The Taj Mahal

A white marble tomb built in 1631-48 in Agra, seat of the Mugal Empire by Shah Jehan for his wife, Arjuman Banu Begum, the monument sums up many of the formal themes that have played through Islamic architecture.

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white marble tomb built in 1631-48 in Agra, seat of the Mugal Empire by Shah Jehan for his wife, Arjuman Banu Begum, the monument sums up many of the formal themes that have played through Islamic architecture.

Major General Sir W.H. Sleeman, administrator in the Bengal Army, who had been to the Taj (Mahal) in 1836, published Rambles and Recollections of an Indian official in 1844. He wrote that for him the building stood alone in architecture for its `entire harmony of parts, a faultless congregation of architectural beauties, on which (the mind) could dwell for ever without fatigue'. (His wife wished for a similar burial place: `I would die tomorrow to have such another over me.')

The dome of the Taj, however, surpassed for the American Bayard Taylor the finest European dome that he could think of. Its lightness reminded him of a `silver bubble, about to burst in the sun'.

Such was the teasing marvel of the Taj, simultaneously and mysteriously aloof and alluring, that the English artist Edward Lear could not paint it. Confronted by the great building on his visit of 16 February 1874, he concentrates on the luxuriant gardens with their bright green parrots `flitting across like live emeralds', and goes on: `What can I do here? Certainly not the architecture, which I naturally shall not attempt, except perhaps in a slight sketch of one or two direct garden views'. He mentally divides the human race into two categories: those who have seen the Taj and those who have not.

The Mughals `designed like giants, and finished like jewellers' (the remark was by Bishop Heber). For Kipling it was `the Ivory gate through which all dreams pass.

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