“The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
It is sunrise at the Taj Mahal.
I stand in wonder and awe.
The scene before me literally takes my breath away even though I know what to expect. I know its history
As visitors from all over the world begin gathering in front of the reflecting pools, taking it all in, there seems to be a collective silence. It is this silence that leaves a tingly feeling running through my veins and reminds me I am actually here. I want to linger.
Now we are home, sifting through our memories and pictures of our incredible trip to India, and I am relieved that travel experiences haven’t jaded me to where everything is just a check list.
While our pictures of the Taj, one of the best known buildings in the world, document the splendor and glory of another era, the image stirs up feelings and emotions and our capacity to feel. This is what makes travelers human, keeps us appreciative and humble.
This exquisite marble structure, an iconic example of Mughal architecture, is not a palace, but a mausoleum, an enduring monument to the love of a husband, Shah Jahan, for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal or “Jewel of the Palace.” The poets at Agra’s Mughal court said her beauty was such that the moon hid its face in shame before her.
Mumtaz Mahal’s death, in 1631, following the birth of her 14th child, inspired the legend that she bound Shah Jahan with a deathbed promise to build her the most beautiful tomb ever known. Promise or no, Shah Jahan poured his passion and wealth into the creation of just such a monument. It is said that 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists from across India and as far as Turkey and Iraq were employed under a team of architects to build the Taj Mahal in the lush gardens on the banks of Agra’s Jamuna River. They completed the epic task between 1631 and 1648, whereas, the outlying buildings and gardens were finished five years later in 1653 AD.
The English meaning of Taj Mahal is “Crown of the Palace”.
The Taj Mahal’s familiar marble domes feature four minarets, a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each is designed with a slight outward lean; presumably to protect the main mausoleum in case one of them should collapse.
The calligraphy of the Taj Mahal mainly consists of the verses and passages from the holy book of Quran. Instead of painted on, it was painstakingly created by inlaying jasper in the white marble panels.
Most Taj Mahal postcards just focus on the white marble domed mausoleum and fail to include the other magnificent structures sharing the plinth.
Two red sandstone buildings flank the main mausoleum. One, to the west, is a mosque which is open only for Friday prayers while the Taj is closed that day to tourists. This mosque is made of red sand stone and has a similar design to the Jama Masjid in Delhi. Another red sandstone building – a replica of the mosque – was constructed on the east side just to balance the overall symmetry of the architecture. This building houses a guest house and is called the Jawab, meaning ‘response’ since its purpose is to harmonise the scenery.
The Mughals were at the peak of their power and wealth during Shah Jahan’s reign, and India’s rich lode of precious gems yielded him much wealth and power. He spared no expense in using these gems in the design and building of the mausoleum.
The interior of the Taj is beautiful but unfortunately no photography is allowed. The octagonal marble screen or jali which borders the cenotaphs is made from eight marble panels which have been carved through with intricate pierce work. The remaining surfaces have been inlaid in extremely delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.
Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves. Hence, the bodies of Mumtaz and later, Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca.
Standing on the plinth and looking back toward the public entrance is the Great Gate to the Taj Mahal. Also made of red sandstone, it has a grandeur and beauty of its own.
Later in the day, we photographed the magnificent Taj from across the Jamuna River.
And it is from this window in Agra’s Red Fort that Shah Jahan sadly gazed upon that splendid monument for his beloved wife. Ironically, he spent the rest of his days imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who seized his father’s throne.
The complex fell into a state of disrepair by the 19th century, but was eventually restored, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Proof that we were there. Our 50th wedding anniversary. The best kind of memories.
“Did you ever build a castle in the Air? Here is one, brought down to earth and fixed for the wonder of ages”. ~ American novelist, Bayard Taylor