The Taj Mahal is many things. It’s a seventeenth century mausoleum built by Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. As such, it’s often called a monument to love.
Mumtaz Mahal Begum (Exalted One of the Palace) was the Shah’s second wife, and chief consort. She died giving birth to her fourteenth child. Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a monument to her.
The Taj Mahal is also an outstanding example of Mughal architecture attracting over eight million visitors annually. In their eagerness to reach the monument and take pictures, visitors often walk through the gardens without realizing that they are as much a part of the monument as the white marble.
PERSIAN & ISLAMIC GARDENS of PARADISE
The garden architecture that once surrounded the Taj Mahal began with the gardens Cyrus the Great built at his palace complex at Pasargadai. These were conceived to represent the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water, and plants. The gardens were Paradise, a word that entered European languages from the Persian root word, Pardi.
The one garden is divided into four sections called the Chahār Bāgh. Other characteristics are a high surrounding wall, straight channels of water, bubbling fountains, trees for shade and fruit, and flowers. Islamic designers saw the gardens as emulating the Garden of Eden with four rivers and four quadrants representing the world.
These elements can still be seen in the Gardens of the Alhambra which was converted to a Moorish palace by the Sultan of Granada in 1333. Moorish designers planned a garden with roses, oranges, and myrtles as well as water features. The Palacio de Gereralife (Architect’s Garden) includes the Patio de la Acequia, or Court of the Water Channel, a long pool framed by flowerbeds and decorated with fountains and pavilions.
The most important features of Islamic gardens were running water and a pool to reflect the sky, trees for fruit and shade, flowers for color and fragrance, birds to fill the garden with song, and pleasant breezes.
Babur, the first Mughal emperor brought Islamic gardens to the Indian sub-content as he established his empire in the sixteenth century. The first important Islamic garden in India, still visited by tourists today, is Humayun’s Tomb. Humayun was Babur’s son. After his death in 1556, his chief consort Empress Bega Begum dedicated herself to building an appropriate memorial. Completed in 1572, it was the first Chahār Bāgh Garden in India.
The tomb stands in the center of a thirty acre Chahār Bāgh. The enclosed garden is divided by walkways and two bisecting central water channels to depicted the four rivers of Paradise. Each square is subdivided into smaller squares. These gardens and their tomb became a precursor for Shah Jahan’s design of the Taj Mahal.
The design for the Taj Mahal and its gardens encompasses the Yamuna River which flows behind the tomb, with a Moonlit Garden (Mahtab Bagh) on the opposite side of the river. With the inclusion of the Moonlit Garden, the Taj Mahal is in the traditional center of the garden. The picture below is the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River.
The formal layout has raised pathways divided into four quarters each of which was subdivided to form sixteen flowerbeds. The garden had four hundred plants including Cyprus trees symbolizing death and fruit trees representing life. Favorite trees were mango, lemon, and pomegranate. Early accounts describe roses, daffodils, hibiscus, and jasmine flowers.
Opening Photo of Taj Mahal by Author.
Mumtaz Mahal (1820 rendering). Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Cyrus the Great Relief at entrance to Pasargadae by Siamax. Creative Commons Attribution. Wikimedia Commons.
Patio de la Acequia at the Alhambra by Andrew Dunn. Creative Commons Attribution. Wikimedia Commons.
Babur supervising creation of a garden. Public Domain. Wikimedia Gardens.
Grounds at Humayun’s Tomb. Photo by Author.
Taj Mahal. 1890. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Eighteenth century rendering of Taj Mahal with Moonlit Gardens. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River. Photo by Author.
The Persian Garden. World Heritage List.
K. E. Eduljee. Persian Gardens. Heritage Institute.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth is available as an audiobook.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.