masterpiece admired universally. This elegant marble tomb was built by Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor, to honor Mumtaz Mahal, his most beloved wife and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. For twenty years, commencing in 1632, 20,000 laborers and many stonemasons, architects, craftsmen and calligraphers from all around India and as far afield as Persia were employed for the construction of the mausoleum. The Shah was intimately involved with the architectural design and planning of this unbelievable structure, being a great builder himself. It required its famous name only after the death of the Shah; in his time it was simply called the rauza, or tomb. The Taj is situated at a sharp eastward bend in the Yamuna River and is raised on a platform with four graceful free standing minarets on the four corners of the platform. The symmetry is maintained by the two nearly identical buildings at its sides; the Masjid or mosque on the western flank and the Mehman Khana or guest house towards the east. Complete your historical tour of Agra by also visiting Akbar’s tomb situated at Sikandra, Fort Agra, citadel Fatehpur Sikri and the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah.
In order to understand and appreciate the Taj Mahal better, it is important to have some knowledge about the Mughals and Shah Jahan who was responsible for its construction.
Agra was the seat of the Mughal empire for more than two centuries. Today Agra is the imperial capital of Uttar Pradesh State and is situated in the northern part of India
A painting dating from the 17th century depicts Shah Jahan with his nobles. Strict hierarchy dictated their placement around his throne
The Great Mughal Empire
During the 17th century this empire was one of the most powerful states with an administrative system so complex and efficient that is ruled successfully over a hundred million people living across the subcontinent of India. For around 180 years, from 1526 to 1707 the Mughal Empire remained stable after a period of consolidation and expansion. It was world renowned for the sophistication and splendor of its royal courts. Eventually, after years of slow decline the empire came to an end when Bahadur Shah Zafar was removed in 1857 by Britain.
1526: The Mughal Empire and dynasty is established by Babur. Agra is the main cit
1530 to 1556: Humayun reigns as Shah
1556 to 1605: Akbar governs
1605 to 1627: Jahangir reigns
1627: The war for the throne follows after Jahangir’s death. Shah Jahan starts his reign in 1628
1612: Shah Jahan weds Mumtaz Mahal, Arjumand Banu Begum
1631 to 1632: After Mumtaz Mahal’s death construction on the Taj Mahal commences
1654: Construction of the Taj Mahal is completed
1658: The Shah is dethroned by Aurangzeb, his son and imprisoned in Fort Agra
1666: After his death, Shah Jahan is interned next to his queen in the mausoleum.
Shah Jahan on the Throne
Prince Khurram, later known as Shah Jahan or the King of the World, was born in 1592 and succeeded Jahangir, his father in 1628 as the 5th Mughal emperor. During the thirty years of his sovereignty he extended the empire all the way to the southern Deccan Indian region. A true visionary leader who shared his grandfather, Akbar’s love for architecture, he manifested this passion in the construction of a huge number of buildings. Shah Jahan was a true connoisseur, and collected jewelry and fine art.
A Mughal period painting depicts the ambassadors and envoys from European nations offer gifts to the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592 – 1666) at the time of his succession to the throne as the fifth ruler of the Mughal Empire. Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram Shah Jahan l was his celebrated grandfather, the Great Akbar’s favorite and is remembered for various reasons, not least for the construction of the famous Taj Mahal, an architectural declaration of his love for his queen, Mumtaz Mahal. He also commissioned the Padshahnama or Badshah Nama, a group of illustrated works serving as the official history of his reign as emperor. It was during his reign that the Mughal Empire reached its height in power and influence. Shah Jahan’s opulent court, manifested in his famous Peacock Throne was admired by foreign dignitaries and visitors from all over the world. Large new centers of crafts and commerce like Delhi, Agra, Lahore and Ahmedabad developed and flourished under his rule and were linked to far-off ports and other commercial centers by road and seaway. Later he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi and oversaw the construction of various important monuments and historical sites like the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort in Delhi, Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens and part of the fort, as well as his father Jahangir’s mausoleum
When at the tender age of fourteen Shah Jahan laid his eyes on Arjumand Banu Begum, it was the proverbial love at first sight. After five years he made her his wife and named her the Jewel of the Palace, or Mumtaz Mahal. They were inseparable and she accompanied him everywhere, even on his military campaigns. In 1631 she died during the birth of her fourteenth child and the Shah started to construct the most beautiful monument in the world, dedicated to his great and eternal love, the Taj Mahal.
