What Were the Sources for the Design of the Taj Mahal?

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What were the sources for the design of the Taj Mahal?

Conceived as both an instrument of propaganda and of an earthly replica of the house of Mumtaz in paradise, the Taj Mahal is considered one of the most beautiful and symbolic buildings in the world. It is the finest examples of Mughal architecture, a style that merges elements from Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles, and a style that greatly influenced the Hindu community. Throughout history, the origins and sources that were used for the design of the Taj Mahal and the effect that the Mughals had in India over architecture, has been of argument. I examine such views to suggest the direct and indirect sources of influence for both the style and design of the Taj Mahal.

Before attempting to draw from the sources of which the Taj Mahal’s design was based, one must first look at the general outlook on Mughal art in India. They had both a love for colour and for elaborate decoration, adopting many different manners. In the art and architecture of Akbar’s period, an attempt was made to sough cultural fusion. This period shows the first evidence of Hindu symbols being used in Mughal architecture. Many icons and symbols from ancient times in modified and original form were used as decorative motifs throughout the Mughal period, but with a complete change of policy with the reign of Aurangzeb (who was puritan at heart, hating everything Islamic), these motifs became only for aesthetic effect rather than symbolic. But along with these motifs, typical Islamic elements – geometry, calligraphy and arabesque features – continued to appear.

The Taj Mahal is an example of this emergence of rich architecture. It is said that many holistic symbols of Hindus had been followed in designing the Taj Mahal, and, some would say most importantly, the lotus. The lotus is a holy symbol of Indian cultural heritage. It is mentioned in all Hindu scriptures and is highly sacred, as one can see with Lord Brahama and Vishnu, who are always depicted in a lotus. Often used as a simile to the feet of the Gods, it is the most prominent Hindu symbol used in the Taj Mahal – its dome resembling the upside-closed lotus resting on its petals, topped by a gilded finial, which mixes traditional Islamic and Hindu decorative elements. Purankalsa Purnakalasa also known as Purnakumbha, Purnaghata and Mangalakalasa is one of the eight propitious symbols of Indian classical art. It is a symbol of plenty and creativity. This symbol is usually associated with Lakshmi, and with over flowing foliage composed of lotus buds, flowers and leaves. The motifs of Purankalsa appear in their finest form on the interiors of Taj Mahal.

Not only does the Taj Mahal mark the zenith of Mughal architecture, but also it is the culmination of tomb architecture – which began with the building of Humayun’s mausoleum. It is celebrated for being architecturally magnificent and shrouded in aesthetic beauty – synonymous with India. Its main structure adheres to the Islamic style, which had flourished in India, and is also referred to as Indo-Islamic. The monument itself is seat around a Charbagh – a four garden plan, split by waterways. These are a reflection of Persian style.

Covered in white marble, decorated with pietra dura, the Taj Mahal is a huge complex of many different distinct parts in terms of design and architecture. As Percy Brown, the noted art historian observes, the Taj “resembles the spirited sweep of a brush rather than the slow laborious cutting of a chisel”. Up to 35 types of precious stone have been used to decorate and depict the ninety-nine names of Allah on the eastern and western sides of Mumtaz’s grave. The Gateway, at thirty metres high is topped with cupolas or chhatris, and the divide between the material and spiritual is symbolic and highly decorated in calligraphy with verses from the holy Koran.

With diplomatic links with European nations being established before the construction of...
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