In 1632, the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, commenced the construction of one of the greatest monuments of all time, the Taj Mahal built atop a 22 feet high and 313 feet square platform with corner minarets 137 feet tall and 81 feet high & 58 feet in diameter central inner dome surmounted by an outer shell nearly 200 feet in height. Now a "UNESCO World Heritage Site", the mausoleum built to fulfill a promise he made to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal as she laid on her deathbed, “To erect a monument to match her beauty”.
The mausoleum is flanked by almost identical two buildings on either side of the platform. The mosque on the west (left, when seen from the garden) and the Mihman Khana or assembly hall on the east are the complementary elements of the riverfront ensemble. The mausoleum is the dominant and unique feature in the centre of the tripartite composition of the qarina scheme, and the lateral buildings, exact alike, are the mirror-symmetrical components. Still, the mosque sets the tone, and as a religious building gives the riverfront group additional gravity. It is distinguished by a few elements related to the prayer ritual and the sermon. The mosque floor was laid out with the outlines of 569 prayer rugs in black marble. Mughal mosques of the time divide the sanctuary hall into three areas. At the Taj Mahal, each one opens onto vaulting dome.
MIHMAN KHANA or THE ASSEMBLY HALL
The Mihman Khana was created as its replica solely to balance the group, to provide a jawab, an answer, for the mosque balances the bilateral symmetry of the composition. Its original function was to accommodate visitors for observing the death anniversaries of Mumtaz, which were held
in the first few years in tents, took place in this building once it was completed. The platform here has two 'working drawings' of the finial of the mausoleum dome silhouette scratched into stone slabs. These are often found in buildings of Shah Jahan.
Both mosque and Mihman Khana are preceded by a large platform 25 inches above the level of the terrace. On each side, the area between these platforms and the mausoleum is articulated as a shallow sunken rectangular 'court'. The tank is a ritual requirement of the mosque for the ablutions before prayer. The tank of the Mihman Khana is a counter-image without any function.
THE JILAUKHANA (FORECOURT) ZONE
The Taj complex is now entered through one of three gates leading into the Jilaukhana, or forecourt. The east and west gates are those commonly used by tourists. The arcaded ranges along the south side of the Jilaukhana, and the bazaar streets leading to it were restored between 1905 AD and 1922 AD. The approach road to the west gate is flanked by two somewhat inter buildings, the 'Fatehpuri Masjid' and an anonymous tomb, which is probably that of Satti-un- Nisa Khanum, the Chief Lady-in-waiting of Mumtaz Mahal.
The two bazaar streets lead into the great ceremonial forecourt, referred to as “jilaukhana” (literally, 'in front of the house'). An inevident element of the Shahjahani architecture for court etiquette and proper ceremonial behaviour had become increasingly important and required an adequate architectural framing. Here visitors to the tomb would get down from their elephants and horses and assemble in style before entering through the great gate. The Jilaukhana is flanked by two pairs of courtyard enclosures. On the north, adjoining the garden wall, are the two Khawasspuras, the quarters of the tomb attendants. On the south are two tomb complexes, traditionally known as 'Saheli Burj' or the tower of the female friend.
THE BAZAAR STREETS
Two identical bazaar streets lead from the east and west gates to the Jilaukhana. The streets are lined with rows of small unconnected rectangular cells without windows, fronted by an arcaded verandah with multi-cusped arches supported by columns of distinctive Shahjahani type, which appear here in their most basic form.
Above the arcades sloping sandstone slabs supported by voluted brackets project from the wall as a protection from rain or sun; this feature, known as chhajja, is the Mughal version of a form that had been popular in Indian architecture for centuries.
THE EAST GATE (Fatehabadi Darwaza) and WEST GATE (Fatehpuri Darwaza)
The east and west gates are identical. Their outer facades have a broad centre with a pishtaq, here taking the form of a pointed Archway in a rectangular frame, set between engaged polygonal shafts topped by ornamental pinnacles extending above roof level, which mark the centre off from flanking angled sections of wall. At the top is a parapet carved in relief with a characteristic Mughal pattern of multi-cusped crenellations. Here we first encounter the triadic composition that determines most facades in the Taj complex, including that of the mausoleum.
THE SOUTH GATE (Sidhi Daewaza)
The design of the south gate is a vertically elongated version of that of the outer facades of the east and west gates. Both its faces have a simple pishtaq, flanked by engaged shafts terminating in guldastas. Because of the overall slope of the site, it stands 7 feet 10 inches above the level of the Jilaukhana and is reached up a short flight of stairs. Outside, a further short flight leads up to the bazaar and caravanserai complex, the Taj Ganj, which lies at a level 3 feet 3 inches higher.
THE GREAT GATE (Darwaza-i-Rauza)
The Jilaukhana complex is dominated by the great entrance gate set in the centre of the southern wall of the funerary garden. Lahauri calls it darwaza-i rauza, 'gate of the mausoleum', it is indeed a worthy counterpart to the mausoleum. The monumental structure sets a formal accent and
mediates the transition between the area of the Jilaukhana and the funerary garden. It prepares the visitor for the grandeur of the mausoleum that awaits within. The great gate is preceded on the south and north by platforms paved with geometrical patterns.
The south front of the great gate faces the Jilaukhana as a splendid introduction to the imperial architecture of the domain of the mausoleum. It is a monumental version of a Mughal elevational formula that also appears in the mausoleum, that of a large pishtaq flanked by two tiers of niches.
The triadic design had been announced within the Jilaukhana area in a more modest form on the inner faces of the east and west gates. The design has its roots in the Sultanate architecture of Delhi, beginning with the Ala'i Darwaza of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. It brings to mind Roman triumphal arches, but no obvious connection can be established.