Sunday, December 25, 2011

Monuments of Agra - Taj Mahal

Poetry in Stone - Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site . The Taj is the most beautiful monument built by the Mughals, built entirely of white marble. The Taj seems to glow in the light of the full moon. Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum by Emperor Shah Jahan (died 1666 A.D.) in the memory of his dear wife and queen Mumtaz Mahal at Agra, India. It is an "sheer poetry in marble". The grave of queen Mumtaz Mahal is placed in the lower chamber which is now no longer open for public viewing. The grave of Shah Jahan was added to it later. The queen’s real name was Arjumand Banu. In the tradition of the Mughals, important ladies of the royal family were given another name at their marriage or at some other significant event in their lives, and that new name was commonly used by the public. Shah Jahan's real name was Shahab-ud-din, and he was known as Prince Khurram before ascending to the throne in 1628.
Taj Mahal - Main Gate or Darwaza

Taj Mahal was constructed over a period of twenty-two years and completed in 1648 A.D, employing twenty thousand workers. It is said that the construction was undertaken under master architect was Ustad ‘Isa, the renowned Islamic architect of his time who employed renowned craftsmen from all over the world. The mausoleum is a part of a vast complex comprising of a main gateway, an elaborate garden, a mosque (to the left), a guest house (to the right), and several other palatial buildings. The Taj is at the farthest end of this complex, with the river Yamuna behind it. The large garden contains four reflecting pools dividing it at the center. Each of these four sections is further subdivided into four sections and then each into yet another four sections. Like the Taj, the garden elements serve like Arabesque, standing on their own and also constituting the whole. The Taj stands on a raised, square platform (186 x 186 feet) i.e. 55 meter on each side, with its four corners truncated, forming an unequal octagon. The architectural design uses the interlocking arabesque concept, in which each element stands on its own and perfectly integrates with the main structure.

Panaromic view of Main Darwaza of Taj Mahal

Close-up of main Darwaza interior

The main gateway (darwaza) is a monumental structure built primarily of marble and is reminiscent of Mughal architecture of earlier emperors. As one enters through Taj Mahal Gate, the calligraphy reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." Its central dome is fifty-eight feet in diameter and rises to a height of 213 feet. It is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. The four graceful, slender minarets are 162.5 feet each. The entire mausoleum (inside as well as outside) is decorated with inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy using precious gems such as agate and jasper (a form of opaque silica crystals). The main archways, chiseled with passages from the Holy Qur’an and the bold scroll work of flowery pattern, give a captivating charm to its beauty. The central domed chamber and four adjoining chambers include many walls and panels of Islamic decoration. There are four large towers each more than 40 meters tall, the minarets display Taj Mahal's penchant for symmetry. These towers are designed as working minarets, a traditional element of mosques. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The minaret chattris share the same finishing touches, a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. Each of the minarets was constructed slightly outside of the plinth, so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many such tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.
Inlay work at main gate of Taj Mahal

The exterior decorations of Taj Mahal are among the finest to be found in Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, a large pishtaq has more area than a smaller, the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint or stucco i.e binding material for building, or by stone inlays or by carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition of the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into - calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs.
Taj Mahal exterior designs

The calligraphy found in Taj Mahal are of florid thuluth script, created by Persian calligrapher, Ammant Khan, who signed several of the panels. The calligraphy is made by jade like silica material called jasper inlaid in white marble panels and the work found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is extremely detailed and delicate. Higher panels are written slightly larger for appropriate & even from viewing below. Throughout the complex, passages from theQuran have been used as decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that Amanat Khan chose the passages as with reference themes of judgment and other relevant quotes.

Calligraphy work on exterior
Abstract forms are used especially in plinth, minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab, and to a lesser extent, on the surfaces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of sandstone buildings are worked with incisions made on surface followed by filling up the same with paint to create elaborate geometric forms. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of marble buildings have been stained or painted dark and thus creating a geometric patterns of considerable complexity.

Abstract forms in Arches

Vegetative motifs are found at the lower walls of the tomb. They are white marble blocks that have been sculpted with realistic depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasize exquisite detailing of these carvings. The dado frames and archway have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits. The inlay stones are yellow marble, jasper and jade, leveled and polished to the surface of the walls.

Vegetative motifs

The interior chamber
of Taj Mahal steps far beyond traditional decorative elements. Here the inlay work is of precious and semiprecious put into the marble and polished to a glossy finish. The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face, though, only the south garden-facing door is used. The interior walls are about 25 metre high and topped by a "false" interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Eight pishtaq arches define the space at ground level. As with the exterior, each lower pishtaq is crowned by a second pishtaq about midway up the wall. The four central upper arches form balconies or viewing areas and each balcony's exterior window has an intricate screen or jali cut from marble. In addition to the light from the balcony screens, light enters through roof openings covered by chattris at the corners. Each chamber wall has been highly decorated with dado bas relief, intricate lapidary inlay and refined calligraphy panels, reflecting in miniature detail of the design elements seen throughout the exterior of the complex. The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels. Each panel has been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid with semiprecious stones in extremely delicate detail, forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

The Masjid at Taj Mahal

Close-up view of a hand rail

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