Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb (Video)

Humayun’s Tomb was built by the Islamic Mughal dynasty in Delhi from 1562-71, 85 years before the Taj Mahal. By comparing the two structures, you will see how the Mughals refined and perfected their original design to create their masterpiece: the Taj Mahal. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer explores the how the design similarities between the first tomb built by the Mughal dynasty in India, Humayun’s Tomb, and their masterpiece, the Taj Mahal. It is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Highlights of India: Delhi & Agra.”

Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb

Comparison: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Facade Comparison

Similarities in the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Let’s begin by looking at the similarities between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal. Both have large, rectangular pistaq entrances the tops of which break above the rest of the facade. They frame pointed-arch iwan niches. You can see this pistaq-iwan niche combination repeated on both facades. There’s a clear prototype for this arrangement in the earlier Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg, which was built between 1417-1420 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Additionally, both Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal have large bulbous domes that rise above the tomb at the center, they feature Hindu-inspired chhatri pavilions, and they have chamfered corners that give the impression of depth. Finally, they sit on elevated platforms, symbolic of their importance.

Differences between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

This is where things get interesting! The Taj has Quranic inscriptions that communicate a clear narrative to the visitor. In the video, we zoom in so we can see them more clearly. They convey an apocalyptic message focused on judgement and the potential for salvation. Another difference is the color scheme. In Humayun’s Tomb, white marble is used exclusively to highlight key features, while at the Taj, entire tomb is white. The facade of Humayun’s Tomb undulates, with octagonal wings that flank the entrance projecting forward. These projections are eliminated at the Taj. Finally, the dome changes form. You can see how the Taj’s dome is more elevated and significantly more bulbous.

Layout Comparison

Both tombs employ what is called a nine-fold plan, in which eight rooms surround a central chamber. The tomb sits at the absolute center. In both the rooms are octagonal. The octagon represents a middle state between a circle (symbolic of the divine world) and square (symbolic of a human world) and is used to designate sacred areas. As for differences, Humayun’s tomb encourages visitors to move outward from the center, while the Taj encourages a rotation around the central tomb.

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

And finally, to illustrate the most important point, we have overlaid the floor plans on the elevations. You can see that the Taj is significantly more balanced. It is a perfect cube with a 1:1 ratio between plan and elevation.

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal