William and Kate pose on Taj Mahal bench
India’s most iconic structure, the Taj Mahal, has stood strong for almost 400 years. Construction began in 1632 under the orders of the Great Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan. After his favourite wife and closest adviser Mumtaz Mahal died after childbirth complications, the Emperor was severely affected. He and Mumtaz are said to have had a “European romance” – love that was real and raw, despite their arranged marriage.
Thus when she passed away in 1631, Shah Jahan felt the best way to preserve her memory was to enshrine her in the grandest of tombs for the next life.
The Taj has since become a pilgrimage site for Muslims, and a tourist attraction for people around the world.
Since 2006, however, the Taj has been closely guarded by Indian military.
This is, as the National Geographic’s documentary, ‘Secrets of the Taj Mahal’ explained, the result of “bomb threats from terrorists and religious fundamentalists”.
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It is now guarded “around the clock” with access to the mausoleum tightly controlled and filming strictly forbidden.
No one currently knows when these security protocols will be lifted with precious secrets still hidden deep in the Palace.
Art historian Professor Ebba Koch was lucky enough to gain uninhibited access to the Taj and decode many of its mysteries years before the restrictions were put into place.
She managed to decode the religious symbolism of the Taj and the surrounding Palace, explaining: “The Taj Mahal is the architectural embodiment of this life and of the next according to Islamic belief.
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“The ground plans show this duality.
“The complex is split between the tomb garden with its mausoleum and a worldly side meant for bazaars and markets.
“What’s interesting is that the worldly side is the mirror image of the mausoleum side.
“The connecting square with the great main gate marks the transition to the tomb garden and opens up the view to the mausoleum.”
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At the centre of the mausoleum is what has been described as the most “holy and holies”, the most splendid room in the Taj Mahal – the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal.
Prof Koch later unravelled the deeply symbolic colour scheme of the Taj.
She said: “The worldly elements and other buildings are all clad in red sandstone.
“White is reserved for the mausoleum: this is to be a building of enlightenment and Earthly representation of the heavenly house where Mumtaz Mahal will live for eternity.
“The pure white stands for the spirituality and faith of the person buried here.”
She continued: “The garden is the heart of the Taj Mahal, it’s an Earthly picture of the paradise of the Koran: two paths divide the terrain into four squares.
“The channels along the path representative the rivers of paradise in the Koran; where the channels meet there’s a pool.
“This is symbolic of the celestial pool where the faithful quench their first when they arrive in paradise.”
The Taj Mahal project nearly cost Shah Jahan his Mogul Empire, as he funelled all available resources into Mumtaz Mahal’s memory.
He later fell ill, and his third son, Aurangzeb, declared him too incompetent to rule and placed him under house arrest in Agra Fort.
He lived out the rest of his life in solitary confinement, with a view of his powerful creation through a small window.
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