The Writings That Adorn the Taj Mahal

AGRA, India — Geometric patterns, floral motifs and free-form lines adorn the walls of the Taj Mahal inside and out, formed by inlaid jasper, jade and marble in various hues.

“The exquisite and highly skilled Parchinkari work was developed by Mughal lapid arists from techniques taught to them by Italian craftsmen employed at court,” according to the official Taj Mahal website operated by the Indian government. “The look of European herbals, books illustrating botanical species, was adapted and refined in Mughal Parchinkari work.”

Easy to miss amid the myriad designs, a highly stylized Arabic thuluth script forms part of the welcome messages at the entrances to the historic landmark.

The Great Gate bears the inscription, “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”

Which makes perfect sense, as the 42-acre complex was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to honor wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child.

The writing throughout the memorial has been attributed to Persian calligrapher Abd ul-Haq of Shiraz, Iran, who migrated to India in 1609. For his “dazzling virtuosity,” ul-Haq was awarded the title “Amanat Khan” by the emperor.

Ul-Haq is also credited with selecting the text, most of which originates from the Qur’an and refers “broadly to themes of judgment and paradisiacal 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.”

I do not read Arabic, so I will assume accuracy in the official website’s account, which states, “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 Judgments.”

Yet it’s not all fire and brimstone.

“Inside the mausoleum, the tone is more reassuring in places, with lengthy descriptions of Paradise adorning some of the walls,” the website states.

Considering the amount of detail in the Arabic script alone, it’s a wonder that the Taj Mahal was built as quickly as it was — just a decade for the main structure, with another decade for the rest of the complex.

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