The Royal Art behind the beauty of Taj Mahal


Have you ever visited Taj Mahal? If you have been then you must have felt amazed by looking at its magnetic beauty. From giant wooden doors to beautiful gardens to the statuesque designs on the   One of the things that make the Taj Mahal so wondrous and special is the marble inlay work you find on it. In fact, you find this beautiful art form on other Mughal monuments too.

Marble inlay is a closely protected traditional art and only a few experts are skilled enough to do justice to it in this day and age. The delicate process involves carefully cutting and engraving marble shapes by hand. Roughly speaking, this is how it works.

To begin with, a predefined pattern, like say, a floral or geometrical design is engraved on the marble slab. After this, small pieces of marble of different shades are cut delicately to precisely fit and slipped into these grooves. Apart from marble, many other materials can also be used to adorn the marble inlay spaces.

The Origin of Mughal Inlay Art

Mughal Inlay art is a remarkable feature of Mughal architecture in India and Inlay art was an instrument of dynamic expression in the great age of the Mughal Empire. The Monuments of Agra(India) provide the different stages of the development of Mughal Inlay art in a progressive sequence during sixteenth to seventeenth century as practiced under Akbar (r. 1556-1605), Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658). This research paper will present probable aspects related to the origin and development of Mughal Inlay art.

Marble inlay-‘Pachchikari’ or ‘Parchinkari’ is one of the most beautiful and popular forms of Mughal art developed indigenously in India. It is to be believed that it is typically Italian in origin and some contend it to be of the Indian origin itself. Inlay technically known as Pietra dura (Italian for “hard stone”) is marble inlaid with designs in precious or semi-precious stonework. The word taken from the Persian Language, Means: Marble Inlay Art is also known as Pietradura Art or Pietredura Art. This is almost 400 years old Art, today is still in tradition in the land of the Taj Mahal. The Art of Marble Inlay or “PachiKari” or “Parchinkari” was introduced in India in the 17th century by the Mughals. The Mughals who were known for their great passion for art and architecture brought with them many different forms of art during their rule, which was the golden period of India’s architectural history. 

 The present paper attempts to establish from written sources the possible interconnection between the inlay work during Jahangir period and its development. The Mughal Inlay art’s origin is in India and it developed indigenously as it relied on several key aspects. Ram Nath, Ebba Koch, E.W Smith, V.A. Smith and Major Kole explore some elements of the origin and development of inlay work. The findings show that it is not only an indigenous Indian art and but also that it developed rapidly during the reign of Jahangir. The points came from the visit of Jahangir in Mandu (India). When Jahangir visited Mandu, the fascinated inlay work there impressed him and as the continuous refinement of inlay work can be seen in the Jahangir buildings i.e. from Akbar’s Tomb to Salim Chisti’s Tomb and ultimately a remarkable change in the Tomb of Itmad-ud doulah.

In India it developed in different stages during sixteenth and seventeenth century as practiced under Akbar (r. 1556-1605), Jahangir (r. 1605-1627), and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658). Inlay technically known as Pietra dura (Italian for “hard stone”) is marble inlaid with designs in precious or semi-precious stonework, such as onyx, jasper, carnelian, etc. cut into thin slices and neatly bedded in sockets prepared in the marble . It is not surprising that the buildings Marble inlay-Pachchikari or Parchinkari is one of the most beautiful and popular forms of Indian Mughal art and developed indigenously here. 

 Mughal Inlay art is not an isolated phenomenon; it might have traveled over long distances before having been introduced into India and before being adopted in such a refined way by the Mughals . Some believe it to be typically Italian in origin and others believe it an indigenous Indian art. The present paper tries to find out the possible link and development of inlay work during Jahangir’s period.

Marble inlay work
Marble Inlay work at Itmad-Ud-Dualah Monument

The Development of Mughal Inlay Art

According to Major Cole as quoted by Smith V.A., ‘the earliest example of pietra dura is Jagmandir palace’s Gol Moandal (A.D. 1623) at Udaipur, built for Prince Khurram (Emperor Shahjahan)’9 . In the same period 1621-27, Nur Jahan, queen of Jahangir, built the tomb for her father Itmad-ud-Daula, which has almost the same inlay work of precious and semi-precious stones with different motifs such as floral, cypresses, creeper, wine glasses, birds, and an amazing variety of geometrical arabesque. Finally, the much refined inlay art can be seen abundantly in the Taj Mahal , and palaces of Agra and Delhi Red Fort during Shah Jahan period.

Smith also agrees that ‘Shah Jahan probably learnt this art while residing in the Jagmandir palace at Udaipur’. According to Nath, the earliest examples of inlaying with rare stones in Mandu at the Mausoleum in the Ashrafi Mahal (Plate No 10) and also at the Tower of Victory, are both constructed during the first half of the fifteenth century.

