India Taj Mahal - The Love Story

India Taj Mahal - The Love Story

The globally famous Taj Mahal needs no introduction. Its pristine beauty, enhanced by exquisite inlay work and fine filigree executed on marble, places it in a class apart. The most beautiful token of love a man can ever give to a woman, this unique mausoleum has been described as, "a tender elegy in marble" and "a lustrous pearl". Emperor Shah Jahan described the last resting place of his queen as, "A place as fresh and heavenly as a brilliant pearl".

The Love Story

Mughal kings used to shop at Meena Bazaar, a royal shopping arcade that opened once a month. It was at this bazaar that Shah Jahan set eyes on Arjumand Banu for the first time. The bewitching beauty of this 15-year old spirited girl immediately cast a spell on the young prince. Later, he sought the permission of his father, Emperor Jahangir, to marry this girl. Since she was a virtuous girl; apart from being the niece of Noor Jahan, Jahangir's wife; the approval was granted. The marriage was solemnized after five years, in 1612, and the emperor gave the title 'Mumtaz Mahal' (Exalted One of the Palace) to his daughter-in-law. For 18 years, they young lovers enjoyed a happy married life. Then misfortune struck. After delivering her 14th child, Mumtaz fell seriously ill, and succumbed to her illness, leaving behind a shattered Shah Jahan.

This ode to immortal love (Taj Mahal) was build by Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal. Twenty thousand workers are said to have labored for 22 long years to create this architectural wonder. Artisans were brought in from Baluchistan, Syria, Bokhara, Samarkand and South India to fashion excellent inlay work with jade and crystals from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, agates from Yemen, sapphires from Sri Lanka, amethyst from Persia and coral from Arabia. The state treasury provided about 500 kilograms of gold. The superb craftsmanship is evident everywhere, for example, from flowers measuring just one square inch but made up of 64 different pieces inlaid into marble!

The embellishments can be divided into four categories: pietra dura inlay, hard stone carving, incised paintings and calligraphy. Pietra dura is an ornamentation technique involving scooping of tiny excavations from the surface of marble, and then precisely fitting thin pieces of precious and semi-precious stones into it. Hard stone carving has existed in India, Iran and Central Asia since ancient times. Mughal artisans assimilated this art into their architectural masterpieces, evident in beautifully sculpted flowers on the walls of the Taj Mahal.

To create an incised painting, a thin layer of color pigment is placed over a plastic surface. After drawing designs on the colored surface, the pigment is scrapped off, exposing the white plaster underneath. The Islamic art of calligraphy is exhibited in the form of verses from the Holy Qu'ran, inscribed in black marble on the arched gates. The uniqueness of this art on the Taj Mahal is that all the letters seem to be of the same size, whether they are nearer or high on the arch. The calligraphers created this visual illusion by gradually increasing the size of the letters are the height increased. The size of letters on top of the portal is approximately 25% larger than those nearer to ground level.

Built on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, Taj Mahal is perhaps the finest example of symmetry in architecture. Three-storied minarets, each 40-meter high, stand on four corners of the platform.  With a diameter that ranges from 18-23 meters, the colossal central dome is surrounded by four smaller domes. Arabic verses from chapter 36 of the Holy Qu'ran, recited at the deathbed of loved ones, are delicately carved onto its square brackets. The room, directly under the main dome, houses the exact replicas of tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The actual resting place of these eternal lovers lie one floor below. The Mughal kings kept graves in the basement, since only members of the royal family and the highest dignitaries were allowed in. For commoners, replicas were made above them.

Originally, Shah Jahan had planned to construct a similar mausoleum in black marble for himself, across the river, connected by a bridge. But his son Aurangzeb, who ascended the throne after imprisoning his father, opposed the idea. Shah Jahan was eventually buried besides his beloved wife. His tomb created an asymmetrical element in the otherwise perfectly symmetrical lay out. To add further charm to this lustrous pearl, Shah Jahan created a beautiful garden around the Taj Mahal. The garden is divided into four quarters by two vertical canals, which cross each other in the centre. Stone-paved pathways further divide each quarter into sixteen flowerbeds. Uniform water pressure in each fountain was remarkably engineered, irrespective of the distance of these fountains from the water reservoir. This is one of the favorite places of visitors, who sit on the marble benches and gaze enviously at the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal complex also houses two identical buildings on either side of the main edifice. One, on the west, is a mosque with its face in the direction of Mecca, the holy pilgrimage destination for Muslims. As many as 539 couplets in praise of Allah are written in black marble on the shining floor of this mosque. Called Jawab (answer), the other mosque stands on the east side. There is ambiguity about its purpose and use. It is presumed that it was made purely to create symmetry. Here, floral designs executed in white marble on red sandstone replace the holy verses. Cleverly conceived, painstakingly constructed, and beautifully embellished, the Taj Mahal continues to be remembered as a monument of eternal love. Having stood proudly for 350 years, successfully facing vagaries of nature and surviving several sieges on Agra, the Taj Mahal is unfortunately, a threatened monument today. Endangered by atmospheric pollution, this white pearl is losing its luster. Environmentalists are alarmed that it will lose its brilliance in the coming centuries.

Though the glow may disappear, the essence of this magnificent monument will continue to awe and inspire lovers and visitors for aeons to come.

How to reach Agra

Delhi, the capital of India, is served by major airlines of the world. Agra is 200 kilometers from Delhi. Trains, buses and taxis ply this route. For the tourist with little time at his disposal, the Taj Express train offers a one-day excursion. It leaves Delhi at 7:00am and reaches Agra at 10:00am. Tourist buses wait at the railway station, and take the passengers on guided tours, which include a visit to Fatehpur Sikri. Situated 37 kilometers from Agra, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of Mughal Emperor Akhbar for 14 years. In the evening, the buses return well in time for the journey back on the Taj Express, which leaves Agra at 6:50pm.

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