“The world believes it was built by love, but reading Shah Jahan’s own words on the Taj, one could say it was grief that built the Taj Mahal and it was sorrow that saw it through sixteen years till completion.”
Arriving at our hotel in Agra the young porter said he had a surprise, dramatically throwing wide the curtains to reveal a recognisable spot on the smoggy horizon – the Taj Mahal.
5:30 am wakeup, 6am in the bus and at 6:30 the warmth of the sunrise rims the building Aldous Huxley described as ‘perhaps the most beautiful building in the world.’ It is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Entrance gates facing down towards the tomb. In the right corner, is the bench where everyone gets photographed, to prove they have been here.
Bill Clinton once said, `There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.’ I hope with my photos and words I can help you agree with a President of the USA on a least one thing. This place is all about symmetry – laid out in a rectangular grid, 42 acres with water fountains and gardens and reflecting pools along the Yamuna River, including a mosque, a guest house, an enormous entrance gate, four minaret towers and the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s wife. It has been described as “the soul of Iran incarnate in the body of India” because a Mughal (Muslim) despot, ruling a Hindu nation, used a Persian architect and local materials, to construct an edifice designed to last forever.
“The most impressive in the Taj Mahal complex next to the tomb, is the main gate which stands majestically in the centre of the southern wall of the forecourt. The gate is flanked on the north front by double arcade galleries. The garden in front of the galleries is subdivided into four quarters by two main walk-ways and each quarters in turn subdivided by the narrower cross-axial walkways, on the scheme of the walled in garden”. UNESCO
The Tomb is three stories on a raised plinth so it is visible from everywhere in Agra. This is the second floor entry to the crypt which required a full security search, because of threats made by terrorists to blow up the monument. The only lighting inside comes from the high windows on the four facing walls. They are covered by ornately decorated, carved marble screens.
Photography is forbidden within the tomb for practical rather than religious reasons. Taking photos slows things down and the single file of tourists has to be kept moving. The lack of light means that amateurs will let off flashes (horrible!) and professionals will want to use a tripod! I set the camera on 3200 ISO Automatic exposure, lens wide open and put it down on any solid surface, taking a time exposure. Nobody noticed I took 8 images, 4 of which were usable . The pictures are much brighter than reality-the equivalent of a bright moonlit night.
In the centre of the crypt is the casket of Mumtaz Mahal, the Empress Consort of Shah Jahan, Mogul Emperor. Her remains are not in the casket but in the crypt underneath. She married at the age of 19 in 1612 the Prince who 11 years later became. Shah Jahan.. She was his second wife. Mumtaz and her husband had fourteen children. Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 during the birth of her fourteenth child, a daughter who survived and lived to 75. Mumtaz was a talented and cultured lady, well-versed in Arabic and Persian and a poet, She was reputed to have a combination of modesty and candour, a woman warmly straightforward yet bemusedly self-possessed. Their’s was a passionate marriage. His other two marriages, in contrast were politically motivated and each only produced one child.
In the dark the security guard uses his torch to demonstrate the translucent marble of the screen and the luminance of the semi precious stones used for the decorations.
The Taj has been described as having been “designed by giants and finished by jewellers”.
The Mosque. On the other side of the Taj is an identical building. It is not a mosque though. It was believed to be used as a guest house, but it purpose was to make the Taj Complex perfectly symetrical.
The outer porch of the mosque, magnificent arches, towering ceilings with jewel decorated panels.
Ceiling of the porch to the mosque
Fine detail of the ceiling of the mosque
View of the Taj Mahal through the archway of the mosque
When the British conquered India and first saw the Taj Mahal these gardens were wooded with groves of many kinds of trees, especially fruits.
They were cleared on orders of the British to give an unimpeded view of the magnificent buildings.
The Taj Mahal is a building built after tragedy and completed in conflict. The tradition amongst the Mughal Rajah’s was for the sons to fight amongst themselves for the throne. Mumtaz Mahal’s third son, Aurangzeb, ultimately succeeded his father as the sixth Mughal Emperor in 1658, having defeated (and executed) his three brothers. He then imprisoned his father Shah Jahan for eight years in the Agra Fort on the opposite side of river from the building where his wife lay. This was the view from his prison quarters. On his death he was buried beside her.