31 October 2011

Taj Mahal

I am not ashamed to admit that the Taj Mahal has been a significant part of the draw of India for me. Ever since I read and reread Kathryn Lasky's rendering of Jahanara's diary during my historical fiction kick as a child, the story of the Taj has had an irresistible pull on my imagination. Happily, it did not disappoint.

Once inside the temple compound, we face an imposing red entry gate. 

A young, college-educated Indian man eagerly pounced on us, promising that his tour guide services were perfectly free and immensely useful. We reluctantly agreed, and we were fortunate in that he never did insist on payment. He regaled us with tidbits about the symmetry of the building,

the best places to take photos of each other,

the paradise of gardens that fill the compound despite the merciless Indian weather,

the four minarets,

the matching guest house and mosque on either side of the tomb,

the white marble, jasper, jade, crystal, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sapphire, and carnelian stones that make up the interior design,

the carefully carved marble flower inlay, always perfectly symmetrical,

the herringbone visual tricks on the exterior,

the quiet beauties of the guest house next door,

more photo opportunities from within the guest house,

the trick that allowed us to photograph the Taj reflected in our sunglasses,

the leafy green retreat back to the gate,

and the elaborate archways that enclose the compound.

I snagged an almost-straight shot of the Taj when I had a moment in front of it by myself

and consented to a photo of myself as well.

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The Taj Mahal is not only the most exquisitely beautiful building I have ever seen, but it also functions as a museum for the glories of the Mughal empire. The Mughals were Muslim rulers of much of what is now modern India, and their religion shows in the Koran calligraphy engraved on the exterior of the buildings in the compound. The powerful Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, his wife and the mother of my friend Jahanara. He was so heartbroken at her death that he built this for her tomb. Now the building is swarmed with tourists (it is a significant source of income for the Indian government, so much so that they went to great lengths to protect it from bombs during WWII) but I imagined Shah Jahan standing there by the reflecting pool, entirely alone, mourning for his beloved wife. 

Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal weren't buried in the upper room where tourists are allowed but down beneath it. Her cenotaph is exactly in the center, the core of all the symmetry in the entire design, centered on the line that runs throughout the compound architecture.

Today, the Taj Mahal functions as a draw for tourists. We encountered everything from camels pulling carts of people to little boys following you, trying to sell overpriced trinkets. Our tour guide was a Hindu man who clearly could not be bothered with the Muslim faith (or with the flocks of tourists for that matter), but he understands the source of revenue that is the Taj and he made it work for him. Like so many things worth seeing, the Taj is not the easiest to see, but as we realized, walking through the dark inner chamber of Mumtaz's cenotaph, it was worth all the trouble.

1 comment:

  1. what do we need to feel proud of our India. it is nothing other than the Wonderful monument TAJ MAHAl. I really admire at it because of the way it is built. Specially the idea behind building Taj Mahal's pillar leaning to outside, even if there comes earth quack it will not damage Taj.