Thursday, 24 December 2015

Taj Mahal- A Tear on the Cheek of Time

You think you know all about the Taj Mahal, but the real thing still takes away your breath.

All my life I had heard so much about this monument that I thought the place was over-publicized, like that same song which played over and over again starts annoying you. So when I finally got the chance to see it in person I had mixed emotions. And to be honest the massive crowd one encounters in front of Taj is hardly a turn on. But if you are to remove all those disturbances(people randomly clicking and non-stop bantering to say the least), the place is haunting. And I don't mean in scary way, but something so capturing that it touches your very soul.

As per the legend Mumtaz Mahal asked for some promises from Shah Jahan before she died giving birth to their child. She was said to have asked the Emperor to build a monument that would reflect their love to the world and stand as a memorial showcasing their life. So that explains why he went all out making something so spectacular that could maybe remotely portray the way he felt about his marriage with her.

This mesmerizing monument stands on the banks of Yamuna and is a mix of architectural marvel and scientific research. The tomb laid out in rectangular shape can be approached through an immense gateway with huge arch that stands tall and erect, as though guarding something precious. And this is where I first laid my eyes on Taj Mahal, as if the veil had been lifted from the face of a beautiful woman.

The Taj is an experience of its own kind, while on the one hand its sheer size and magnanimity takes you off guard, on the other it's exquisite work and craftsmanship brings the elegance. As famously said, it is a romance celebrated in marble and glorified with precious and semi-precious stone!

But it's true beauty is not just in it's physical appearance but the story it carries with it. Just like a good song needs both lyrics and music, Taj Mahal's charm lies in the love it stands for. We were lucky enough to be one of the last few to leave the premises at the evening and that's when it was at it's best. As the last ray of light made it's way from the tomb, a sudden melancholy surrounded me. Without the maddening crowd and loud laughter's of tourists, the place becomes what's it's supposed to be - a place to mourn.

You know one thing you would notice undoubtedly, is the perfect symmetry of the place. In fact, the only visible asymmetric element in the entire complex is the tombstone of Shah Jahan next to Mumtaz Mahal. As per legends, Shah Jahan wanted to build his tomb on the other side of Yamuna as an exact replica of Taj Mahal but in black marble(to show his mourning), and to this day you can see the foundation laid for 'Black Taj'. But his dream was cut short by his son Aurangzeb, who imprisoned him for life.

Of course, Taj Mahal has lost it's previous glory with hundreds of years of attack and looting, not to mention new age pollution, but it still looked charming to me. By the way, guess what they are using to remove yellowness of the marble? Multani Mitti!! Apparently it not only works wonderfully on skin but on marble too.

There are too many discrepancies regarding how many wives he had or in what order but few things remain constant. Prince Khurram(later Shah Jahan) was engaged to Arjumand Banu Begum (later Mumtaz) when they were 15 and 14 respectively. They would, however, have to wait five years before they were married in 1612 AD, on a date selected by the court astrologers as most conducive to ensuring a happy marriage. After their wedding celebrations, Khurram "finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time", gave her the title 'Mumtaz Mahal' Begum (Chosen One of the Palace). Mumtaz Mahal had a deep and loving marriage with Shah Jahan. Even during her lifetime, poets would extol her beauty, grace, and compassion. She was Shah Jahan's trusted companion, travelling with him all over the Mughal Empire. His trust in her was so great that he even gave her his imperial seal and they had great respect for each other.

As I sat there, absorbing all the beauty and sadness of Taj Mahal, I couldn't help but think about all those funny whatsapp forwards we get about how Shah Jahan had so many wives and how Mumtaz died giving birth to his 14th child. Back then even I doubted the love which was glorified, but somehow after my visit to Taj that has changed. I think I understand better what they shared. In those days, it was common to marry for political reasons, so it doesn't matter how many wives he had or which number she stood. What matters is, she always remained 'the Chosen One', his Mumtaz Mahal. And as for the number of kids, hope people know that only 7 of those 13 kids survived beyond childhood. In those days, it was common and in fact advisable to have more kids especially if you are from royal family for various reasons. And even today a woman risks her life while delivering even if it's her first child, that doesn't mean the couple don't love each other enough! No matter what anyone says, the fact remains that this monument will always echo their love till eternity.

They say that the Taj Mahal has life of it's own. It's mood varies from dawn to dusk. It looks milky white in the soft light that characterizes early morning, while the afternoon sun makes it glisten bright and dazzling in the overhead sunlight, almost looking like a jewel against the opaque blue of the skyline. But I guess what I will be looking forward is to see it in full-moon night..when it shines like a pearl, standing tall as the testament to an eternal love.

"The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time."
                     - Rabindranath Tagore

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