A mausoleum that represents a man’s love for his departed wife and an entire empire’s strategic supremacy over the land it ruled, the Taj Mahal is a wonder of the world that many have witnessed, but only a few know its secrets.
Before we divulge all the intriguing secrets that surround the undisputed pride of India, the Taj; here’s some trivia on it:
The Taj was commissioned by Mughal Ruler Shah Jahan, who envisioned it as a grand tomb for his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Built in Agra on the southern right bank of river Yamuna, the building of the Taj commenced in 1632 and took about 22 years to fully complete. Nearly 20,000 workers from Persia, India and the Ottoman Empire were called upon to build this historic monument.
A fable describes how Shah Jahan cut off the hands of the architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori so that he couldn’t create another masterpiece like the Taj ever again. But historians have never found any proof of this incident ever taking place.
This wondrous monument that is the pride and joy of India beckons many travelers from across the globe who traverse continents to witness its beauty. But there are some elusive details that most travelers don't know about this famous monument. Here are a few of the facts that aren't too well-known:
1. The walls of the Taj were, once upon a time, embedded with precious jewels.
On completion, the Taj Mahal, built in marble, glistened with precious jewels that were engraved in its walls. This was done so that the Taj would appear to sparkle when light fell on it. However, over the centuries, the Taj has been the victim of many raids and plunders that have resulted in most of those jewels being stolen. That being said, the brilliant marble of the Taj continues to dazzle and mesmerize onlookers, particularly on full moon nights.
2. The architecture of the Taj and its complex were designed to give you optical illusions
It is reported that as you enter the main gateway of the complex, the Taj appears to be enormous and framed by the arches of the gateway, and as you move closer to it, it appears to shrink- making it a phenomenon that is opposite to what the human mind, at an average, would expect.
The towers that flank the main minaret give you yet another illusion of perfect symmetry. They appear to be perfectly straight but, in reality, are slightly tilted outwardly! This was no mistake; it was rather a calculated move by the architects to ensure that should there ever be a natural calamity in the region, the towers don't collapse on the main minaret but fall 'out' instead, keeping the mausoleum safe!
3. Unlike every inch of the Taj that is perfectly calculated, Shah Jahan’s cenotaph's placement isn't in symmetry!
The empty cenotaphs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan placed on the top floor of the Taj (the real ones are placed on a lower floor, where entry is restricted) are not placed in perfect symmetry.
History claims that Shah Jahan had never intended his tomb to be in the Taj. In fact, there was to be another monument mirroring the Taj and built opposite it on the other side of the river, in black, where he would be laid to rest (recorded as the Black Taj). However, the project never saw the light of day because Shah Jahan was deposed and imprisoned for life by his son Aurangzeb (ironically the son of Mumtaz Mahal).
4. Original tombs are rather simple in keeping with tradition.
As mentioned earlier, the real tombs are placed on the lower floor. These originals are rather simple in comparison to the bejeweled replicas one sees below. This was done in keeping with the Islamic tradition that doesn't allow tombstones to be decorated with jewels. With this, the historians have managed to keep up with the visitor expectation of ultra-grandeur and respect religious sentiment at the same time.
5. The Taj still bears the autograph of its calligrapher.
The walls of the Taj house some of the most captivating geometric and floral inlays. They also bear intricate calligraphy that reads the teachings of the Quran. Amanat Khan designed these letters and overlooked the artisans as they meticulously carved them into marble and overlaid them with another stone. One can read “Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi", engraved below the engraved preaching.
6. The Taj has an error that honours God!
The Taj is a magnificent work of architecture that appears flawless to the average onlooker. But a few years back, academician Dilip Ahuja conducted a simple experiment to prove that, in fact, the main dome of the Taj was imperfect. The experiment included cutting a picture of the main dome from the centre and checking its alignment. Indeed, the alignment was off by 5.5%, proving Mr. Ahuja's point right.
Many believe that this was a meditated decision of the architect, who included this minor imperfection to honour God in keeping with the Islamic tradition of doing so.
Situated in Agra, The Taj Mahal is an absolute must-visit when visiting North India and Delhi in particular, seeing that it is only a two-hour drive away. The city itself has plenty to offer its guests, but that discussion we'll save for a later date.
Have you visited Agra and seen the Taj yet?