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Sparavigna, A. (2016). The Taj Mahal Mausoleum and the Moon. PHILICA.COM Article number 609.

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The Taj Mahal Mausoleum and the Moon

Amelia Carolina Sparavignaunconfirmed user (Department of Applied Science and Technology, Politecnico di Torino)

Published in enviro.philica.com


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The Taj Mahal Mausoleum and the Moon


Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Politecnico di Torino


Abstract: Here we are proposing an astronomical analysis of the Taj Mahal mausoleum  made by means of a modern ephemeris, the Photographer's Ephemeris, a well-known software used for planning outdoor photography. A remarkable alignment with moonrise and moonset azimuths on minor lunar standstill is observed for the four minarets of the mausoleum. Some reference to the moon can also be seen in the gardens.

Keywords: Archaeoastronomy, Satellite Images, Architecture, Modern Ephemerides


In some recent papers we have discussed the Mughal gardens, beautiful forms of landscape architecture of Mughal Dynasty, and the alignments along sunrise and sunset azimuths on solstices that some of them are showing [1-3]. These gardens, which had been heavily influenced by the Persian gardens of carbagh structure, have a rectilinear layout within walled enclosures [4-6]. Rich of flowers, plants and waters, they became the representation of an earthly paradise. And in fact, it is a word of an Iranian language, ‘pairidaeza’, meaning ‘walled garden’, that passed into the Ancient Greek ‘paradeisos’, and then rendered into the Latin ‘paradisus’. In this manner, the "Garden of Eden" became the "Paradise on Earth".

Using satellite images, we can easily see that some of them are oriented to the cardinal directions, that is, that they have axes aligned to north-south and east-west directions. The Gardens of Taj Mahal, such as all the monumental complex,  have such an orientation.

The Taj Mahal is the best known and famous example of Mughal architecture, a splendid white mausoleum in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built it in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal [7,8]. The mausoleum is one of the components of a large complex composed by buildings and gardens, including subsidiary tombs, waterworks infrastructure, the small town of Taj Ganji and a Moonlight Garden, north of the River Yamuna.

In [1,3], we have discussed that alignments along sunrise and sunset azimuths on solstices are present in the garden of this complex, so that its enclosure becomes a symbolic horizon representing the world, where its axis is the ‘axis mundi’ (the axis of the world) and, on solstices, the sun is rising and setting at its four corners.

Since the garden is dimensioned according to the sun and its azimuths, we could expect also some alignments with the moon. More precisely, we want to search alignments along moonrise and moonset azimuths on lunar standstills. Let us note that the azimuth – that is the direction - of moonrise and moonset changes during the moon's nodal period (about 27 days), while the azimuth variation, during each nodal period, varies with the lunar standstill period (18.613 years) [9]. On standstills, the moon is making the narrowest and widest arcs across the sky. We can easily calculate the moonrise and moonset azimuths, that are depending on latitude, from the formula given by Jürgen Giesen at his web site www.geoastro.de/sunmoonpolar/ index.html#Mondwenden. The reader can find detailed discussion and apps for simulating the moon apparent motion there.

However, for an astronomical analysis of alignments along moon azimuths,  we can use a more evident approach: we can apply a software showing these azimuths on the satellite maps. This software is the Photographer's Ephemeris, a well-known software used for planning outdoor photography.

Wikipedia tells us that on October 2015 we had a minor lunar standstill and that on April 2025, there will be a major lunar standstill. So let us use Photographer's Ephemeris for these periods.

Here in the following figures the results of simulations for the complex of Taj Mahal. In the Figure 1 we can see a very interesting result. If we consider the pole on the mausoleum, we see that the four minarets are aligned along moonrise and moonset on the minor lunar standstill. But the satellite image is not orthogonal and then the pole seems not coincident to the center of the mausoleum. Therefore, let us compare Figure 1 to Figure 2, where the view of the complex is orthogonal. The angles are the same, as given by the two images superimposed (Figure 3). Therefore, the center of the mausoleum and the minarets are aligned along the lunar azimuths.


Figure 1: The moon on a minor lunar standstill (moonrises in pale blue lines and moonsets in dark blue lines, sunrises and sunsets in yellow and orange lines, for the dates of 3 October 2015 and 18 October 2015) from the Photographer’s Ephemeris.


Figure 2: Measured angles are the same as those in the Figure 1, in this orthogonal view of Google Earth.
Figure 3: Figures 1 and 2 are superimposed for comparison. The angles are the same.


Some other alignments can be seen in the gardens, for instance, as those given in the Figure 4, where we can see the moonrise and moonset azimuths on a major lunar standstill. Another interesting alignment is displayed by the Moonlight Garden on the minor lunar standstill. The Moonlight Garden is the charbagh complex which lies north of the Taj Mahal complex on the opposite side of the Yamuna River. However, the alignment which is more evident is that of the Figure 1.

As a conclusion we have that, in the Taj mahal complex, the apparent path of the sun had been used for the garden whereas that of the moon was specifically linked to the tomb complex.


Figure 4: Moonrise and moonset azimuths on a major lunar standstill.



[1] Sparavigna, A. C. (2013). The Gardens of Taj Mahal and the Sun, International Journal of Sciences, 2(11), 104-107.

[2] Sparavigna, A. C. (2013). Solar Azimuths in the Planning of a Nur Jahan’s Charbagh, International Journal of Sciences, 2(12), 8-10.

[3] Sparavigna, A. C. (2015).  Observations on the Orientation of Some Mughal Gardens. PHILICA Article number 455.

[4] C. McIntosh (2004). Gardens of the Gods: Myth, Magic and Meaning, I.B. Tauris.

[5] Vv. Aa. (2015). Persian gardens, Wikipedia.

[6] H. Shirvani (1985). The Philosophy of Persian Garden Design: The Sufi Tradition, Landscape Journal, 4(3), 23-30.

[7] Koch, E. (2002). Mughal Architecture: an Outline of Its History and Development, Oxford University Press.

[8] Dutemple, L. A. (2003). The Taj Mahal, Lerner Publishing Group.

[9]  Vv. Aa. (2016). Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_standstill

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This Article was published on 30th May, 2016 at 19:39:34 and has been viewed 1240 times.

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The full citation for this Article is:
Sparavigna, A. (2016). The Taj Mahal Mausoleum and the Moon. PHILICA.COM Article number 609.

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1 Author comment added 31st May, 2016 at 05:36:44

Some misprints had been revised (for instance, the angle in the Figures 2 and 3 is of 70°, not 80°). The reader can find the new layout at the following page

2 Author comment added 31st May, 2016 at 07:48:39

Another misprint is that are pavilions, not minarets, being aligned. Then, I kindly ask the reader to see the final layout (an image added) at the following page

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