‘The Taj’ DIVINE | Scripting the Taj Esteem

The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads _


Arabic inscriptions in black marble are used to decorate both the south gateway and main mausoleum. The black marble lettering is inlaid into white marble scroll-like borders that frame the architectural features. Sweeping letters and a strong emphasis on horizontal and vertical strokes create an almost grid-like effect in places.

The exquisite and highly skilled Parchin kari work was developed by Mughal lapid artists from techniques taught to them by Italian craftsmen employed at court. The look of European herbals, books illustrating botanical species was adapted and refined in Mughal Parchin kari work.

Throughout the complex, passages from the Quran are used as decorative elements. Recent scholarship suggests that the passages were chosen by a Persian calligrapher Abdul-Haq, who came to India from Shiraz Iran, in 1609. As a reward for his "dazzling virtuosity", Shah Jahan gave him the title of "Amanat Khan".

This is supported by an inscription near the lines from the Quran at the base of the interior dome that reads "Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi." The texts refer to themes of judgement and include:

The Surah Relates to:
Surah 36 Ya Sin
Surah 39 The Crowds
Surah 48 Victory
Surah 67 Dominion
Surah 77 Those Sent-forth
Surah 81 The Folding Up
Surah 82 The Cleaving Asunder
Surah 84 The Rending Asunder
Surah 89 Daybreak
Surah 91 The Sun
Surah 93 Morning Light
Surah 94 The Solace
Surah 95 The Fig
Surah 98 The Evidence
Surah 112 The Purity of Faith

The text is written in the 'thuluth' script, in a style associated particularly with the Persian calligrapher, Amanat Khan, who was resident at the Mughal court. His signature appears in colophons within the marble inscriptions helped in charting The Taj datelines as well.

Abstract forms are used throughout, especially in the plinth, minarets, gateway, mosque, jawab and, to a lesser extent, on the sur faces of the tomb. The domes and vaults of the sandstone buildings are worked with tracery of incised painting to create elaborate geometric forms.

Much of the calligr aphy is composed of flor id thuluth script, made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white mar ble panels. Higher panels are wr itten in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particular ly detailed and delicate.

Herringbone inlays define the space between many of the adjoining elements. White inlays are used in sandstone buildings, and dark or black inlays on the white marbles. Mortared areas of the marble buildings have been stained or painted in a contrasting colour, creating geometric patterns of consider able complexity. Floors and walkways use contr asting tiles or blocks in tessellation patterns.

The inlay stones are of yellow marble, jasper and jade, polished and levelled to the surface of the walls. 

On the lower walls of the tomb there are white marble dados that have been sculpted with realistic bas relief depictions of flowers and vines. The marble has been polished to emphasise the exquisite detailing of the car vings and the dado frames and archway spandrels have been decorated with pietra dura inlays of highly stylised, almost geometric vines, flowers and fruits.

As historians suggest that Amanat Khan was responsible not only for the design of the script but also for the choice of text. The texts chosen refer broadly to themes of judgement and par adisiacal rewards for the faithful. The inscription over the gateway invites the reader to enter Paradise, the abode of the faithful and reward for the righteous.

The majority of the text is taken from the Qur'an. There are twenty two passages in all, including fourteen whole chapters, some of which are read out as part of the Islamic funeral ceremony itself.

The inscriptions on the exterior walls of the tomb leave one in no doubt about the impending doom that awaits unbelievers on the Day of Judgements.

Inside the mausoleum, the tone is more reassur ing in places, with lengthy descriptions of Paradise adorning some of the walls.

The central focus is provided by passages on the upper cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal.

The words of the Qur'anic prayer, recited by angels, implore Allah to allow the faithful to enterParadise, a touching request for God's mercy towards his devout servant, Mumtaz Mahal.

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