The tomb chamber where the queen and the emperor are forever united in exquisite beauty. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph, larger than that of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal has the symbolic pen stand on top to identify it as a male tomb. Their actual burial place is in a rectangular crypt underneath the tomb chamber which is not open to the public © AHSAN SHEIKH
A Golden Time in Architecture
Shah Jahan was a prolific builder, and his contribution of many architectural treasures is still an important attraction for thousands of tourists from all over; amongst them are Masjid Jama and Red Fort in his newly built capital, Shahjahanabad, as well as the Taj Mahal of course. The great wealth of the Mughal Empire was displayed in the opulent use of both semi- and precious stones, and an abundance of white marble. The symmetry and elegance of these many majestic structures were typical of Shah Jahan’s architectural wonders. With finesse he managed a synthesis between Islamic and Hindu influences.
Behind the glass case is the famous Peacock Throne of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, made of marble and studded with semi-precious and precious gems like rubies, garnets, diamonds, pearls and emeralds © Roop_Dey
The Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, the biggest mosque of India
The Last Days of the Emperor
In poor health and already at an advanced age Shah Jahan helplessly watched the animosity which played out amongst his sons in their ambition to ascend the throne. Imprisoned by one of them, Aurangzeb in Fort Agra close to the Taj Mahal, he spent his last eight years in the care of Jahanara, the eldest of his daughters. Legend has it that during his final hours his eyes never wavered from the symbol of his great love. After his death at the ripe old age of seventy four in 1666, he was laid to rest next to his most beloved queen in the Taj Mahal.
At the time of the construction of the Taj Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan also started the erection of this multi-storied marble tower, inlaid with semi-precious stones, and known as the Musamman Burj in the Red Fort to provide a perfect view of the Taj Mahal, which he was building in memory of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal. It is the same tower where the emperor was kept under house arrest for 16 years by his son Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan died here on 22 January 1666 © Efired
Symbol of eternal love
Sunset at the Taj Mahal. Regarded as one of the world’s most iconic buildings, the Taj Mahal not only honors Shah Jahan’s beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, but also stands as a symbol of his achievements as Mughal Emperor. Because of its exquisite detailed craftsmanship and perfect symmetry, it has been hailed as ‘a prayer, a vision, a dream, a poem and a wonder’. It took 20,000 laborers nearly 22 years to complete this sublime marble mausoleum and cost around 500kg in gold and 41 million rupees. The well-laid out garden with its perfect proportions resembles the Islamic garden of Paradise. The mausoleum has stood as a symbol of love since 1653 © muratart
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Mughal emperors developed their unique Indo-Persian style of architecture. This combination of foreign and local influences characterized by domes and minarets reached its esthetic pinnacle in the construction of the Taj. Rajput architectural designs are reflected in the elevated dome-shaped pavilions called chhatris that top the gateway, as well as the chhajjas, the overhanging eaves. On the other hand, Iranian influences can be seen in the pishtaqs, the rectangular frames around arched openings. The mausoleum is designed in such a way that the first glance of the building is perfectly framed by the pointed arch of its gateway. Step inside and the visitor is confronted with the beautiful lush green charbagh, the quadrilateral garden in Persian style, contrasting with the sparkling white marble of the building at the end.
The Mughal had a great affection for flowers and gardens, and this love is reflected in the profusion of carved plant motives all over the Taj © Agus.d.wahyudi
The Entrance to Taj Mahal
The Great Gate or darwaza-i-rauza is the gateway to the gardens and the rest of the complex. It stands separate from the rest of the Taj Mahal and is a typical feature and trademark of the Islamic style of architecture. It towers three storeys high, has a rectangular shape and a forecourt in red sandstone. The central gateway is flanked by several halls and smaller rooms. Intricate geometrical designs cover the walls and ceilings, and the beautiful arabesque inlays found on the pointed arches mirror that on the façades of the main building of the Taj Mahal.
