A grand Islamic mausoleum influenced by core Hindu ‘architectural’ beliefs –
It is no secret that the inner-side of the Taj Mahal complex wall (facing the garden) are fronted by columned arcades that were directly inspired by the imposing Hindu temples before the era of Delhi Sultanate. However, quite interestingly, the influence goes much deeper than the frontage of the compound walls. In that regard, Hindu building practices specifically mentioned in the Vishnudharmottara Purana pertain to use of white stones for the Brahmins (the class of priests) and the use of red stones for the Kshatriyas (the class of rulers and warriors). The Mughals emulated both of these practices, to justify their rule and adoption of their new homeland – India.
According to a 2009 paper submitted by IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Prof R. Balasubramaniam, even the basic unit of construction used for Taj Mahal was ‘Aṅgula’, as opposed to the traditional Mughal ‘gaz’. Incredibly enough, the ‘Aṅgula’ was first mentioned in the famous Arthasastra, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft and military strategy, penned way back during 4th century BC. Some historians also believe that this constructional unit in turn came to the Indo-Aryans from the earlier yet advanced Indus Valley Civilization, circa 2600–1900 BC.
Plant metaphors and acoustic engineering –
As we mentioned before, the profound effect of the tiered Charbagh (gardens) replicated the orderliness of the permanent yet stylized landscaping of Paradise. However, Mughal propaganda also reached the heights of metaphors in an ‘earthly’ fashion. To that end, Shah Jahan was depicted as an “erect cypress of the garden of the caliphate” by many of his praising chroniclers, in allusion to his impressive governance. The plant metaphors also extended to his family members and court, with their representations manifested by the garden specimens of Taj Mahal – which perhaps once again harks back to the Hindu traditions of ‘purna ghata‘.
And beyond intangible metaphors, the Taj Mahal still manages to baffle contemporary architects and builders by virtue of its evolved engineering credentials. One exemplary component of this refined construction is the acoustic system inside the mausoleum that expresses the notion of paradise. Accordingly, the building was designed in a such a way so that the interior reverberation time is exactly 28 seconds – which aided in an enchanting ambiance of echoing words when prayers were offered to Mumtaz Mahal.
There is also a ‘Black Taj Mahal’, but it is not what you think!
The legend of the Black Taj Mahal was first concocted by European traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, when he visited the famed Agra site in 1665. Even archaeological surveys done in the 1990’s yielded blackened marble stones that were found in the garden of Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), which is situated on the northern side of the Taj Mahal complex, across the river of Yamuna. But later examinations proved beyond doubt that these were indeed discolored white marble specimens affected by both time and pollution.
So, this brings us to the million dollar question – was there a Black Taj Mahal? Well, the answer is – sort of. In 2006, historians finally stumbled across the ‘black version’, which is in fact the dark reflection of the original Taj Mahal, as seen in the pool of the oppositely located Mehtab Bagh. This fascinating discovery further demonstrates the immaculate symmetry of the Taj, along with the deft positioning of the reflecting pool across the river.
Source: TajMahal.gov.in / Wonders of the World (book).