Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Taj Mahal

We finally reached the Taj Mahal, which stands on the bank of River Yamuna, about 2 kms away from Agra Fort. Even though it was not listed among the 7 wonders of the Ancient World compiled by the by the Greeks, it is one of the World's most beautiful man made structures. It is definitely India's most famous architectural wonder.

When we got there, we were mobbed by vendors, many of them kids trying to sell us all kinds of stuff ranging from key chains to T-shirts. We had to leave our bus behind and get into electric powered mini-buses. We leant that this was a new measure to protect the Taj from pollution damage. And we were finally there at the gates of the Taj complex.

Let me tell you a bit about the love story behind the structure.
Arjumand Banu (later known as Mumtaj Mahal) was the daughter of Asaf Khan, the brother of the emperor Jahangir's wife, Noorjahan. As mentioned in my earlier post, Prince Khurram (later known as Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor) met her at the Meena Bazaar for the women of the harem inside Agra Fort. She became Mumtaz Mahal in 1612 after her marriage. They were married for 19 years during which she bore him 14 children, 7 of whom died in infancy. Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth in 1630 (or 1931) in Burhanpur where she had accompanied her husband as he went to war. She was buried there and her remains later shifted to the Taj after it was completed. According to popular legend, she had made him promise to build for her a monument that would symbolize their love and to never to remarry, as she lay on her deathbed.

About the building and the surrounding complex:
There is disagreement about the time taken to build the Taj. An anecdote says Taj Mahal was built over a period of twenty two years, however some say it took only eleven years to complete. Expert craftsmen from India and other places including Baghdad, Shiraz and Bukhara worked on the tomb.

The Darwaza or main gateway is made of the scarlet colored sandstone and has twenty-two small domes on top of it. The gateway has Islamic calligraphy in black on the surface. To reach the Taj Mahal, we have to walk across the garden with it beautiful fountains and manicured lawns.

The Taj Mahal is on a raised marble platform and we were not allowed to walk up with our shoes. Just to be safe, we opted to put on a protective cover over our shoes instead of leaving them there outside by paying about Rs 20 (approx. RM 2) to a guy there.

On the East and west sides of the Taj Mahal (which is built entirely of white marble) are identical red sandstone buildings. On the west is a mosque. The replica on the other sides is the Naqqar Khana or rest house and its purpose is merely to preserve the symmetry of the structure.

What can I say about the tomb? Both my wife and me could only go, "Wow!" "Wow!"

Though we didn't notice it at first, there was something amazing about the Quranic verses around the archway. They appeared to be uniform, regardless of their height. The guide mentioned that spacing, density and size of the letters increased in size as the height increased giving us the illusion of being the same size, when viewed from below.

Inside, the tomb of Shahjahan lies next to his wife's and breaks the perfect symmetry. It was not intended to be there but his son, Aurangzeb squeezed it beside the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. We learnt that the real tomb that houses the grave of Mumtaz Mahal is at a lower chamber below. Unfortunately we were not allowed to enter it. The graves are surrounded by a screen (or jali), which had been carved out of a single block of marble.

Inside the tomb, a person came towards us and volunteered to show us around. He had noticed that we were trying to read the Islamic calligraphy on the walls. Of course we were a bit wary and tried to slip away saying that we didn't need a guide. I guess he sensed our feelings and mentioned that he didn't want to take any money, mentioning that he was a Muslim too. He showed us around and read out the various surah (verses) of the Quran on the walls. He had a small penlight and by pressing it to the wall, showed us that the intricate designs were not painted on but were indeed precious and semi-precious stones inlaid on the surface. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures. The guy then demonstrated the fantastic acoustic design of the building by shouting out the Azan. The whole structure echoed with his voice and it made the hair on my arm stand up.

On bidding farewell to the guy, we tried to give him some money but he refused to take any saying that he was one of the custodians of the building and it was his job, leaving us a bit ashamed about our earlier thoughts.

As in the palaces of the Agra fort, the intricate inlay designs (of semi-precious and precious stones) on the marble surface is breathtaking and mere words cannot describe their beauty. Unfortunately, I noticed that some of these are scarred and hollow today - I guess damaged and looted by greedy people over the years.

We were a bit sad as we were about to pas the gates and took a last look at the memorial of love. Some say that the World is composed of two groups of people, those who have seen it and the other who have not. We are fortunate to be in the former group.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i had an opportunity to go to india last august..we went to taj mahal too..the architecture of the whole complex are amazing and unbelievable for that period..


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