Entrance to Taj Mahal
Shah Jahan travelled from the fort to the tomb by boat. Court histories
describe his arrival on the river side of the monument and his ascent to its
terrace by way of the embankment. This approach, however, was reserved for
the emperor and members of his party. Others passed through a large
courtyard, a jilokhana to enter the main gateway on the south. This
courtyard was a place where travellers halted. Here, also, the poor were
provided with food and shelter, and on every death anniversary of Mumtaz,
vast sums were distributed in charity.
In this courtyard stand the main gateway to the Taj and its gardens, a
massive portal that opens to the south. Detached gateways were long a
traditional feature of Muslim architecture and could be found fronting tombs
and mosques throughout the East. Symbolically to the Muslim, such an
entrance way was the gate to Paradise. Metaphysically, it represented the
transition point between the outer world of the senses and the inner world
of the spirit.
Made of red sandstone, this 150 ft. wide and nearly 100 ft. high, gateway
consists of a lofty central arch with double storeyed wings on either side.
Octagonal towers are attached to its corners which are surmounted by broad
impressive open domed kiosks. The most important feature of the gateway is a
series of 11 attached chhatris (umbrellas) with marble cupolas, flanked by
pinnacles, above the central portal on the north and south sides. A heavy
door at the base is made from 8 different metals and studded with knobs.
Inside are countless rooms with hallways that wind and divide in such
apparent abandon that they seem intentionally built to confuse; perhaps they
were, for they have remained unused for three centuries and their purpose
has long confounded the experts. Within the archway of this majestic
entrance, there is a large chamber with a vaulted roof.
The gateway is richly embellished. Of particular note are the floral
arabesques fashioned from gemstones and inlaid in white marble which
decorate the spandrels of the arches. Also impressive are the inlaid black
marble inscriptions that frame the central vaulted portal or iwan. These
passages are excerpts from the Koran, which is considered by Muslims to be
the word of God as revealed to Mohammed. It is here that Shah Jehan's
calligraphers have performed an amazing optical trick : the size of the
lettering that runs up and over the arch appears to be consistent from top
to bottom. This illusion was created by gradually heightening the size of
the letters as their distance from the eye increased; from the ground the
dimensions seem the same at every point. This effect is used with equal
success on the main doorway of the Taj Mahal Indien itself.