A poem-in-marble, The Taj!

Taj Mahal in India
Taj Mahal in India

Who could ever think that an eternal love leading to the saga of infinite bondage can evolve out of a desert like land and would blossom to be the reason to gift our world a poem-in-marble, The Taj!

No image of The Taj, neither on canvass nor on celluloid, can adequately express its conceptual imaginary nor convey the legend, the poetry and the romance that shrouds what Rabindranath Tagore calls “a teardrop on the cheek of time”.

The Taj Mahal, a spectacle in white marble, unparalleled in grandeur that depicts the sheer opulence of an era. The awesome structure, the monument of love that Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan gave to the world, stands as a testimony of his intense love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.

Of all the photographs Murray made of the Taj, the most impressive are his triptych panoramas, taken from the roof of the entrance gate and looking down and across the formal gardens to the mausoleum beyond. Perched high above the heavily wooded gardens, the pale building appears almost translucent in the early morning sunlight. So often described as a tribute to feminine beauty, the monument itself becomes an architectural odalisque reclining against dark silky billows.

Tourists from all over the world visit Agra to make a pilgrimage to Taj Mahal, India’s most famous architectural wonder, in a land where magnificent temples and edifices abound to remind visitors about the rich civilization of a country that is slowly but surely lifting itself into an industrialized society as well.

Taj Mahal means “Crown Palace” and is in fact the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tomb in the world. It is a romance celebrated in marble and glorified with precious and semi-precious stones and that’s the way to appreciate it!.

The Taj Mahal stands on the bank of River Yamuna, which otherwise serves as a wide most defending the Great Red Fort of Agra, the center of the Mughal emperors until they moved their capital to Delhi in 1637.

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan

The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1643 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r.1628-58) as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Arjumand Banu Begum, also known by the title Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess. She died while accompanying her husband in Burhanpur in a campaign to crush a rebellion after giving birth to their 13th child. The death so crushed the emperor that all his hair and beard were said to have grown snow white in a few months.

When Mumtaz Mahal was still alive, she extracted four promises from the emperor: first, that he build the Taj; second, that he should marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary. However, due to ill health and being under house arrest by his own son and successor to the throne, Aurangzeb, barred him from continue to keep the last promise.

Taj Mahal (1870s)

The Taj rises on a high red sandstone base topped by a huge white marble terrace on which rests the famous dome flanked by four tapering minarets. Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid cenotaph of the queen. So exquisite is the workmanship that the Taj has been described as “having been designed by giants and finished by jewellers”. The only asymmetrical object in the Taj is the casket of the emperor which was built beside the queen’s as an afterthought.

Legend has it that during his eight years long ailment and imprisonment, Shah Jahan used to intensly view The Taj lying on the bed through a diamond fixed in the wall in front at a particular angle. 

The dome is made of white marble, but the tomb is set against the plain across the river and it is this background that works its magic of colours that, through their reflection, change the view of the Taj. The colours change at different hours of the day and during different seasons.

The Taj sparkles like a jewel in moonlight when the semi-precious stones inlaid into the white marble on the main mausoleum catch and reflect back its glow with a better gleam. The Taj is pinkish in the morning, milky white in the evening and golden when the moon shines. These changes, they say, depict the different moods of a beauty of any kind.

Taj Mahal at Agra in Uttar Pradesh from the Curzon Collection, India, taken by the Indian photographer Lala Deen Dayal in the 1890s. Lord Curzon served as Viceroy of India between 1899 and 1905. This photograph is from an album documenting places proposed to be visited by Lord and Lady Curzon during their viceregal tour of autumn 1902. This is a view of the Taj Mahal from the north-east, where it borders the banks of the River Yamuna, with ghats in the foreground and cattle on the riverbank.

Different people have different views of the Taj but it would be enough to say that the Taj has a life of its own that leaps out of marble. A masterpiece of the art and science of architecture, a representative of an era called The Mughal Period surpassing any authority to add or de-add anything in any sense in or out of the Taj!

The Taj Mahal stands tall with grace is not just a parable epitome of emotional & eternal love between a man and a woman but for other reasons too –

Emperor Shah Jahan, who commissioned the construction of ‘The Taj’, desired to create it also as a symbol of solemnity, harmony, purity and spirituality as well.

The Taj is not merely a monument of grace and dignity alone. It is, in fact, a message to all mankind that “Pure love is the soul of life”.

Jacqueline Kennedy in front of the Taj Mahal in 1962.

To the last category belong the oldest tales of the Taj. Here the most widely known is the story of the second Taj, the ‘Black Taj’, which Shah Jahan intended to build in black marble opposite the present mausoleum, on the site of the Mahtab Bagh. It goes back to Jean-Baptiste Tavernier who, when at Agra in 1665 AD, reported that ‘Shahjahan began to built his own tomb on the other side of the river, but the war with his sons interrupted his plan, and Aurangzeb, who reigns at present, is not disposed to complete it. Shah Jahan was put under house arrest by his own son and successor by force, Aurangzeb. The latter did not agree with his father on most issues and was particularly opposed to him building a black Taj as his own mausoleum.

Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb made the body of the Emperor, who got the body of his beloved Mumtaz in a golden casket from Burhanpur to Agra, carried in a boat by only two men and buried him in the Taj, next to his wife in probably the simplest manner.

Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs,
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made,
To display thereby the creator’s glory!

By Elysian Studios

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