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The sun rises behind the Taj Mahal

Garden and pavilions of the Taj Mahal found to align with rays of the sun

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New research has revealed that the gardens of the Taj Mahal, and the structures within it, align with the rising and setting sun during the summer and winter solstices. While the reason for constructing the gardens along astronomical alignments is not known, scientists have suggested that it may have had symbolic meaning as well as practical purpose.

Popular accounts assert that 17 th century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who to his great grief died in childbirth, though some historians suggest that the emperor merely altered and added to a pre-existing Hindu temple .

It is ironic that so many slaves suffered in extremely hard labor and even death to build a huge, elaborate love tomb in white marble for a woman who was part of an imperial system that enslaved the very people building her death monument. The construction of the Taj Mahal, which took 20 years, was said to bankrupt the Mughal state.

However much the slaves suffered, their labor left the world a legacy of a beautiful, intricate monument that has been celebrated since it was completed about 1652 A.D. in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

The intricacy of the design of the buildings, structures and gardens of the Taj Mahal is just now becoming clear with a new study by Amelia Carolina Sparavigna of the Department of Applied Science and Technology at Politecnico di Torino in Italy.

Sparavigna found that this prototypical Mughal garden with its imposing 200-foot tall mausoleum was designed so that (see photo below), from the center of the southern part of the garden, the directions of sunrise (yellow) and sunset (orange) on winter and summer solstices pass through the pavilions at the four corners of the garden.

Taj Mahal Gardens

For example, if a person stood at the center of the garden and looked to the pavilion at the northeast corner of the garden he would see the rising sun on the summer solstice.

One of the four pavilions of the Taj Mahal

One of the four pavilions of the Taj Mahal ( Dan Searle photo/Wikimedia Commons )

Sparavigna has been studying sun alignments on various structures around the world.  In January 2015 Ancient Origins reported on Sparavigna’s work that showed the builders of an ancient Roman fort in northern England aligned it so the sun’s rays shone through the gates at dawn and sunset on the winter and summer solstice. She suggested construction of the fort was designed in such a way for the inhabitants to engage in sun worship and pay homage to solar deities.  

This latest study concerns Persian-influenced charbagh gardens of the Mughal Dynasty.

“The Mughal gardens are a typical form of landscape architecture developed by the Mughal Dynasty. These gardens had a style heavily influenced by the Persian gardens of charbagh structure, with a use of rectilinear layouts within walled enclosures,” Sparavigna wrote at Philica .

“Respect and reverence for water and trees which, as told in a recent paper, were so strong in many ancient civilizations, assumed in Persia the architectural form of beautiful gardens,” she wrote. “Their design influenced the layout of other gardens in the world, from those of Al-Andalus to the magnificent gardens of the Mughal Dynasty. … the Avestan word pairidaeza, meaning ‘walled garden’, passed into Ancient Greek paradeisos, which was rendered into the Latin paradisus, and the Garden of Eden became the Paradise on Earth.”

Further, the layout of the Taj Mahal and other charbagh gardens represents the axis mundi and the Garden of Eden with its four rivers and quadrants.

The Tomb of Humayun

The Tomb of Humayun, another Mughal emperor, which influenced design of the Taj Mahal. ( Jorge Lascar photo/Flickr )

According to the New World Encyclopedia, the axis mundi, or cosmic axis, “is a symbol representing the center of the world where the heaven (sky) connects with the earth… Its proximity to heaven may carry implications that are chiefly religious (pagoda, temple mount, church) or secular (obelisk, minaret, lighthouse, rocket, skyscraper). Additionally, the axis mundi may be feminine (an umbilical providing nourishment), masculine (a phallus providing insemination into a uterus), or neither (e.g the omphalos (navel).”

Some of the slaves who built the Taj Mahal may have worshipped the Hindu god Shiva and his family, seen here in the axis mundi of Mount Kailash.

Some of the slaves who built the Taj Mahal may have worshipped the Hindu god Shiva and his family, seen here in the axis mundi of Mount Kailash. ( DO’Neil image/Wikimedia Commons )

Sparavigna writes a comprehensive survey of charbagh gardens she studied, using Suncalc, at Philica, including Babur’s gardens, Humayun’s Garden tomb, the Dilkusha Chabargh, the Chabargh of Akbar, the prototypical tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, and the Rambagh and Pinjore gardens.

It is a great shame that the emperors who built this and other monuments, did so with slave labor. The Taj Mahal is celebrated as a monument to one of the great love affairs in history. But it also stands as a reminder of the hateful institution of slavery.

As Vinay Lal wrote at his blog :

Though the architectural history of the Taj has received much attention, a cultural and political interpretation of the Taj has never been attempted. While it never fails to move and dazzle, one can scarcely forget that its history, like that of other monumental achievements of pre-modern (and even modern) states, is bound to oppression and slavery. Who thinks of the large force of serfs whose labor was exploited to satisfy the love of one man…?

Featured image: The sun rises behind the Taj Mahal, ( MarcBW photo/Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller

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