Taj Mahal

It was recently decided that the Taj Mahal, the timeless masterpiece and unofficial symbol of India which was once thought to be a priceless asset, will soon carry a price tag after the government does some accounting.  A romantic legend says that the future Shah Jahan met a beautiful girl while having a stroll along the bazaar on a lazy afternoon.  The girl was wearing bracelets made of tiny wooden beads around her wrists.  She gave him just one look which left prince Jahan spellbound.  He decided to marry the beautiful girl and stay inseparable till death do them part.  The meeting reportedly took place in 1612 when the girl was 19 years old and in the standards of those days she was considered to be way beyond her prime. The Shah Jahan ascended the throne in 1628 and he had a big harem, but he seemed to ignore his other women because he was totally devoted to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

In 1631, Shah Jahan (1592–1666) emperor of the Mughal Empire in India started construction of the Taj Mahal in the walled city of Agra to become the resting place of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  It took 22 years to complete the project and it is considered to be one of the Seven World Wonders and a Priceless Monument of Love.  Only the best architects, painters, workers, animals and translucent gemstones were used for the construction of this majestic architectural piece.  Every block of marble, every precious gem, and every grain of sand was specifically selected to build this beautiful and a unique structure and the cost for this project was enormous.

Shah Jahan himself gave precise directions to the craftsmen, who decorated the highly polished marble walls with semi-precious stones inside intricate lace carvings.  Huge Arabic quotations from the Qur’an surround the interiors.  Shah Jahan was rumored to have wanted to build an identical black marble Taj across the river for himself, but instead he was placed under house arrest in the Agra Fort by his son, Aurangzeb.  Shah Jahan died in 1665, alone and in exile.  His only consolation was a view from his room of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is probably the most celebrated, and certainly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  Visitors approach the Taj through the West Gate, which stands an impressive 100 feet high and leads to the lovely 42-acre courtyard.  A paved promenade on either side of two long canal-pools and a center pool, edged by dark green cypress trees, leads to the mausoleum.  The oblong reflecting pools in front of the Taj contribute to its pristine beauty.  The Taj Mahal stands on two platforms, one red sandstone, one marble and it has four minarets (tall slender towers), each one standing 162 feet high.

The most visually identifiable feature of the tomb, is the massive tear-shaped marble dome that caps the structure, which is evocative of the grief that the emperor felt over the loss of his beloved.  In the tomb area, wells were dug down until water was encountered.  These wells were later filled with stone and rubble, forming the basis for the footings of the tomb.  An additional well was built to same depth nearby to provide a visual method to track water level changes over time.  The Taj Mahal construction followed the basic Charbagh plan (a Persian and Islamic quadrilateral garden layout based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Qur’an), which features a fountain at the centre of the garden which flows into four water channels at right angles to each other.  Other water channels flow round the outside of the garden to link these up, thus dividing the garden into four parts separated by water channels, thus making ‘Four Gardens’.  The four gardens were all Mughal gardens of Islamic style of architecture, that make significant use of rectilinear layouts contained within walled enclosures, featuring pools, fountains and canals.

Water for the Taj Mahal was brought from the Yamuna river through a complex infrastructure.  Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, mechanism of ropes attached to buckets pulled by animals.  The water flowed through a broad water channel into a large oblong storage tank, where thirteen additional purs were utilized to raise the water to a large distribution tank above the Taj Mahal ground level.  From this distribution tank, water passed through an over-head water-channel into three subsidiary tanks, where it was then piped to the complex.  The last supply tanks had pipe mouths in its eastern wall.  These pipes entered the Taj Mahal enclosure from underground, with one of them moving towards the mosque to supply the fountains in the tanks on the red sandstone plinth below the marble structure.

The main earthenware water supply line was nine inches in diameter and it was embedded in masonry at a depth of five feet below the level of the paved walk.  This main line filled the main pools of the complex and subsidiary channels were dug to irrigate the entire garden.  Copper pipes were used for separate series of fountains in the north-south canal, lotus pond and the canal around it.  The fountain pipes were not connected directly to the feed pipes.  A copper pot was provided under each fountain pipe, so water would fill the pots and allow equal pressure in each fountain.  The water supply came first into the pot only and from there, rose simultaneously in the fountains, which allowed the fountains to be controlled by the pressure in the pots rather than pressure in the pipes.  The pressure in the copper pots would be responsible for pushing the water upwards and not the pipe that fed the fountain with water.  As the pressure in the pots was consistently distributed all the time, that ensured an equal supply of water at the same rate to all 24 of the fountains.

The garden was irrigated through interconnected canals.  The four gardens were each divided into 16 flower beds, making a total of 64.  There were 400 plants in each bed.  All the trees, either cypress (signifying death) and fruit trees (signifying life) were planted to maintain symmetry.  An elevated lotus pond was located in the center of the garden which gives a pure reflection of the Taj Mahal and gave the gardens a mark of architectural wizardry.  The lush green grass, the unabashed floral beauty and the perfection of water devices all resulted in a gorgeous view of the Taj Mahal from the gardens.

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