The entrance to the Taj Mahal © isaray
The massive pishtaq (arch) of the entrance gate is beautifully crowned with eleven red sandstone arches topped in turn by eleven pristine marble domes © Emrah C. Adalioglu
Each corner of the Great Gate has an attached minaret. They are capped with sandstone chhatri and marble domes © Social Media Hub
The Sura al-Fajr or Daybreak Sura is written in exquisite calligraphy on the frame that surrounds the gateway. Ornate calligraphy is used throughout the structure to etch passages from the Quran. Note that the writing on the uppermost panels are larger than that on the bottom parts to obtain the illusion of equal script size © Zvonimir Atletic
The dome of the main entrance to Taj Mahal resembles a honeybee comb © EQRoy
The perfect symmetry of the ceiling of the main entrance to the Taj Mahal. The fusion of semi-precious stones inlaid into marble panels and red sandstone provides an elegant beauty to the entrance © Pablo Hidalgo
Symmetry and Alignment
Shah Jahan found symmetry fascinating and this is manifested in the Taj’s design. The alignment of the darwaza-i-rauza and the main structure is such that the Great Gate frames the entire mausoleum and its minarets in a perfect picture of symmetry. Line symmetry can also be seen in the reflection of the Taj with its minarets in the clear waters of the lotus pool. The height of the four tall chhatris flanking the central huge dome balances that of this dome. According to legend Shah Jahan planned an identical structure on the other side of Yamuna River for himself. This replica would be constructed not in white, but rather black marble and a bridge would provide the connection between the two mausoleums.
Framed by the arch of the Great Gate (Darwaza-i-rauza in persian), the main complex which includes Mumtaz Mahal’s mausoleum, charbagh and minarets is a perfect first sight of the complex © ArtPanupat
Naubat Khana in Taj Mahal
Two music galleries or Naubat Khanas, each one merging with the outer garden wall are to be found on the left and right sides of the entrance. In 1982 the left one was turned into a museum which has 3 galleries. It houses miniature paintings, government decrees, manuscripts, as well as examples of utensils, arms and calligraphy © Amlan Mathur
The Layout of the Complex
As mentioned before, this monument was constructed on the Yamuna River which flows at the back of the complex. Approaching the structure the visitor first passes under a gate to proceed to the impressive main entrance or darwaza-i-rauza. The quadrilateral garden or charbagh with its lotus pool follows and only then the Taj rises tall and splendid in all its glory. Unlike other mausoleums, the order in this instance is reversed. The interior and exterior are extensively adorned with pietra dura or jeweled inlays, relief carvings both in sandstone and marble and calligraphic inscriptions. In the very center of the building lies the cenotaphs of the loving husband and wife, both highly ornamented. Flanking the tomb are the mosque or Masjid and guest house or Mehman Khana all set on the base of red sandstone.
The layout of the Taj Mahal Complex is displayed at the entrance © Abbey Meprathu Philip
The mausoleum was planned on the typical Mughal tomb design with its Hasht-behesht or plan of ‘eight paradises.’ According to this design the central square is divided into the main octagonal central space, with a chamber in each of the four elevations and a room in each corner © Yosanon Y
Bird’s eye view of the main mausoleum with the adjoining mosque to the east and the guest house on the west side © Uladzik Kryhin
Two main mediums were used to construct the Taj. Most important is the white marble from the Makrana quarries of Nagaur in Rajasthan. The second material, red sandstone came from Rupbas and Fatehpur Sikri near Agra. The sandstone varies in color; from a yellowish red to a softer red can be observed. For the beautiful inlay work stones from all over were brought; from Bundelkhand came garnets, form Punjab jasper, crystal and jade from China, amethyst and onyx from Persia, Sri Lanka provided sapphire and lapis lazuli, Arabia cornelian and coral, while Panna provided the diamonds.
Restoration is an ongoing process at the Taj Mahal Complex. Here skilled craftsmen cut and prepare pieces of white marble to use in the rehabilitation process © Aodhain
Because the number four is believed the holiest number in Islam, most of the design of the Taj Mahal is based on that number, and multiples of four. A distinctive element in Arabic, Persian and Mughal architecture is the charbagh style. The meaning of ‘char’ is four and that of ‘bagh’ is garden. This kind of garden plan was introduced to the country by Babur, first emperor of the Mughals, who took the idea from the Persian gardens with the same style. These gardens portray the Garden of Eden with its four rivers, in the Islam image. Landscape architects created the charbagh on this design; waterways divide the garden into four identical sections. One canal runs north – south while the other goes from west to east. The lotus pool forms the intersection.
The Charbagh was irrigated by the waters of the River Yamuna © Sanga Park
Even the trees in the surrounding garden are symbolic; fruit trees are a sign of life and cypresses symbolize death © DH Saragih
The red sandstone base, ceilings, the mausoleum floor and pathways are all decorates with tessellated designs. These are typical mosaic patterns done without any overlaps or gaps to depict stars and octagonal figures. Even the lawns along the pathways show similar patterns.
