The Taj Mahal, a mausoleum of white marble, was built in Agra, India, between 1631 and 1648 in memory of emperor Shah Jahan's favorite wife. Designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site, the Taj Mahal is admired across the world as a masterpiece of Indian art.

Photograph by Kyle Merriman, My Shot
  • Audience:

    The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called the Taj Mahal a "teardrop on the cheek of time." It remains a testament to the grief—and power—of an emperor.

    The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Shah Jahan, who ruled the Mughal Empire (with its capital in Agra) for 30 years, had the mausoleum constructed to honor his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after her death in 1631.

    The main mausoleum of the Taj Mahal took more than 15 years to complete. (The site also includes a mosque and assembly hall (not visible in this beautiful photograph) and elaborate gardens.) The white marble dome soars 171 meters (561 feet) above a pink sandstone base. Four minarets frame the main mausoleum complex.

    The finial atop the dome is uniquely Indian, recognizing the region's religious diversity. The finial incorporates a crescent moon, the symbol of Islam (the religion of both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal). But by placing the moon with its horns (points) pointing to the heavens in a U-shape, the moon and finial resemble a trident—a traditional symbol of the powerful Hindu god Shiva.

    Legend has it that Shah Jahan intended to have a "Black Taj" constructed as his own mausoleum. Conflict within the empire prevented any plans or construction of the Black Taj. Both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are buried beneath the dome of the Taj.

    • "The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs
      And the sun and moon shed tears from their eyes."
    • Shah Jahan
    • "Did you ever build a castle in the air? Here is one, brought down to the Earth and fixed for the wonder of the ages."
    • Bayard Taylor, writer
    • "Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stone."
    • Sir Edwin Arnold, poet
    • "It appears like a perfect pearl on an azure ground."
    • William Hodges, painter
    • "After hearing many praises ever since I had been in India, I felt that its beauty exceeded, rather than fell short of my expectations."
    • Reginald Herber, Bishop of Calcutta
    • "Properly speaking, the Sultan's memory is more perpetuated by this building than that of his [wife]."
    • Ida Pfeiffer, explorer
    • "Marble, I perceive, covers a multitude of sins."
    • Aldous Huxley, writer
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    architecture Noun

    style and design of buildings or open spaces.

    crescent Noun

    shape of a half-circle with thin ends.

    emperor Noun

    ruler of an empire.

    finial Noun

    small, ornamental feature on top of a pointed spire or canopy.

    grief Noun

    sadness, usually caused by a great loss.

    Hindu Noun

    religion of the Indian subcontinent with many different sub-types, most based around the idea of "daily morality."

    Islam Noun

    religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    mausoleum Noun

    impressive tomb or burial site.

    minaret Noun

    tower used to call Muslim worshippers to prayer.

    mosque Noun

    place of worship in the Muslim or Islamic religion.

    Mughal Empire Noun (15261764) territories throughout the Indian subcontinent. Also called the Mogul Empire.
    Rabindranath Tagore Noun

    Indian writer and philosopher.

    Taj Mahal Noun

    (1632) large, white mausoleum complex in Agra, India, built by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz.

    testament Noun

    proof or evidence.

    trident Noun

    three-pronged tool or weapon.