A long time ago in the land of the Arabs, there was a lady who went by the name of Arjumand Banu. We know very little about her, other than the fact that she was the Sultana of Shah Jehan, the greatest of the Mogul monarchs, and that she resided at Agra, which is located in India. She must have been a nice lady and a decent wife since she passed away while giving birth to her fourteenth child after eighteen years of married life and within twelve months of his succession to the throne in 1629. This indicates that she must have been a good mother. And her husband loved her so much that he sheltered her grave with a mausoleum, which, without question or reservation, is pronounced by all architects and critics to be the most beautiful building in the world – the most sublime and perfect work of human hands. And he did this because he wanted to show her how much he loved her.
It is referred to as the Taj Mahal, which translates to “The Crown of the Palaces.” The name is pronounced “Taash Mahal,” with the emphasis being placed on the last syllable of the final word. The Taj Mahal is located at the bottom of a beautiful garden that is surrounded by groves of cypress trees, on the bank of the River Jumna, opposite the great fortress of Agra. The king of Agra could always see the snowwhite domes and minarets that cover the ashes of his Arab wife from the windows of his palace. Its foundation is a marble terrace four hundred feet square that is elevated eighteen feet above the level of the garden. Benches have been arranged all around it so that one can sit and look and look and look until its wondrous beauty soaks slowly into his consciousness and until the soul is saturated with it. A marble pedestal or platform that is 313 feet square and rises eighteen feet above the terrace is marked at each corner with a marble minaret that is 137 feet high. This structure is so slender, so elegant, and so delicate that it is impossible to imagine of anything that is more so. Within its walls are twisting stairs that allow one to access small balconies similar to those seen on lighthouses. From these balconies, one may gaze at the Taj from various heights and study its intricacies from the top as well as the bottom. The domes that sit atop each of these four minarets are tiny versions of the one that rests above the mausoleum.
There are mosques erected in the style of Byzantine architecture on both the east and west sides of the terrace. These mosques are made of rich red sandstone, which helps to highlight the purity of the marble that was used to make the tomb in the most effective way. These mosques would be recognised as worthy of extended study and boundless appreciation if they were located in any other location and surrounded by any other environment; but, in this location, they are nearly never seen. They are only a lowly component of the picture’s border, much like the trees in the gardens and the river that runs at the base of the terrace, but the border itself encloses a magnificent scene. They were created with the intention of serving a function, which they do quite well. The tomb itself is the only thing that can compete with their beauty.
The enormous mound of pure white marble is 186 feet square and has all four corners chopped off. It is located exactly in the middle of the two red mosques. It is fifty-eight feet in diameter and measures eighty feet from its pedestal to its roof. It is topped by a dome that is likewise eighty feet high when measured from the roof and measures the same distance. The gilded copper spire that sits atop the dome is twenty-eight feet in height, bringing the total height of the monument to 224 feet when measured from the ground level of the garden to the top of the spire. In keeping with the aesthetic of Byzantine architecture, each of the domes is fashioned to resemble an upside-down turnip. The centre dome is surrounded by four smaller domes that are identical copies that are one-eighth the size of the larger dome. These smaller domes are positioned atop arches upon the flat roof of the structure. Each of the eight angles of the roof sprouts a tiny spire or pinnacle, which is an exact replica of the massive minarets in the corners. They are each sixteen feet high, and they are so thin that they seem like alabaster pencils glittering in the sunlight. The identical replication is performed throughout the entirety of the building. The harmony has reached its pinnacle. Every tower, dome, and arch is precisely the same as every other tower, dome, and arch; the only difference is in the size of each structure.
The structure may be approached on either the north or south side via large pointed arches that have perfect proportions and extend over the ceiling. At each corner of the frames that enclose them, there is another minaret that is a miniature of the rest of the minarets. Each of the other six sides of the octagon is pierced by two identical arches, one above the other. These arches open onto galleries that assist to break the power of the sun, which in turn helps to modify the temperature and reduce the amount of light that is transmitted. They are divided from the rotunda by screens of perforated alabaster that are as fine and delicate in design and execution as Brussels point lace. They create a type of colonnade around the structure above and below. The alabaster slabs are 12 feet by 8 feet and are perforated with intricate filigree work that is polished to such a high standard that it seems as if they were designed to be worn as jewels on the crown of an emperor. This trellis work acts as a filter for all of the light that penetrates into the inside of the building.
The rotunda is continuous, with a diameter of one hundred and sixty feet and a height of one hundred and eighty feet from the ground to the top of the dome. It is constructed of the finest white marble available, and it is inlaid with mosaics made of various valuable stones, much like the rest of the structure. The walls, the pillars, the wainscoting, and the whole of the building’s interior and exterior are identical to one another. There are approximately two acres of surface area on the walls of the tomb of Princess Arjamand that are covered with mosaics that are as fine and as perfect as if each setting were a jewel intended for a queen to wear. These mosaics include turquoise, coral, garnet, carnelian, jasper, malachite, agate, lapis lazuli, onyx, nacre, bloodstone, tourmaline, sardonyx, and a dozen other precious stones of Marble walls have twenty-eight distinct kinds of stone inlaid into them throughout its construction.
Northern India is home to some of the world’s most magnificent examples of architectural and ornamental arts, including palaces, temples, and tombs. Their audience rooms, baths, and pavilions are not only not exceeded, but they are not even rivalled in any of the imperial capitals of Europe. Nothing has ever been erected by human hands that is more beautiful or more expensive than the mansions and the sepulchres of the Moguls. The oriental painters and builders of the Mohammedan empires spent vast amounts of money decorating their houses and tombs in the most expensive way possible, and the sophistication of their taste was equivalent to the amount of money they spent.