Marble inlays contrast beautifully with the red sandstone base, and black stone is used to create lines for this design in the tomb chamber © tscreationz
The Lotus Pool
Just like the garden, the lotus pool is also divided into four equal parts. This is achieved with the aid of shallow canals alongside wider walkways. Broader causeways further divide them up into quarters. Copper pipes bring water from the Yamuna River to the canals and lotus pool. The pool has five fountains with floral designs decorating the corners. Marble benches were added along the four sides of the pool in 1907 by Lord Curzon during the British period and offer the perfect setting for photographs with the mausoleum in the background. These copper apparatus beneath control the water pressure of the fountains
The marble bench at the Lotus Pool is a favorite picture spot for visitors. The perfectly still water of the pool reflects the Taj Mahal in all its splendor. The pool is named after the lotus shaped spouts of its fountains. These copper apparatus beneath control the water pressure of the fountains © mammuth
Steps lead up to the pool. Originally, it is rumored, the overflow of water poured gently down these steps © panoglobe
The Foundation and the Plinth
The massive weight of the mausoleum needed a solid base and strong foundation. Workers dug down to the water level and filled the hole with stone and lime mortar. On this foundation a platform of red sandstone was constructed. This elevation has to carry the total weight of the podium of marble on which all four minarets and the mausoleum sit, as well as the Mehman Khana and Masjid.
The terrace of red sandstone has low balconies with intricate lattice work or jaalis and geometric designs in marble inlay on the flooring. Taj Mahal lies on the bank of the river Yamuna © Carlos Neto
The steps that lead to the marble plinth are filled with pot plants © Hailshadow
The Marble Plinth and Cladding
On top of the base of red sandstone rests the square secondary plinth, 300 feet in length. It is completely covered in marble and supports the minarets and mausoleum. The decoration is elegant, although minimal; floral carvings similar to those on the marble cladding in the mausoleum are found on the base © prashantkrsahu
An internal stairway leads to the marble plinth © Shimon Bar
The white marble cladding of the secondary plinth is simple but elegantly decorated. Jaali or latticed perforated screens are found on all sides but the front and allow sunlight and fresh air into the tomb chamber below © mathess
The Central Doorway
The arched entrance or pishtaq of the mausoleum has a frame decorated with thuluth script. This Islamic style calligraphy is employed to inscribe a verse from the Quran. Two triangular sections along the curve of the pointed arch are decorated in patterns mirroring each other, in the pietra dura technique while the outer edge of the arch itself has thick rope-like moldings. The highest point of the pishtaq is decorated in linear floral designs done with pietra dura and running all the way to the two pilasters. The idea of symmetry is emphasized right throughout the entire complex by the use of a pointed arches surrounded by rectangular frames.
The magnificent Pishtaq in central doorway is exquisitely decorated. These huge arched recesses are set into each side of the Taj. They provide depth to the building while their central, latticed marble screens allow patterned light to illuminate the inside of the mausoleum © analoger
The technique of fitting colored pieces of cut stone into marble originates from Florence in Italy and is referred to as pietra dura. Twenty eight kinds of precious and semi-precious stones from all around the world were utilized to adorn the Taj Mahal. Up to sixty pieces of stone are used in some flower designs.
In the Quran and Persian poetry flowers are often said to spring from the waters of paradise itself. Finely designed floral designs and semi-precious stones soften and adorn the stark white marble throughout the mausoleum, turning its surfaces into jewelry-like wonders © Don Mammoser
Marble Relief Work – Flowering plants, thought to be representations of paradise, are a common theme among the beautifully decorative panels carved onto the white marble © dashingstock
The script panel inlaid with verses from the Quran increases in size as it moves upwards. This clever trick creates the optical illusion of a script of uniform size for the viewer looking up from the ground level © Photo_works
The lower tomb walls have flowers in bas-relief carved from the white marble © Aodhain
The outer walls of the main mausoleum are engraved with yellow and black sandstone in zigzag and geometrical motifs © Tairalist
Visitors queuing up to enter the tomb chamber in the Taj Mahal. Photography is not allowed inside the burial chamber © yurakrasil
The Smaller Pishtaqs
Minor pishtaqs flank the main one. The vaulted alcoves found at the tomb’s four corners are semi-octagonal while those on the façade have rectangular shapes. The clever use of this uniquely shaped pishtaqs makes it possible for the viewer to see the alcoves from all angles, something that would otherwise not have been the case. Every section of the huge façade is bordered by shallow rectangular columns or pilasters decorated with V-shaped or chevron motifs.
