When Mumtaz Mahal passed away, Bebadal Khan wrote the chronogram for her that yielded 1040 — the Hijri year of her death, corresponding to 1631 AD: “Ja-i-Mumtaz Mahal jannat baad [May the abode of Mumtaz Mahal be Paradise].” And so, the grief-stricken husband took it upon himself to build a veritable paradise as her resting place.
the Taj architects were tasked with first making a plan for a hasht bahisht tomb [an irregular octagonal architectural plan which symbolises the eight levels of heaven] in the char bagh. However, for the emperor who mourned his wife so greatly that he wore white clothes for two years and shunned jewellery and itr, just getting the design right was not enough. Physical flowers are ephemeral — there had to be flowers cast in stone to last forever. And so, the best talent was gathered to make it happen. In fact, the carving of the flowers and their inlay work went on for much longer, even after the main tomb itself had been built.
Indians were already familiar with inlay work, the insertion of stone on stone in prepared grooves. This was called #parchinkari in Persian. The Taj Mahal, though, didn’t just have parchinkari, but elaborate and intricate inlay work where precious stones were inlaid into #marble to create beautiful flowers.
The #Mughals had become acquainted with the technique through European visitors. This involved cutting the precious and semi-precious stones into fine pieces and shapes, and then inlaying these innumerable pieces into marble to create a single flower pattern.
Fanny Parkes, a British woman who lived in India from 1822-1845 and kept a journal of her stay, had the patience to count the number of pieces that went into the making of each flower in the marble screen surrounding the cenotaphs on the upper level of the Taj. A mind-boggling 72 pieces went into each flower and there were 50 such flowers on the screen around each cenotaph!
The inlay artists had plenty of riches to work with — agates were brought from Yemen, cornelians from Arabia, amethyst from Persia, malachite from Russia, turquoise from upper Tibet, diamonds from central India, onyxes from the Deccan and garnets from Bundelkhand.
Drawings v&a museum