As one of the famous architectural wonders, the Taj Mahal is best described by the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, as "Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones."

The Taj Mahal certainly owes a lot to the cursive and harmonious beauty of its calligraphy, but the splendour of the edifice lay in the extraordinary delicacy of the floral motifs that embellished the marble surfaces. Such decoration was the product of a long tradition of Indian stone marquetry. Described as hard stone or 'pietre dure' decoration, it involves cutting thin sections of semi precious stones into fine shives of floral and arabesque patterns before being set into white marble lattice.

The stones used for the Taj Mahal and other Indian palaces came from places far and wide; jade and crystal from China; turquoise from Tibet; lapis lazuli and sapphire from Afghanistan; amber from Burma; carnelian from Arabia; amethyst, agate, heliotrope and green beryl from various regions of India.

Whether sculpted in marble in sober relief - munabbat kari - or inlaid with semiprecious stones - parchin kari - that produce incandescent reflections, the various kinds of flowers that open out in graceful arabesques and cover in profusion the imperial cenotaphs and their enclosures all bear witness to the dazzling virtuosity of the Mughal lapidaries.

Mughal patrons, sensitive to the beauties of nature commissioned court artists, painters, goldsmiths and lapidaries to beautify the elegant products with exquisite flowers. The splendour of the era provided rich inspiration to arrest the motions of activity from court, hunting, and daily life on marble.

Precious materials, often inlaid with gems, formed giveaways for the Prince and Princess; the wives and daughters of the nobility; and the visiting diplomats during state banquets and private ceremonies.

While for centuries these beautiful pieces were inextricably linked to the privileged few of the royal courts and the aristocracy, today these are prized by almost all civilisations for their beauty, rarity and value.


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  © 2011 MIRAJ Islamic Art Centre, Dubai, U.A.E.