Recessed arches or pishtaq lend depth to the walls. Their panels of inlaid work break the monotony of the white marble and creates a jewel-like picture of delicacy and mystique © cinoby
The Majestic Dome
The marble clad dome lends its specific shape both to Persian Timurid and Hindu temple designs. The cylindrical base it is placed on accentuates the shape of the dome. The colored pietra dura decorations on the base contrasts most effectively with the whiteness of the marble. From the base the dome rounds out to a lush fullness and proceeds to taper to its pinnacle, the finial, or crown-like tip. This finial was originally made of gold, but is now in gilded bronze and combines Hindu and Persian decorating elements. The dome reaches an impressive height of 150 feet in total but this cannot be perceived by the viewer from inside the mausoleum as it has a double shell. The inner shell forms the ceiling of the interior hall.
The Dome – The 44-m (144-ft) double dome is capped with a finial. The Taj’s famous central dome, topped by a brass finial. represents the vault of heaven, a stark contrast to the material world, which is represented by the square shape of the main structure. The main dome of the mausoleum is also referred to as the onion dome because of its shape
Closeup view of the dome of the Taj Mahal. Dome is exquisitely carved with semi-precious stones in floral designs. Another perfect example of Pietra dura Inlay art © Tawatchaiwanasri
The sublime peak of the brass finial has the typical Islam motif of a crescent. The kalash or pot-like motif is suggestive of Hindu influences. ‘Allah’, the holy word, is etched in Urdu. This close-up shows men defying gravity while doing maintenance work on the main dome of the Taj Mahal / Photo by Melvyn Longhurst / Alamy Images
The Taj Mahal has a double dome, a false smaller domed ceiling inside the larger outer bulbous structure. The reason for this is two-fold; it creates an imposing outer dome almost the same size as the base structure of the monument on the outside while maintaining the more comfortable proportions of the inner chamber / Alamy Images
The Hindu influences, particularly Rajasthani, is clearly visible on many Mughal monuments through the use of the chhatri (the small dome). Four chhatris are placed diagonally around the huge main dome. Their design imitates that of the principal dome, including the lotus motifs and gilded finials. Their columned bases and arches stretch through the dome roof to let light and fresh air into the area below © Aleynikov Pavel
Every pishtaq (arch) in the complex is flanked by slender, tall pilasters that rise up from its base. Each pilaster is decorated with geometric herringbone designs done in black and white marble and finish in a marble bouquet called guldasta, ending in a bronze finial. Standing taller than their pishtaqs, they accentuate the immense height of the dome of the mausoleum © Aleynikov Pavel
Close up of the pilaster decorated with geometric herringbone designs done in black and white marble and finish in a marble bouquet called guldasta, ending in a bronze finial © Miriam Gimbel
The mausoleum is perfectly framed by four slender detached minarets placed in the four corners of the elevation. This clever placement emphasizes the symmetrical perfection of the whole complex. Each minaret stands 154 feet tall and on its top is a chhatri supported by a number of pointed arches separated by eight pillars. Two encircling balconies divide each minaret into three sections, equal in size. Spiral staircases inside the minarets give access to the balconies and chhartis, but are closed to visitors. Minarets feature distinctively in Islamic architecture, although they only became part of Mughal monuments in the seventeenth century. Traditionally the mu’addin would call the faithful to prayer from the minaret’s chhatri.
Shah Jahan was the first to introduce minarets to Mughal architecture. The 40m/133ft-high minarets on the four corners of the Taj Mahal highlights its perfect symmetry and add a feeling of lightness and elevation. Each minaret is surmounted by an eight-columned chhatri. The slender minarets all lean slightly outward. This was done on purpose as protection in the event that one of them collapses and cause damage to the mausoleum © Ranadip Dey
This detailed view of a minaret shows the floral and geometric designs done in pietra dura as well as the decorative marble carvings under each balcony © Fabio Imhoff
Top storey of the Minaret, Taj Mahal © Ankit M
The Funerary Chamber
In the center of the mausoleum is the octagonal funerary chamber where the marble tombstones of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal can be found. Their actual graves are in the dark crypt underneath the funerary chamber and unfortunately not open to visitors. Pietra dura is used to decorate the curved ceiling. Jaali screens in the outside walls allow fresh air and light to bathe the chamber in a soft golden hue. The contrast with the magical radiance of the white marble lends an aura of pure serenity. The walls are decorated with fine calligraphy panels, bas-relief, and lapidary inlay work adorned with many precious stones. These designs mirror the design features of the exterior. Four octagonal smaller chambers lead off from the corners of the funerary chamber.
