Saturday, January 02, 2010

Taj Mahal, Agra

Like most travelers who overnighted it in Agra, I awoke early to arrive at the entrance gate of the Taj Mahal for opening time. My hotel was right by the East entrance gate, so I could just amble on over. After paying the high non-Indian price 750 rupees ($16) for a ticket, I walked through the Darwaza – the main gateway. Beyond the well-maintained garden divided into quadrants and straight pool-like canals lay the most famous building in the world – the Taj Mahal. Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife who died trying to deliver their 14th child, this building is a mausoleum on a grand scale. It was built between 1631 and 1653 with the help of over 20,000 laborers.

Taj Mahal
On an early winter morning, the grounds were enshrouded with fog, adding to the feeling of tranquility – an almost dream-like state. Walking past the canals and lotus reflection pool, I was now at the entry of the white marble building. I followed the beautiful Arabic calligraphy framing the outer portion of the front entrance. Created from inlaid black onyx, the calligraphy is actually slightly larger as it goes upwards, counteracting the natural change in size with perspective and further emphasizing its perfection. Around the slightly pointed arch were organic designs comprised mainly of curvilinear vines and flowers made out of semi-precious stones. Symbols of the divine realm, flowers such as tulips, lilies, irises, poppies, and narcissuses are depicted on the Taj.

Photography forbidden inside, I had to be content with simply observing the tomb chamber. Light from windows illuminated the interior. In the center was Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph, raised on a platform. To the left was Shah Jahan’s cenotaph. I found the asymmetry of this rather odd, not fitting with the rest of the symmetrical balance. Actually, these are replicas. The originals are thought to be buried below ground. Surrounding the royal tombs was a marble filigree screen, carved from a single block of marble. Light filtered through the perforated screen cast mosaic-ike shadows on the tombs. Floral designs embellished the lower part of the building’s interior. Placing a pen flashlight up to a flower, its 64 pieces of translucent carnelian appeared to almost glow. From the large main room were smaller rooms – viewing areas for ladies. The women could walk through the deep openings and peer at the tombs through the rectangular window. Dappled light from the hexagonal latticed outer windows illuminated the floral designs, relief carvings framed by floral borders with semi-precious stones such as onyx, jade, lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, and carnelian. Four octagonal corner rooms of excellent acoustics were once used by the mullahs to chant the Koran and for musicians who played soft Indian and Persian songs.

To the right of the Taj Mahal building near the walls of the complex was a guesthouse, its red sandstone exterior and surface treatment identical to the mosque – the Jami Masjid on the opposite side. In front of the mosque was an ablutions pool. Because this is still a functioning mosque, the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. The guesthouse was constructed to complete the symmetrical balance of the mosque. Above the main entrance of these buildings was a large white onion dome, balanced on each side with a smaller dome. Floral flourishes graced the pointed archways here as well. Standing in the doorway of the guesthouse, I had an excellent silhouetted framed view of the Taj Mahal.

Walking back to the entrance, the guide pointed out the two rows of 11 domes flanking the top of the Darwaza building. These represent the 22 years it took for the completion of the Taj Mahal.

More to come tomorrow. To see more photos of the Taj Mahal, visit my Flickr Page


Virginia Bed and Breakfast said...

Taj Mahal is measured one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Some historians have noticed that its beauty and its architectural can never be built again. I never ever go there if I got a chance to go to India so my first destination will be Taj Mahal.

Unknown said...

Beautiful pictures and amazing post on Taj Mahal. It is one of the most wonderful monument of India. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal opening time is very important know before planning a visit.