Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Taj Mahal - A Wonder of the Modern World

Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631. She was the favorite wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and her tomb the Taj Mahal is thought to have been built to reflect her beauty in its perfection of design. Mumtaz was the mother of 14 of Shah Jahan’s children which were all born during an 18 year period. Shah loved Mumtaz so much that she accompanied him on his military excursions which included defeating the Rajput chiefs. She died at the age of 38 shortly after giving birth to the 14th child while living in a military camp in Burhanpur.

Following Mumtaz’s death Shah entered a long period of mourning observing Islamic rituals for the dead but reducing his military activities and forsaking the symbols of status such as jewelry, perfume or music for two years. Six months after her death with the military campaign over Shah returned to Agra. Mumtaz’s body was brought home and a site selected for her tomb on the banks of the Yamuna. Twelve years later Shah was living an opulent life in Delhi which he was laying out as the new capital when he became ill. His three remaining sons realizing that the throne was soon to become available argued and conspired among themselves for succession. Victorious, Shah’s son Aurangzeb chased his brothers around the country to remove their threat to the throne and exiled his father to the luxurious apartments at the Agra Fort where Shah spent the next 8 years of his life gazing on the Taj Mahal while enjoying every luxury apart from freedom. 

The view Shah Jahan "enjoyed" of the mausoleum for 8 yrs. prior to  his death

The apartments where Shah Jahan was confined

The design and style of the Taj is typical Mughal but also drawn from earlier periods going back as far as the ninth century. Humayan’s Tomb 1565 in Delhi and the Baby Taj (Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb 1628) are just two tombs with features similar to those seen in the Taj. 41 million rupees, 500 kilos of gold, marble and precious stones as well as the labor of 20,000 workers were needed to complete the Taj over a 22 yr. period.

Symmetrical, exquisite, detailed and often thought of as feminine the Taj is not only a symbol of love but also of India. In 2007 it became one of the seven wonders of the modern world, thanks in part to the power of modern technology where cell phones were used in the campaign to vote. One of the quotes from our trip that has stuck with me is, "more cell phones than toilets" which helps to explain the power of 1.28 billion people coming together for a common cause.

Decorative elements include Pietra Dura (inlay with precious and semi-precious stones). The Mughals believed flowers were “symbols of the divine realm”. Shaded effects were created with tulips, lilies, iris, poppy and narcissus. Calligraphy of inlaid black marble on the white marble inscribe Koranic passages. Carved relief work create texture in contrast with the pietra dura giving color to the white marble. Other decorative elements include black slate, yellow, red and grey sandstone and hand carved marble screens.

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