Agra Journals

The Taj: Monument of Pride and Passion

An October 2000 trip to Agra by kharkhuwa

The Taj Photo, Agra, India More Photos
Quote: Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, the Taj today is the source of attraction for millions of tourists from all over the world.

The Taj: Monument of Pride and Passion

Overview

The Taj Photo, Agra, India
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Agra is first and foremost the city of the Taj; visit it at all cost when you are in the city. Pictures just do not do it justice. You can take a short trip to the Itmad-ud-daulah, a pretty jewel-box like structure on the other bank of the Yamuna. The tomb is constructed entirely of marble and is a forerunner of the Taj Mahal. The massive Agra Fort and the Dayal Bagh temple, currently under construction, are also worth seeing. Fatehpur Sikri, 37 km west of Agra, is the antiquated and abandoned Mughal city of Emperor Akbar that has been perfectly preserved over the years. A brisk excursion to the site is rewarding. Petha is a crusty sugar drenched sweetmeat of Agra. Like the Taj Mah...Read More

Introduction

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Described as the most extravagant monument ever built for love, this poignant Mughal mausoleum has become the de facto tourist emblem of India. To India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, the Taj was a "teardrop on the face of humanity," an edifice that echoes the cry, "I have not forgotten, I have not forgotten, O beloved." Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra, the Taj today is source of attraction for millions of tourists from all over the world. A Bit of History On June 17, 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died, after delivering her fourteenth child "Gauharar." The grief-stricken Shah Jahan stood dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. She had died leaving all her c...Read More

The Taj vis-à-vis Islamic Architecture

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The Taj Photo, Agra, India
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The dome is crucial to Islamic architecture, cosmologically uniting heaven and earth. The square of the edifice represents the material universe, the dome symbolizes the vault of heaven. The octagon stands for the transitional phase. Above the finial is the region of transcendence. The whole domed structure is thus designed as a replica of the throne of God in Paradise where a gigantic white pearl dome stands supported by four corner pillars from which flow the rivers of grace. The Taj architects have prominently used the keel arch set within a rectangle, repeating the shape everywhere "the gateway, niches, windows, trellised doors, plinth, dome ornamentation and cusped arches of he cupolas. To com...Read More
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The Taj derives much of its charm from the sprawling garden laid out in the Persian Char Bagh style. The fountains and canals provide a grand reflection of the Taj, accentuating the Paradise imagery. The Qur’an is regarded as the mirror image of a tablet in heaven: the Tree of Life grows upside down in the paradisiacal garden. The water image thus recreated a divine inspiration. In this death-inspired monument, rows of cypresses lead the eye to the tomb in white marble standing at the extreme end of the garden rather than in the centre as at other Mughal tombs. There is no truth in the familiar tale that Shah Jahan had the hands of his chief architect chopped off to prevent his building a...Read More

Shah Jahan’s Last Days

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In 1648 Shah Jahan had shifted capital to Shahjahanabad. He already had the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. He never remarried but his lust for life continued unabated. Bernier, Tavernier and Niccola Manucci provide salacious details about the Mughal emperor’s private indulgences, excesses defying age and causing deterioration of health. As prisoner in the Agra Fort during his last days, Shah Jahan fell terribly ill. His parched throat could hardly swallow a few drops of sherbet. Nicola Manucci relates a tale that a faqir in Bijapur had warned Shah Jahan that the day his hands stopped smelling of apples he would die. Shah Jahan recalled the words and smelt his hands. A sigh escaped h...Read More
The Taj Photo, Agra, India
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Now more than three centuries have passed and the Taj is seen by millions of visitors every year. It continues to retain a romantic aura about it "so like a fabric of mist and sunbeams…a silvery bubble…you almost doubt its reality." The Taj is still "the grand passion of an Emperor’s love," as Edwin Arnold wrote, or as Tagore said, "one solitary tear… on the Cheek of time." The subtle play of light on the white marble dome creates its own moods to which even the hardest cynic ultimately succumbs. Millions and millions of photographs taken fail to capture the quintessence of the Taj. From the riverside, the Taj looks a mirage, an image floating on the lazy currents of the river. ...Read More

Postscript: The Second Taj

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Well begun is half done, or so the saying goes. It now appears that the Taj that Shah Jahan built at Agra was only a half of what the emperor had envisaged. The other half, it seems, was to be a replica of the present monument on the opposite bank of the river, but in black marble instead of white. It is also believed that Shah Jahan had originally planned to connect both the monuments by a bridge. Let’s take the available evidence first. Tavernier, the French traveller who visited Agra during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, records the construction of the second Taj almost contemporarily: Shahjahan began to build his tomb on the other side of the river, but the war with hi...Read More