The Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan (1628-1658), grandson of Akbar the great, in the memory of his queen Mumtaz Mahal, epitomizes the pre-eminence of both Mughal and Indian architecture. Mumtaz Mahal or Arjumand Bano Beegum was a niece of Empress Nur Jahan and granddaughter of Mirza Ghias Beg I’timad-ud-Daula, wazir of emperor Jehangir. She died in 1631 during the birth of her fourteenth child at Burhanpur. Her mortal remains were temporarily buried in the Zainabad garden from where it was relocated to Agra to be enshrined in the crypt of the main tomb of Taj Mahal. Presently Taj is the mausoleum of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jehan.
The land where the Taj Mahal now stands originally belonged to the Kachhwahas of Ajmer (Rajasthan) which is now in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The land was acquired from them in lieu of four havelis as is testified by a court historian, Abdul Hamid Lahauri, in his work titled the Badshah-Namah and the firmans (royal decrees).
Located on the right bank of River Yamuna, Taj Mahal required a tremendous endeavor of 17 years by the masons, stonecutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome-builders and other artisans, requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran, who finished it in the year 1648. While bricks for internal constructions were locally prepared, white marble for external use in veneering work was obtained from Makrana in Rajasthan. Semi-precious stones for inlay ornamentation were brought from distant regions of India, Ceylon and Afghanistan. Red sandstone of different tints was obtained from the neighboring quarries of Sikri, Dholpur, etc.
In all, the Taj Mahal covers an area of 60 bighas, as the terrain gradually sloped from south to north, towards the river, in the form of descending terraces. At the southern point is the forecourt with the main gate in front and tombs of Akbarabadi Begum and Fatehpuri Begum, two other queens of Shah Jehan, on its southeast and southwest corners respectively called Saheli Burj 1 and 2.
The spacious square garden on the second terrace is divided into four quarters by broad shallow canals of water, with wide walkways and cypress avenues on the sides. These four quarters are further divided into the smaller quarters by broad causeways, so that the whole scheme is in a perfect char-bagh.
The main tomb of the Taj is basically square with chamfered corners. Red sandstone mosque on the western side, Mehman-Khana on the eastern side of the tomb and the polychrome inlay art both in the interior and exterior provides an aesthetic colour contrast.