The Taj Mahal was built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of roughly three acres was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage and leveled at 50 meters above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble as the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. According to the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold, and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. A fifteen kilometer tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and materials to the construction site. Teams of twenty or thirty oxen were strained to pull blocks on specially constructed wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage tank and raised to large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex.
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete. The remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and were completed in order of minarets, mosque and jawab and gateway. Since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on "completion". For example, the mausoleum itself was essentially complete by 1643, but work continued on the rest of the complex. Estimates of the cost of the construction of Taj Mahal vary due to difficulties in estimating construction costs across time. The total cost of construction has been estimated to be about 32 million Rupees at that time which now runs into trillions of Dollars if converted to present currency rates.
The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials during the construction. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
Artist's impression of the Taj Mahal, from the Smithsonian Institution
A labour force of twenty thousand workers was recruited across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers were part of the thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit. Some of the builders involved in construction of Taj Mahal are:
The main dome was designed by Ismail Afandi (a.ka. Ismail Khan), of the Ottoman Empire and was considered as a premier designer of hemispheres and domes.
Ustad Isa of Persia (Iran) and Isa Muhammad Effendi of Persia (Iran), trained by Koca Mimar Sinan Agha of Ottoman Empire, are frequently credited with a key role in the architectural design, but there is little evidence to support this claim.
'Puru' from Benarus, Persia (Iran) has been mentioned as a supervising architect.
Qazim Khan, a native of Lahore, cast the solid gold finial.
Chiranjilal, a lapidary from Delhi, was chosen as the chief sculptor and mosaicist.
Amanat Khan from Shiraz, Iran was the chief calligrapher. His name has been inscribed at the end of the inscription on the Taj Mahal gateway.
Muhammad Hanif was a supervisor of masons and Mir Abdul Karim and Mukkarimat Khan of Shiraz, Iran (Persia) handled finances and management of daily production.
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