The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Love could be immortalized. It could be remembered and written forever into the world, inscribed on some inanimate object.”

-Alexis from “The Shoreline”

 “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”

-Sir Edwin Arnold

           Sitting on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, the Taj Mahal is much more than meets the eyes, much more than an ancient work of art for people to ooh and ahh over (“Taj Mahal”). Ordered to have been built by Shah Jahan, the ruling king of India in the year 1632 AD, after the death of his beloved second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a manifestation and expression of his love (“Taj Mahal”). A true work of art, this marble mausoleum commemorates and immortalizes the king’s loyalty towards his wife. Roughly translated into English, ‘Taj Mahal’ literally means ‘crown palace’, which is another homage to the late Mumtaz Mahal whose name stood for “the greatest” or “the chosen one” in Persian. Amidst his loss, one can almost imagine the distraught king weeping and grieving over his wife’s lifeless body as a burning fire grows within him, a fire that later leads him to scavenge the empire to erect the palace of the century.

          Today, the Taj Mahal is well known as a prime example of Mughal architecture and is a major tourist attraction, and every year millions from all over the world flock to India to see it in all its glory. While admission is open to the general public, individuals are charged a varied amount of entrance fee depending on your citizenship and the type of tour requested by the individuals. Indian citizens can enter the Taj with a meager fee of 10 Rupees or $0.16, while others are charged from 250 to 500 Rupees or 4 to 8 dollars (“Taj Mahal”). This low fee allows for even the most impoverished of Indians to have access to this national and historic treasure, a privilege many take advantage of.

           Encompassing 42 acres of land, the Taj Mahal is the culmination of hundreds of thousands of human laborer’s sweat and tears over the course of 22 years (UNESCO). As you enter the gates of Taj Mahal, a mosque to the left and a guest house to the right of the palace can be seen, with a plethora of gardens filling in the gap between the structures. Identical in design, both buildings were fashioned using red limestone, greatly contrasting the purity of the white marbled exterior of Taj Mahal’s main palace (UNESCO). Shah Jahan, as one of the richest and most powerful men of his time, must have used and exhausted India’s resources to see this project come to life, hiring the best artisans, stone-cutters, calligraphers, masons and constructors in the land (“Taj Mahal, India”). The Taj Mahal is estimated to have cost Jahan an astounding 32 million rupees or today’s equivalent of 1.1 billion dollars. Indeed, it was money well spent as the Taj is one of the most intricately designed buildings of this world, where each stroke and carving of the artisans’ tool was calculated and purposefully made.

           Surely, it must be quite the sight to see the palace in different times throughout the day, as the white Makrana marble used for its exterior is well known for its ability change in tone and shade in the most subtle changes of light. From a dreamy aspect of the early dawn, to the dazzling white under the midday sun, and to the dome resembling a beaconing and iridescent pearl under the moonlight, it is not hard to see why the Taj is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful architectures (“Taj Mahal, India”). Due to its ethereal design and environment, the Taj Mahal also symbolizes not only the longevity of love, but the metaphorical presence and essence of god as a light and his ever changing nature. In fact, the design of the Taj and its surrounding environment is believed to be the emperor Jahan’s representation of heaven and his attempt of recreating his perception of heaven on earth itself (“Facts About the Taj Mahal”). It can even be said that Taj Mahal is Janah’s contribution, his legacy perhaps, to the world of the arts and to his people, as many other after him have attempted but have fallen short in recreating of the splendor of Taj Mahal.

          Once inside the Taj, you may find yourself walking towards the tomb chamber where the king and his wife lay at rest. An interesting discovery in the architecture of this palace was that the very pillars that supports the palace had been specifically designed to tilt outward so that in case of an earthquake the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal would be spared from any significant damage, as the debris would crumble around and not directly on the tombs (STS). Even in the afterlife Shah Jahan made sure that the couple’s final resting place remained untouched and unharmed.

           Many indians believe that when Jahan began planning for his own mausoleum, in preparation for his death, to be built across the Yamuna River, his son had apparently had enough of his father’s excessive spending and, thus, locked the king up in the Agra Fort (Slots). There he sat by a window, until the very day he died, gazing across in the distance upon the tomb of his long-lost wife (Slots). This story may strike a chord as this is the type of everlasting love people spend most of their lives searching for and dreaming of, and here was Jahan, the king who did end up to find the love of his life only to lose her so early.

          Side by side, the emperor and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal rest in peace, entombed and surrounded by the king’s extraordinary manifestation of his love. Truly, Taj Mahal was Shah Jahan’s way of honoring his wife’s memory and this love continues to radiates from the Taj, leaving spectators in awe of its beauty. To this day, the Taj Mahal remains a jewel, a symbol of Mughal art and architecture in India, as well as a constant reminder of the extend at which people are willing to express their love and affection.

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References:

“Facts About the Taj Mahal.” Taj Mahal. Easy Tours of India, n.d. Web. 3 Nov 2013.                                                                                      http://tajmahal.travel/facts-about-taj-mahal.html

Savion Travel Services. Taj Mahal, STS, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.                                                                                                     http://www.tajmahal.org.uk/index.html

Slots, Els. “Taj Mahal.” World Heritage Site. World Heritage Site, n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.                    http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/tajmahal.html

“Taj Mahal.” Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Ministry of Culture, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.              http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_agratajmahal.asp

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Taj Mahal. UNESCO, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2013             http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252

Image: http://img.timeinc.net/time/2012/influentialplaces/tajmajal.jpg

 

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