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The Taj Mahal

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Akbar Ahmed looks at the passion and theology behind the great monument to love.

If there is one monument of romance instantly recognised throughout the world that speaks to all peoples irrespective of colour, nationality or religion it is the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to honour his wife the Empress Mumtaz Mahal. It is assumed that 'Taj Mahal' – 'Crown of the palace' – is an abbreviated version of Mumtaz Mahal's name, (itself meaning Exalted One of the Palace). Court histories from Shah Jahan's time simply called it the rauza (tomb) of Mumtaz Mahal. It was completed in 1648, almost twenty years after she died. But the Taj Mahal can be seen not only as a mausoleum for the empress but also as the glorious climax of Mughal architecture in India. Babur, the founder of the dynasty, had come to India with firm ideas about art and architecture from his ancestral home in Central Asia. Samarkand and Bukhara had been the glittering capitals of his ancestors, Taimur and Uleg Beg. His son, Humayun, was exiled to Iran and returned with Safavid architects and artists. Red stone and white marble – the Indian contribution to Islamic architecture – were now blended with traditional Islamic styles and materials. Indeed it was Humayun's own tomb, built in the 1560s in Delhi, which began the trend in Mughal architecture to reflect the glory, splendour and power of the empire through the burial place. The running water, the pavilions and gardens can all be seen in Humayun's tomb.

During the reign of Humayun's son, Akbar, the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri were constructed. Akbar's tomb at Sikandra which was unfinished at the time of his death in 1605, was completed by his son Jahangir. European visitors found it the most notable building in the region until the building of the Taj Mahal.

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