The two finely decorated cenotaphs are actually mere symbols as the real sarcophagi can be found in a smaller chamber below at the garden level. During the time of the Mughals, the cenotaph of empress Mumtaz Mahal was draped with a pearl chadar, a blanket made of pearls while the emperor’s cenotaph was draped with precious stones. Most of these valuables were looted during the invasions after the Mughal period © IVANVIEITO
Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph is inscribed with quotes from the Quran / Alamy Images
In 1909 Lord Curzon donated a bronze lamp similar to the one hanging in a mosque in Cairo. This lamp is now hanging in the main tomb chamber of the Taj Mahal © GregD
Originally a gold enameled screen surrounded the cenotaphs but was replaced by a delicate marble one in 1643. The screen is octagonal in shape with each side divided into 3 panels. Only one screen allows entrance into the tombs. Every panel has inlay work of semi-precious stones and delicate carvings, all done in the most intricate detail, to form graceful fruits, flowers and vines.
The crescent shaped marble screen panel in the tomb chamber has gold inlay work. Every inch and every corner of the marble screen surrounding the tombs of the queen and king is decorated with engraved semi-precious stones like carnelian, lapis lazuli and mother of pearl. It’s believed that 35 different precious and semi-precious stones were used to create the exquisite pietra dura (marble inlay work) found on the inside and outside of the mausoleum walls. Again, floral designs are common. Be Enlightened – Bring a small torch into the mausoleum to fully appreciate the translucency of the white marble and semi-precious stones © Sandra_San
The marble filigree screen in the tomb chamber is a magnificent work of art that took ten years to create. Carved from a single marble slab, it serves to shield the royal tombs while allowing patterned light to fall onto them through its intricately carved lattice screen © NAIK86
The surrounding rooms of the octagonal burial chamber are decorated with jalis, perforated lattice screens to allow sunlight to enter. The walls are decorated with engraved semi-precious stones and floral designs in marble © Don Mammoser
Directly underneath the elaborately decorated cenotaphs of the emperor and his queen, are the actual graves. This chamber is much less decorative, according to Muslim tradition which forbids such embellishment of graves. Their bodies are interned with the heads facing Mecca. The crypt is covered in marble and the ceiling undecorated. In stark contrast to the extensive embellishment of the cenotaphs above, the graves below show only a minimum of decorative elements.
Leading down to the crypt is a staircase at the southern part of the tombs. This area is not open to visitors
The queen’s true grave is exactly in the center of the funerary chamber with that of her husband to her side. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was buried here 35 years after the burial of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. This burial chamber is open to the public once a year for 3 days from February 27 to March 1 for Shah Jahan’s Urs, the ceremony to commemorate his death. During these three days entry to the Taj Mahal is free for all visitors including foreigners / Alamy Images
On its sandstone plinth on the Taj Mahal’s left side sits the mosque or Masjid. It has three domes of which the central one is the largest. They have cylindrical bases all decorated in geometric patterns of red sandstone and white marble alternatively. Sgraffito technique is used to decorate the mosque. Sgraffito means scratch; plant-like designs are literally scratched out of the top red layer to reveal the white color underneath. The floor is decorated with black marble outlines representing around 570 prayer mats. The wall facing Mecca, the qiblah wall, has a prayer niche or mihrab. All the mosques constructed by Shah Jahan has the same basic design, including the Masjid and Delhi’s Jama Masjid.
