Taj Mahal, located on the south-bank of the Yamuna river in the city of Agra, just south of New Delhi, is one of India’s main tourist attractions. It was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the grandson of Akbar the Great, and completed in 1653. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built to house the grave of Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz, who lost her life at the age of 38 while giving birth to the couple’s fourteenth child. Shah Jahan never recovered from the loss and dedicated the Taj Mahal to her memory. Her grave is found in a crypt under the building. As the legend has it, Shah Jahan had planned to build a black version of the mausoleum as tomb for himself on the other side of the river. A bridge would have connected the two monuments. Yet no black Taj Mahal was ever built and after his death, Shah Jahan was instead buried beside Mumtaz.
Some 20,000 craftsmen from all over India are said to have worked on the site, and it took twenty years to complete. It is a masterpiece of Mughal architecture, incorporating many Persian influences, and elaborately decorated throughout — apart from the graves themselves which, according to Muslim custom, are left unadorned. Around the mausoleum is a vast garden which it too picks up Persian themes. In front of the tomb is a raised water tank with a reflecting pool. As the tourist guides never tire of repeating, the Taj Mahal is a monument dedicated to love. For good measure, two more of Shah Jahan’s wives are also buried on the premises.
The Taj Mahal was famously described by the Indian author Rabindranath Tagore as “the tear-drop on the cheek of time.” The buildings have recently turned yellow as a result of acid rain but various attempts are made to restrict environmental pollution in the area. If nothing else, the Taj Mahal is a great source of revenue. It is annually visited by some 8 million tourists, not least by couples who like to pose for photos in front of the iconic facade.
History of the World in a Hundred Objects, “Miniature of a Mughal Prince”