Thursday, January 05, 2012

Architectural Masterpiece

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, the architectural masterpiece of the Islamic ruler of India, Shah Jehan, was built using artisans from Baghdad, Constantinople, and other centers of the Muslim faith. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar component of the Taj Mahal, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen.  The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision, including Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.  
Jehan spent the last years of his life viewing his masterpiece from a jail cell:

"A brutal, wasteful, and ruthless emperor, who ordered the killing of all his male relations who might possibly claim the throne, Shah Jehan (ruled 1627-1658 CE) also had a passion for architecture, and he imported Italian artists who taught his craftsmen the art of inlaying marble with a mosaic of precious stones. He built forts with luxurious halls bearing panels of Florentine mosaic on black marble, as well as ceilings and arches carved with such skill they looked like lace. However, he is mostly remembered for the hauntingly beautiful Taj Mahal, a tribute to his eternal love for his beauteous queen, Mumtaz Mahal (Exalted of the Palace). Mumtaz gave her husband fourteen children in eighteen years and died in childbirth at the age of thirty-nine.

"In 1632, the mausoleum was built for the queen by the inconsolable Shah Jehan. There is no trace of Hindu influence. Artisans were brought from Baghdad, Constantinople, and other centers of the Muslim faith. It took twenty-two years and twenty-two thousand laborers and craftsmen from India, Asia, and Europe to build the white marble Taj. The building is set in a Persian landscaped garden on the banks of the Yamuna River. The Taj Mahal is exquisitely proportioned, with minarets and a central dome mirrored in a reflecting pool. It features perforated marble grilles, semiprecious stones (including jasper, lapis lazuli, and bloodstone) inlaid in marble, as well as arabesques and chevrons. There is hardly a break between the stones. One flower an inch square can have sixty different inlays. The Taj Mahal reflects the varying moods of night and day: brilliant and dazzling at noon, warm and glowing at dusk, and ethereal in the moonlight. The main entrance was once guarded with heavy silver gates. The stone carving is of alabaster lace, beautiful and sublime with delicate detail.

"Another legendary work of art created at this time was the Peacock Throne, which took seven years to complete. It was legendary for its components of precious metals and stones. Four legs of gold supported the seat, and twelve pillars of emeralds held up the enameled canopy, while each pillar bore two peacocks glittering with rubies and pearls. Between the peacocks was a tree, covered with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and pearls. The fabled throne was carried off to Persia in 1739 by Nadir Shah and then was gradually dismantled to pay off the expenses of the royal personages.

"Yet another project on a grand scale, the Red Fort (Lal Kila) - of red sandstone - was built in Delhi in 1640. It includes towering ramparts, factories, storehouses, military barracks, stables, and a mint. It housed thousands of servants, courtiers, and princesses. A magnificent mosque, Jama Masjid, was built facing the main entrance. Every Friday, tens of thousands of Muslims in India still gather here to pray at noon.

"Shah Jehan, the most lavish spender of the Moghul emperors, ruled for three decades. He began his reign by killing his brothers but neglected to kill his sons, one of whom, Aurangzeb, not only overthrew him but imprisoned him. Shah Jehan languished in prison for eight years, looking sorrowfully through a grille at his creation, the Taj Mahal, where the body of his beloved rested."

Source:  India: an Illustrated History by Prem Kishore & Anuradha Kishore Ganpati.  Hippocrene, New York.  2003.  (Pages: 86-90)

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