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Pete Martin ¦ Transformational Journeys

There is nothing like seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time

INDIA | Wednesday, 6 June 2018 | Views [44]

2013 11 11 Taj Mahal (3)

2013 11 11 Taj Mahal (3)

From the other side of the Yamuna River, I get my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It’s one of the most well-known sights in the world. Its buildings are silhouetted by the hazy light, which, apparently, is normal for this time of year. The river is low and there’s a muddy flood plain. In the quiet of the morning, there are bright green parakeets flying around in the trees above. At the top of the road, there are a couple of small stalls selling teas, cold drinks, postcards and other junk. A couple of scrawny kids run the stalls and are supervised by an old, bony man dressed in tattered robes and a turban, who sits quietly with his two goats. Within ten years I’m sure there will be a Burger King and a toboggan ride here, just like there is at the Great Wall of China.

Late in the afternoon, I walk from the entrance buildings into the main square and the two entrance gates beautifully frame the mausoleum in the late afternoon sunlight. It is true what is said: the Taj Mahal is magnificent.

It is busy, but not enough to spoil the occasion. I can freely wander. A small waterway leads directly to the white marble tomb ahead of me. Tourists queue to sit on Lady Diana’s Chair, waiting their turn to replicate one of the saddest photographs in history.

Mumtaz Mahal was the inseparable wife of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. She was a Muslim Persian princess and he was the son of the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir, and the grandson of Akbar the Great. It was at the age of fourteen that Shah Jahan met Mumtaz and fell in love with her. Five years later, in the year 1612, they got married. In 1631, Mumtaz died while giving birth to their fourteenth child and it was in memory of his beloved wife that Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal. The construction started in the year of Mumtaz’s death and it took twenty-two years to complete. Shah Jahan commissioned masons, stonecutters, carvers, painters, calligraphers, builders and other craftsmen from the whole of the Mughal Empire and also from further afield from Central Asia and Iran to build a mausoleum entirely out of white marble.

The gardens are laid out symmetrically. The Islamic design of the garden symbolizes spirituality and, according to the Quran, the lush green, well-watered garden is a symbol of paradise in Islam. The raised pathways divide the garden into four quarters and each of the four quarters has sixteen flowerbeds, with then an equal amount of plants in each.

The main tomb stands majestically on a square platform raised above the riverbank and the afternoon sun accentuates the brightness of the marble. There are four minarets on each corner of the platform detached from the tomb and the immaculate symmetry of the building is overwhelming. My eyes are pulled upwards from the gardens to the beauty of the sight in front of me. The German philosopher Count Hermann Keyserling described what I now see as, “A massive marble structure, without weight, as if formed of ether, perfectly rational and at the same time entirely decorative, it is perhaps the greatest art work which the forming spirit of mankind has ever brought forth."

The western side of the main tomb has the mosque and mirrored on the eastern side is the Naqqar Khana (the guest house), both made from red sandstone. The two buildings provide further architectural symmetry and also a strange colour contrast to the white marble. Closer to the tomb, the symmetry becomes even more fascinating. Even the smallest designs are noticeable, such as the zig-zagged black framework, giving the effect of movement, with patterns being duplicated on each side of the building.

The crypt contains the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan himself, who was buried there after he died. Shah Jahan's tomb, which is next to that of Mumtaz, was never planned to be here and it’s the only breakage in the otherwise perfect symmetry of the Taj. Typically for Mughal mausoleums, perforated marble screens allow light into the shadowy chamber. I can just about make out some of the calligraphy inscribed on the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. These are the ninety nine names of Allah.

I find a bench in the manicured gardens to watch the sunset descend over one of the wonders of the world. I bask in the solitude of being here. It feels like I am the only person here. The colours of the mausoleum change with the reducing light of the day, darkening as I watch. It is said that this changing pattern of colours depicts the different moods of a woman. I am very much at peace here. It’s one of those Grand Canyon, Lourdes or Neuschwanstein moments, when other people seem to disappear and I’m the only person connecting and belonging to the world. I have such a sense of awe and wonder, in being in the present moment and yet totally lost in the presence of beauty.

Tags: india, transformational journeys, wonders of the world

 

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