  •  If this all can be possible that Shah Jahan was impressed by the Jagmandir palace at Udaipur; there is also a possibility that Mandu’s Inlay work fascinated Jahangir and his wife while visiting that place. The Mahmud’s Madrasa of the Heavenly Vault (Asharfi Mahal) that is now largely in ruins but originally included a domed Mausoleum and a seven story tower at Mandu in Madhya Pradesh, central India.
  •  We cannot do a comparative study of inlay work of Asharfi Mahal to Agra’s Mughal inlay work as at present this monument is not in such condition and the inlay work of that time is not available, but this paper is based on the Nath statement that the earliest examples of inlaying with rare stones are in Mandu. The city of Mandu was the fifteenth century capital of the erstwhile Sultanate of Malwa. It presents a preview of the Mughal custom in a non-Mughal city. Malwa’s independence came to an end in 1531 when it was occupied first by the Sultan of neighboring Gujrat and later in the same year, by the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun and from 1564 on it remained a permanent part of Mughal India.
  •  Mughal Emperors had great interest to spend a good part of every year outside their capitals that contribute increasingly in the pleasure and growth of other Indian cities. The day to day events of Jahangir’s stay of seven and half month at Mandu were described in detail in the Memories of Jahangir. This record is supplemented by Sir Thomas Roe (Ambassador of Queen Elizabeth) who traveled with Jahangir to Mandu. On 6th March, 1617, Jahangir arrived at Mandu after leisurely journey of four months.
  •  The magnificent buildings of the Malwa King drew his admiration; he celebrated the peace by a magnificent reception in Mandu of the Bijapur envoys.
  •  Jahangir visited the beautiful Friday mosque, a superbly simple and dignified building from the early fifteenth century.
  •  Jahangir himself moved his court that gives a graphic description of the luxury of his camp equipage, with the ladies of the Anistoriton Journal, vol. 11 (2008-2009) Art 4 court18 and he had a delightful picnic with his ladies in the Nilkanth summer house.


Marble Inlay work on the grave of Queen Mumtaz Mahal

“On the 24th March I rode to go round and saw the buildings of the old kings.” Jahangir enjoyed the time spend at Mandu. According to Brand, Jahangir spent a full five and a half years in Mandu which is almost a quarter of his reign.  It shows the possibilities of impact of this place increasing because where we spend much time it leaves their impact on our mind and the same happened with Jahangir’s continuous visits to Mandu. With a remarkable eye for excellence in design and execution in the arts and crafts, Jahangir encouraged talent and promoted merit without discrimination. Jahangir had taste for the fine things of life – for beautifully designed artifacts, the enjoyment and appreciation of cultural activities. In his memories, he says that there should be such grand buildings in all great cities as might be fit for royal accommodation

Probably when Jahangir visited Mandu, the fascinating inlay work of Mandu impressed him and the continuous refinement of inlay work can be seen in the Jahangir buildings i.e. from Akbar’s tomb to Salim Chisti’s tomb, and ultimately a remarkable change in the tomb of Itmad-ud doulah. It may as well be possible that there could have been interaction between Mandu’s artisans and Jahangir’s architect. Jahangir had sent his architect AbduI-Karim to look for the repair of the buildings of the old rulers in Mandu.

It is predictable that Abdu-I-Karim would have come in contact with the local artisans of Mandu and would have shared their techniques which inspired them to do it more minutely. Another possibility is that Nur Jahan, the wife of Jahangir, would have been fascinated by the inlay work of Mandu. As explained about the visit of Nur Jahan with Jahangir in the Memories of Jahangir. she saw all the places of Mandu as per the instruction of her husband. It is expected that Nur Jahan was inspired by the inlay work and applied the same in her father’s Tomb with much sophisticated style. In Shah Jahan’s period, the Musamman Burj, the Diwan-I –Aam , Diwan-I –Khas of Agra Red Fort; the Taj Mahal, Agra (1631-1652), Red Fort and Palaces, Delhi (1639-1648) were the examples of its most refined and perfect stage and it was an incessant phenomena in the field of Mughal Inlay art. From 1630 onwards, pietra dura appeared in buildings as well as on moveables, small objects as decorative panels, with bird and flower motifs, suitable for cabinet fronts and tabletops. Unlike the pietra dura of Italy and particularly the Florentine tradition.

Marble inlay interior of Taj Mahal

Indian inlay work is not three-dimensional but more flat. It is not appropriate to say that the inlay art came from Europe but it is a continuous development of Inlay work. It is observed that there is no European inlay motif in the Jahangir period and there is not much difference between the inlay technique of Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb and technique of Shah Jahan’s buildings inlay work. It reached its most gracious position in the period of Shah Jahan with the placement of inlay motifs and in the use of negative and positive space of the inlay motifs.

The Italian Connection

Inlay work on delicate precious stone began in the workshops of Florence in Italy around the end of the 16th century. This was known as PIETRA DURA, which means hard (dura) stone (pietra).

The Italians created an art form that the world came to appreciate and pietra dura appeared on a range of objects from decorative panels to hand-carved bird to flower motifs to cabinet fronts to table tops to presents from travelers to Emperors in the resplendent Mughal courts in faraway India.

Of all the Mughal Emperors, Shah Jahan was the greatest patron of the arts in general and architecture, in particular. For him no amount of money or time was too much to create enduring, everlasting architectural wonders that would wow the world and stand the test of centuries of time. It is in his buildings that one sees the confluence of Mughal art and Italian pietra dura.

Above all, the Taj Mahal, the cenotaphs of the Emperor and his wife, the main floor and the surrounding marble railings, all bear very close resemblances to the pietra dura form of inlay work.

Marle inlay work on the pillars of Taj Mahal
Local Artisians doing marble inlay

Impressed by this amazing art? Explore our store and see home decor products that will add the taste of royalty to your home.

Mughal Kala Shop


Leave a Reply

Shopping cart


No products in the cart.