Mosque on the west side of the Taj Mahal. The façade of the Mosque has alternating white and red panels and decorations in pietra dura. Smaller so-called blind arches flank the pishtaq © Vitor costa
Every mosque has its ablution area for the ritual cleansing of devotees’ hands and feet. The Mosque’s water tank is directly in front of the building © TK Kurikawa
The clever geometric pattern on the pilasters tricks the eye into believing that they have flat sided
The floor appears to be covered in prayer mats while the ceilings are adorned in floral designs using sgraffito techniques © Shankhanil Ghosh
Decorative detail in the red sandstone wall panel of the mosque at the Taj Mahal © Carlos Neto
Sun emblem on the ceiling of the mosque and an altar for prayer © Mister_Knight
The combination of white marble and red sandstone used in the mosque at the Taj Mahal Complex makes for an elegant and aesthetic picture © Craig Hastings
The splendid Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan’s love poem to his beloved wife, as seen from the mosque © MOROZ NATALIYA
The Mehman Khana (Guest House)
The guesthouse is known as the jawab or the ‘response’ because it has to provide the architectural balance to the Masjid on the other side of the mausoleum. Apparently this building housed guests during the queen’s urs or death anniversary. Symmetry dictated that the Mehman Khana also faces a pool like the mosque with its ablution tank on the other side. The interior floors lack the prayer mat pattern and there is no mihrab.
The Mehman Khana with its corresponding pool © Hugo Zavala
Beautiful archways in the Mehman Khana or Guest House at the Taj Mahal © ferrantraite
Decorative panels in the red sandstone walls of the Guest House. The same designs can be seen in the main mausoleum, this time in white marble © jstephenlee
The Guest House on the east side of the Taj Mahal as pictured from the other side of the river © The Perfect
The Outline of the Finial
Near the Mehman Khana’s entrance is a replica of the main dome’s brass finial. It is 31 feet in length and black stone was used for the engraving
A replica in black stone of the finial
The four corners of the base each has an octagonal tower pavilion © Vivvi Smak
Travel by Air: The nearest airport to Agra for international visitors is New Delhi. Agra has an airport and have a direct flight from Bangalore, Mumbai and Varanasi.
Travel by Rail: Agra is linked to most major cities in India by train. The Shatabdi Express, Gatiman Express, and Taj Express have daily rides between Agra and New Delhi.
Travel by Road: You can travel by car from nearby cities such as Delhi (140 miles) or Jaipur (165 miles).
Travel to the Taj Mahal: Hire an auto rickshaw or taxi, or take a bus
Entry Fees and Information
October through March is the ideal time of the year for a visit to Agra. Opening times for the Taj Mahal is from sunrise until sunset, except for Fridays. Indian and SAARC countries’ citizens pay Rs 40 per person while the entrance for overseas visitors is Rs 1300. Children younger than fifteen enter for free. Night visits are allowed during full moon, as well as two nights after and before. This excludes the month of Ramzan.
Taj Mahal Tours
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↳India to Nepal in 19 Days
↳On the Footsteps of Tiger
↳Cultural heritage Tour of North India
What to take with you
✔Remember to take sun block, drinking water, a torch, guidebooks and maps, mosquito repellent and loose change.
✔In summer wear light cottons, and woolens during winter. Remember a hat, raincoat or umbrella, and footwear that you can easily remove.
Some Useful Information about Visiting the Taj Mahal Illustrated Through Images
Information sign in the garden near Darwaza-i-Rauza in the Taj Mahal Complex in Agra, India © Pablo Hidalgo
The ticket counter for both local and foreign visitors to the Taj Mahal is located at the east gate of the complex near the parking area © TK Kurikawa
A series of ticket counters at the west gate of the Taj Mahal. Tickets for the Taj Mahal can now be booked online as well ©TK Kurikawa
An information board shows clearly which items are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal Complex. You are allowed to take your mobile phone into the Taj Mahal and it is free of charge. However, you need to buy a ticket for a video camera © TK Kurikawa
Battery driven rickshaws wait near the parking area of the Taj Mahal to transport tourists to the main mausoleum. Due to pollution, one is not allowed to drive normal gas or diesel vehicles within 1km/0.6 miles of the Taj Mahal. That’s why the parking area of the Taj Mahal is one kilometer from the entry gate. Visitors can take a government-run golf cart cost free from the parking to the main entry gate, or may choose to walk the short distance © Agus.d.wahyudi
Usually long lines of people wait to enter the Taj Mahal. There are separate queues for foreigners which are usually shorter © RaksyBH
Foreign tourists will get free disposable shoe covers included in the monument ticket. Wearing these shoe covers means you do not need to take off your shoes when entering the main mausoleum © Neja Hrovat
