Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Taj Mahal Is Truly a Wonder of the World

The world will decide on the new “Seven Wonders of the World” in July this year. And it seems that the Taj Mahal runs the risk of being toppled from its pride of place as one of the seven wonders. There are campaigns being run by every country to ensure that its own monuments figure as one of the Seven Wonders. But really why is it so important for the Taj Mahal to be one of them.

It’s not just because the Taj Mahal is synonymous with India. Nor is it just because it is to India, what Eiffel Tower is to France, the Big Apple to the US and the Big Ben to the UK. For, the Taj Mahal is more than just a magnificent monument that was built by Emperor Shah Jehan at a cost of millions.

The Taj Mahal is the ultimate tribute to love. What can be more romantic than an Emperor building a monument in the memory of his dear departed wife? What can be more inspiring than the fact that thousands of tourists turn up every year to gaze in awe-and-wonder at an edifice whose sheer magnificence creates not the splendour of a bygone past, but also pays a tribute to an emotion that makes us – Black or White, Rich or Poor – human?

It’s a monument that is deservedly a Wonder of the World. For, in this age of strife where all that we have to show for our so-called modernity and technological prowess are images and monuments that either glorify or recall the horrors of wars, here’s a monument that is perhaps the only one that’s been created in the honour of Love. Isn’t that a tremendous heritage?

It is said that Shah Jehan planned a duplicate mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Yamuna river. However he was overthrown and taken captive by his son Aurangzeb before it could be built. Ruins of black marble across the river in the Mahtab Bagh (the Moonlight Garden) support this legend. When Shah Jehan was imprisoned, the only thing that he could see from his prison cell was the Taj Mahal.

The monument has inspired myriad myths and beautiful legends. One story goes that once a year, during the rainy season, a single drop of water falls on Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph. The story recalls Rabindranath Tagore's description of the tomb as "one solitary tear hanging on the cheek of time".

Another myth suggests that beating the silhouette of the spire (set into the paving of the riverside forecourt) will cause water to come forth. To this day officials find broken bangles surrounding the silhouette.

Here are a few facts about the most unique wonder of the world:

  • Grief-stricken at the death of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal (on the event of the birth of their 14th child), Shah Jehan wanted to build a mausoleum in her memory complete with gardens.
  • Construction of the mausoleum started in 1632 and was completed in approximately 16 years, in 1648.
  • Ustad Ahmad Lahauri is believed to be the principal designer of this beautiful monument which combines Turkish, Indian and Persian architectural styles.
  • The inspiration for the design of the Taj included the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur in Samarkand), Humayun's Tomb (in Delhi) , Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi.
  • While previous Mughal buildings had been constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
  • Hindu craftsmen, particularly sculptors and stonecutters, were employed to build this Mughal monument. The carvings of Hindu rock-cut temples and the Man Singh palace in Gwalior also influenced the design of the Taj. The “chhatris” which can be seen on the Taj Mahal are a result of this Hindu-Muslim blend of architecture.
  • The main dome is crowned by a gilded spire or finial. Until the early 1800s, it was made of gold and it is now made of bronze. The finial provides a clear example of the integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. It is topped by a moon, an Islamic motif, whose horns point heavenward. Because of its placement on the main spire, the horns of the moon and the finial point combine to create a trident shape — reminiscent of the traditional Hindu symbols of Shiva.
  • Built on the banks of the Yamuna, the river is an integral part of the grand design of the complex – a fact that is evident from the design of the Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" which is part of the complex.