This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,

The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.

The Taj Mahal

Everybody knows the story of the Taj Mahal. One of the great Moghul Emperors of India, Shah Jehan, built it when his beloved wife died. He ruled over almost all of India from 1628 to 1658 AD. His love for his wife is a romantic story that is like a fairy tale.

Babur, a great Mongol king, conquered India in 1526 and established the Moghul Dynasty (Moghul refers to the Mongol conquerors of India). The first four emperors developed their power and set up a system of Government that included all Indians, Hindus and Muslims. Among them was Akbar, one of the truly great monarchs of all time. By the time Shah Jehan became emperor he could turn his mind more fully to cultural activities too.

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan

Emperor Shah Jehan was a handsome man. He looked every inch a Prince. His wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was half Persian and was one of the loveliest women at the Moghul Court. ‘She had long black hair, delicate eyebrows and skin like a lily.’ wrote one poet. But more than her beauty, Mumtaz Mahal was a very good woman. She was an excellent wife and mother. She was kind and helped hundreds of women in distress. She was loved by all and most of all by her husband.

Shah Jehan used to travel round his Empire a great deal. Mumtaz Mahal always went with him, taking her three daughters and four sons with her. In fact each of her four sons was born while she was on a military campaign with the Emperor.

Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal

When Mumtaz Mahal died, Emperor Shah Jehan wept for two months. He was inconsolable. For two months he did not come out of his room. When he did come out he was a very sad man. He decided to built a Mausoleum, that is a tomb, in her memory. He was going to place the body of Mumtaz Mahal inside this tomb, which he wanted the whole world to admire.

He began work on the Taj Mahal. The architects of this building of great beauty are unknown. Some people think they may have been Italians. Others think Shah Jehan got Persians to design this beautiful building.

The Taj Mahal took about 20 years to build. It is made of the finest white marble and the whole structure is richly decorated. Precious stones were put into the outside walls, but these were eventually stolen away. When the lamps were lit at night the gems would gleam in the darkness. It was said to be the most beautiful sight in the world.

Main iwan and side pishtaqs

Shah Jehan spent too much money on the Taj Mahal. He spent money that could have been better used to benefit the people of his empire. When the Taj Mahal was finished he laid the body of his wife inside and planned to build another tomb out of black marble for himself. This was the height of folly. His son Aurangzeb imprisoned him and stopped any further expense. When Shah Jehan was put into prison he was kept in a room in the Agra Fort which overlooked the Taj Mahal. From his prison room he could gaze upon the lovely building he had created. He died a few years after his imprisonment, and was buried in the Taj Mahal, near his beloved wife.

The Taj Mahal has been called ‘a poem in marble’. Without any doubt, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Expensive though it was, Mumtaz Mahal, his good and loyal queen, deserved her monument. And today the building is one of India’s greatest tourist attractions, providing a wonderful sight each year to thousands of Indians and foreigners. It is especially beautiful by moonlight, and you are lucky if you can see it under a full moon. It is one of the most stunning sights on earth.


Grammar and Vocabulary

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person. Which proper nouns are used as adjectives? Are there any proper nouns that name things?
  4. Find nouns that correspond to the underlined verbs and use them in sentences to bring out their meaning.
  5. Find three sentences in this passage that describe habitual actions. What are the different ways in which it is made clear that the action happened often?

Comprehension and Further Activities

  1. Find out the names and dates of the Moghul Emperors from Babur to Aurangzeb. Where is each of them buried? Mark these places on your map.
  2. Read more about Akbar and write a short essay about why he is considered a truly great monarch.
  3. Sum up in a few lines, like the poet quoted in this passage, the beauty of a place or a person that you admire.
  4. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal with the love story of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal?
  5. Debate in groups whether the construction of the Taj Mahal was a waste of money.
  6. Construct in pairs a discussion between Aurangzeb and Shah Jehan about the plan for another tomb.
  7. Find out, and record on a chart, what was happening in Europe and in China during the period of the first six Moghul Emperors. What interactions were there during this period between Europe and Asia?