In 1631, in ''celebration of the human spirit'' (according to the film), the Emperor Shan Jahan of India commissioned the building of the exquisite jewel-like Taj Mahal to commemorate his wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Three hundred fifty years later, James R. Messenger and Penguin Productions, with the cooperation of the Indian tourist office, have produced an exquisite, jewel-like film commemorating this ''castle in the air, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of the ages,'' as the narrator says.
The Taj Mahal (PBS, Monday, 9:30-10 p.m.) is probably one of the most beautiful films you are likely to see for a long time. With the soothing sounds of Indian music in the background, the film lovingly explores the ''paradise gardens'' that surround this memorial to a great love and examines the history of India and the cultural traditions from which the structure sprang. Then it examines the building itself as well as the tomb hidden deep within it.
Much of the moving tale must be told by Saeed Jaffrey, an Indian actor, with slightly florid poetic words, using paintings, sculptures, and inlays. This is because there are no diaries or letters to help retell the legend of an emperor who loved his wife so much that upon her demise he put 22,000 laborers to work for 22 years constructing for her a tomb that would reflect the Mongol, Persian, and Indian cultural influences in their life together.
Legend has it that the Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who expired after bearing her 14 th child, requested that her husband build a monument for her of such perfection that no one who saw it would fail to be moved by this powerful expression of his love.
The story of ''The Taj Mahal'' is poetry on film, just as this edifice, one of the world's most familiar monuments, has been called poetry in stone. It is destined to be an international prizewinner.
Will Durant, the late author-philosopher, insisted that anyone seeing the Taj Mahal would finally come to understand the difference between industry and art in architecture. Anyone seeing this film about the Taj Mahal will come to understand the difference between industry and art in film.