Parchin Kari - Marble Inlay
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Three types of inlay are used to ornament the buildings of the Taj complex. Stone intarsia, whereby colored marbles are inlaid into easily workable sandstone, is the most basic type of inlay.
This is superceded by the positioning of colored stones into white marble on a large scale. This second type is used to create the impressive large scale calligraphic designs, the intricate geometric motifs that highlight the architecture, and the swirling floral arabesques that define and fill the spandrels of the main arches, such as the example shown here.
However, the highlight to the inlaid scheme is provided by what is described by the Mughal historians as 'parchin kari'. This was, at the time, the most expensive and up to date form of architectural decoration available to the Mughal architects.
The term parchin Kari can be used to refer to the skilled inlaying of gemstones into white marble on a small and detailed scale. At the Taj, the technique is used most spectacularly to depict well observed blooms and flowering plants.
Stones were crafted using a moving metal wheel as an abrasive surface. Patterns were drawn out on the white marble surfaces using henna dye, before craftsmen chiseled out sockets in which the stones were then fitted together.
The parchin Kari at the Taj Mahal is one of the finest quality examples of the era. Similar to the Italian technique known as 'pietre dure', a variety of colored stones including lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate and garnet, were used to achieve stunning depictions of the colorful flowers of India.
Even greater detail was achieved by carefully choosing pieces of each gemstone with differing tones. This variety of hues enabled the craftsmen to give the impression of shading and depth in each flower.