Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taj Mahal 06-07-08

Reminiscence of Taj Mahal

Mirza A. Beg
Written, Tuesday, July 6th, 2006

Counter Currents, Saturday, July 8, 2006

Taj Mahal is the most recognized mausoleum, or for that matter any building in the world. It has inspired lyrical feelings even in people, not given to poetic thoughts. One of the most apt descriptions of Taj I have ever read is,” it is a symphony in Marble”. One can find its pictures, history and architectural details in thousands of books and sites on internet. The following is a glimpse of what I saw and how I remember the “Taj”

I do not remember a time from my earliest childhood that I did not know of Taj and could not recognize a picture of the monument. The vastness of imagination has the advantage of being unfettered by gravity or any other natural law. Castles in one's imaginations have the ethereal quality of limitless space and beauty, therefore they can never be captured in stone, masonry or any other earthly material, but Taj Mahal came close to what I had imagined. I went through three stages of changing opinions in a very short time; from breathless wonder of ethereal beauty to disappointment in what appeared to be blemishes, and finally to a deeply felt appreciation of the embodiment of thoughts, dreams and above all love in material form.

I had seen many black and white and a few gaudy, colored enhanced calendar photographs. So I knew what to expect, or so I thought. The first time I saw it on my own, I was sixteen years old a freshman at Aligarh University. I went with a few friends in a public bus from Aligarh to Agra, a sort of pilgrimage of 80 miles to the fabled Taj.

It was the prime monsoon season, a rainy morning in August. The rain had just stopped after cleansing the atmosphere of the hanging dust churned up from the densely populated Agra city, on the bank of Jamuna River. Our bus was crossing the Jamuna Bridge; when suddenly to the southwest I saw the most elegant milk white Taj Mahal ethereally levitating in the almost black sky. The sheer contrast made the clouds darker than they were and Taj whiter than it was.

In Earth time, on the congested bridge, it probably took about ten minutes for the bus to cross, but it was timeless for me. I can still close my eyes and see that view, when the time stood still. Suddenly I was alone with no distractions, the din of the traffic, the friends, the bus or the bridge, all receded into oblivion. The Taj, the only reality, a small luminous white building of my imagination levitated in the backdrop of limitless black horizon.

Then just as suddenly it got lost behind the congestion of buildings lining the narrow streets of Agra, amplifying my expectations. We finally reached the premises after what felt like hours. It is well hidden behind very tall boundary walls. We entered the premise through a huge beautiful red sandstone building that serves as an ornate gate, a sentry guarding the hidden jewel.

It was almost as beautiful, but not quite. From the red sandstone gate, as we walked through the beautiful geometrically laid out Mughal garden, with each step the Taj kept growing larger and larger and to my astonishment the plinth of the edifice alone was almost four times taller than me. The marble slabs were huge and not as white as I thought. There were gray streaks of impurity in the metamorphosed stone, peaking my geological curiosity but grating my overly demanding aesthetics. Instead of a molded seamless heavenly milk white building it was made up of huge blocks of crystalline white marble with occasional gray streak, joined at seems. To my enchanted eyes were blemishes. I suddenly wished I had turned back at the bridge with the eternal beauty imprinted on my mind.

With young friends cracking jokes, pushing and shoving, doing everything except an appreciative study of the architectural marvel, we walked around for a while and saw all the obligatory points and a few other historical monuments. I left Agra in the late evening, disappointed.

A few years later I went again with a very close friend. We rediscovered a different Taj, a Taj of perfect proportions. Proportions of the dome to minarets on paper may not look right to many architects, but it is perfect the way it is. Seeing is believing. The calligraphy of Quranic verses in black jasper are so proportioned that they look the same size and can be read with equal ease from the bottom to the top a distance of about 80 feet. The exquisite filigreed marble screens around the graves are robust, but they appear too fragile to touch. The floral ornamentation of superbly sculpted beds of lilies and bouquets of narcissus, iris and tulips appear frozen in white marble providing a contrast to the curvaceous patterns of colorful vines inlaid with jade and malachite with flowers of amber, lapis, carnelian, amethyst, jasper and coral that form perfect delicte patterns on the walls and vaulted portals.

There is much to see in the beautiful red sandstone adjacent buildings as well, but they suffer the indignity of comparison with perfection. There are many beautiful buildings around the world that I cherish but there is only one Taj Mahal, the expression of the deepest abiding love of a man for his beloved wife. Because the man happened to be an Emperor, Shah Jahan, he could make the name of his wife Mumtaz Mahal eternal. He was lucky that in his grief he searched and found best of all the arts and engineering and they coalesced as never before or since.

I have been to Taj Mahal many times since. I have seen its unbelievable beauty in the evocative pale light of the harvest moon, its reflection in the waters of River Jamuna and in the blazing heat of June at high noon. Every time I see it, I feel the tug of the ultimate love incarnate in stone and discover new hidden aspects of its beauty. It beckons me to come again and again.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at

No comments: