Trip to the Taj - 3

The City of Agra is known as the City of Love. This is where Shah Jahan (whose name translates to Emperor of the Universe) built the Taj Mahal for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal (sometimes pronounced by our tour guide as Mehel)- whose name, in turn, translates to "ornament of the palace."

Mumtaz went through 14 pregnancies in the 18 years that she and Shah Jahan were together. To any mother who has gone through the birth experience, I'd say Mumtaz richly deserves having that monument built in her honor. From the 14 pregnancies, 6 kids survived. Mumtaz eventually died (in 1630, if I remember right)and before she did, she requested that her husband build a monument as a symbol of their love.

Shah Jahan commissioned 3 Persian architects to do the design of the Taj Mahal (which translates to Crown Palace).

We arrived at the Taj at about noon. Security is tight - you'll have to go through about 2 to 3 checks - and the following are not allowed inside: eatables, cell phones, knives, calculators, cameras (just kidding on the last one!). We then left our things in the tourist bus and just took our cameras.

As we finally entered the grounds, I don't know if I was overwhelmed more by the structure itself or by the thought alone of being there and seeing it. We clicked our cameras like crazy and after developing the photos, discovered that it isn't so easy to take a picture of a white structure made out of marble in the noonday sun. Good thing we asked a professional photographer to take our group picture. Each photo will cost you about 100 rupees. (By the way, only pose for photos that you intend to buy - to minimize the chances of you getting into trouble.)

We walk closer to the Taj and are told that except for the graves (of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz - it's a mausoleum, remember?), there is symmetry in everything. There is a functional mosque on one side and a replica mosque on the other. Whatever you find on the left, you find on the right. That probably explains the attractiveness of the structure. As they say, a symmetry has a lot to do with beauty.

As we go into the Taj to look at the replica graves (the public is no longer allowed to go down and see the real graves), we take off our shoes again. We then marvel at the inlaid marble technique used - where designs (e.g. flowers) were made out of semi-precious stones like: lapiz lazuli, mother of pearl, malachite, coral, cornelion (did I spell this right?). Each flower, for example, is made up of several tiny pieces of these semi-precious stones - cut and shaped. The marble likewise has carved designs - all made by hand (no high-tech machines used here!).

The marble used, our guide said, is the best kind. It is non-porous (i.e. will not stain no matter what you spill on it), hard (i.e. will not break or chip off), and light passes through. Inside the Taj, it is quite dark. Our guide put a flashlight near one of the walls - and the marble appears to reflect the light. Also, one of the stones - the one called cornelion - is the only one that shows when you put a flashlight on top of the flowers made out of semi-precious stones. No blues or greens appear anymore - just red!

More than the way the structure looks, it's realizing the work that went into building the Taj that is more amazing. It took 22 years to build, 20 thousand people working round the clock. Some of the people who had been there before said that the marble doesn't seem as white now - but to me, it's still one structure that I'm so happy to have seen.

Up Next: Bringing Some Marble Home/So Long, India

[By Angelica Viloria | Tuesday, April 29, 2003]

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