A sign prohibiting entry into the garden of the Taj Mahal, Agra, India © TK Kurikawa
Devotees attending the Eid Festival at the Taj Mahal. Every Friday the Taj Mahal is closed to visitors since on Fridays Muslims come to pray at the mosque of the Taj Mahal Complex © Somnath Chatterjee
The sign for the museum at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Tourists often are so taken up with the beauty of the Taj Mahal that they completely miss the museum. The Taj Museum houses many original Mughal artifacts like miniatures, rare manuscripts, utensils, weapons and much more © TK Kurikawa
A large group of local visitors at the Great Gate or darwaja of the Taj Mahal pose happily for a foreign tourist © Matt Ragen
A foreign tourist shows a local family the pictures she took of the world famous marble mausoleum, the Taj Mahal © Travelview
Beautiful view of the Red Fort of Agra and the Yamuna River from the main platform of the Taj Mahal © SARIN KUNTHONG
There are spectacular views of the Taj Mahal from the other side of the Yamuna River, especially at sunset. One of these locations is the 25 acre Mehtab Bagh, one of a series of Mughal gardens on this side of the river. This garden is perfectly aligned with the gardens of the Taj Mahal. Entry for foreigners is 250 rupees and 20 rupees for locals. The garden stays open until sunset
A stonemason works cautiously at a piece of marble inlay in Agra. This craft was first practiced at the time of the construction of the Taj Mahal, and since then the unique art of marble inlay work has been passed on from generation to generation. Today it can still be seen in many items like marble coasters, marble tabletops, marble elephants, vases and many other © Mateusz Sommer
A table chest set made of black stone and white marble, and small carved marble elephants inlaid with semi-precious stones are for sale in a souvenir shop near the Taj Mahal ©YUSHI
A marble tabletop with inlay work of semi-precious stones like mother of pearl, green malachite and blue lapis lazuli on display in one of the many marble crafts shops of Agra ©YUSHI
Sunset at the Taj Mahal. The complex remain opens from sunrise to sunset © 33 Degrees Photography
Policemen looking at the Yamuna River running behind Taj Mahal. Hundreds of Military Police personnel guard the monument round the clock © Paop
Where to Stay in Agra to visit Taj Mahal
Agra has any array of hotels from budget to luxury including the flagship Oberoi Amar Vilas Hotel. Many hotels offer clear views of Taj Mahal.
A tourist relaxing at the poolside while enjoying a view of the Taj Mahal in the distance © Adrian Agylar
A view of the Taj Mahal from the Amar Vilas Resort and Spa. This luxury hotel is located just 600 meters from the Taj Mahal and each room offers an uninterrupted view of the magnificent monument. The hotel is part of the Oberoi chain of luxury hotels © LunaseeStudios
Cleaning and Restoration of the Taj Mahal
Over time, as pollution increased and the monsoon rains could no longer cope with the yellowish stain on the white marble of the Taj Mahal, it became necessary for a thorough cleansing, the first in 350 years. To restore it to its former brilliance, a special cleaning process was started in 2018 and up till now the mausoleum has undergone five clay pack treatments on its outer walls. The dome will be next in line
Scaffolding on three of the minarets shows that restoration is underway. Since 2018 layers of dirt and grime has been removed, leaving this 17th century monument as dazzling as it was when Shah Jahan constructed it as a token of his love for Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife. Workers use special clay packs similar to those used since ancient times to treat skin impurities. Cleaning the huge dome has not yet commenced and may turn out to be the most difficult © Lakshmi Kanth Raju
The restoration process underway. An artisan stands on scaffolding to restore the black text from the Quran inscribed in the white marble of the east gate of the Taj Mahal © antb
Manual laborers doing repairs on the red sandstone slates around the Taj Mahal © Artaporn Puthikampol
The cleaning and restoration of the Taj Mahal is a difficult, time consuming job. Years of accumulated grime has to be removed using Fuller’s earth, a clay-like paste mostly composed of aluminum magnesium silicate that absorbs the dirt and grease. Afterwards the paste is washed off to leave the marble sparkling clean. This mud paste has been used for centuries to remove skin impurities © Tepikina Nastya
Scaffolding is constructed before the cleaning process of the mosque at the Taj Mahal Complex can commence © Don Mammoser
The cleaning of the Taj Mahal is done in stages to accommodate the millions of tourists who visit the mausoleum every year. Here three workers perch high up on the scaffolding to clean or restore the marble of the northeast minaret © antb
Indian woman cut grass by hand at the Taj Mahal in Agra © JeremyRichards
Since no gas of diesel vehicles are arrowed within a kilometer of the Taj Mahal, carts pulled by bullocks are used to transport construction and cleaning materials needed for the restoration process © AJP Shutterstock