I don’t know about you, but I find this image absolutely captivating. I saw my first photo of the Taj Mahal when I was in high school. It became my dream to travel to Agra, India, to experience the Taj first-hand. Every thing, every body & every place has an energy dynamic all its own. When you become part of that dynamic, all your senses are engaged at once (in 3D, high-def!), which in India is both totally overwhelming AND equally exciting. I knew I wanted to behold this place & imbibe its energy in person. Lo & behold, almost 20 years later, I did! Isn’t it great when that happens?!! Remarkably, I don’t possess any of my own photos from that time, but certain images & feelings are etched in my memory. Beauty of India on Facebook is where I retreived the image above.
India often conjures up notions of extreme poverty & sadness. It is that, & so much more. It is truly a remarkable place filled with juxtapositions. For instance, when I made it there in 1998, the sky was brown from dust, smoke & pollution…not even close to the hue of bright blue in the above photo. (Maybe things are different now; could be better, could be worse). Sadly, I was told the Yamuna River surrounding the Taj no longer supported life (although, laundry was frantically being beaten by Dhobi wallahs & dried on its shores). And, the pollution was also doing damage to the structural materials (and my lungs!). There were maimed amputees & children crawling, pawing & knocking on the car windows in the parking lot. That part was absolutely heart-wrenching. The Taj is a major tourist mecca with all the trappings: cheesy souvenirs being hawked, loads of tour busses, traffic in every direction & the accompanying crowds & trash along with it. Magically, this incredible masterpiece transported me beyond all that devastating lack-lustre ickiness, with its grand brilliance – from every angle & in every detail. (I don’t know if the inhabitants of the city feel that way, but I hope that they get some relief from its presence in their midst). And, there were indeed women floating around in the most becoming outfit ever created for womankind, the sari…
What we ARE drawn to, is enduring energy of the Taj itself…probably THE grandest, most beautiful, romantic gesture of love & devotion of all time. Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan had it erected in the 1600’s as a mausoleum for his wife, Queen Mumtaz Mahal, who died during the birth of their 14th child. It is rumored that later in life, the Shah was imprisoned by his son in the nearby Agra Fort, in a marble tower where he died in view of his beloved’s resting place. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 & not long ago, was added to the New 7 Wonders of the World (check out the other 6 Wonders, they’re pretty awesome). The official tourism website is pretty fun too & worth a click.
Inevitably, legends surround this wondrous accomplishment. While I was there, I was told that the Shah used 20,000 laborers who, upon completion, had their hands chopped off to prevent any duplication of the work. He also had plans for a matching mausoleum in black marble for himself, across the river, facing hers. That never materialized. I was also told that the Taj Mahal structure & compound design has components of sacred geometry & that its conception came to the architect while in meditation, on a higher spiritual plane. Wikipedia says these are myths, but who knows?
What I do know is that our Indian bus tour guide was most interested in making stops at his friends’ establishments on the way to & from Delhi, so we could buy food & trinkets. Most people there are in poverty, true entrepreneurs & have a strong networking system. I don’t blame them. As well, we visited several Hindu shrines in the dark on our way back, which was a little spooky & a lot intriguing. We were only one of two western couples on the bus with a dozen or so Indians, so we did get a unique perspective, for sure. Altogether, it amounted to about a 12 hour day…One must take such things in stride, or forego traveling in this manner altogether…
I was so disappointed that we only got about an hour at the Taj itself, but it was glorious. I am a very visual & sensitive soul. My first glimpse through the gate, even at a distance, brought me to tears with its magnificence. I would have liked to stay in Agra for at least an overnight so that I could see the Taj at dawn & full moon, accompanied by classical Indian music & yummy Indian meal (they do offer such things). That would’ve been frosting on an already scrumptuous cake. The whole journey getting there was worth that one hour’s experience & I am grateful for it!
In the words of my archaeologist friend, Janine:
“Dear obscenely wealthy people of the world: Why don’t you build beautiful things like this anymore? Do you really think people hundreds of years from now will line up to see the glass and steel boxes you are supporting?”
10 Buildings that Changed America was a recent special I watched on PBS, which addressed a bit of what Janine was calling attention to, both hopeful & not. For instance the clever original concept of the American shopping mall, was brought to us by…an Austrian-born socialist! Inadvertently & to his disgust, his idea was misinterpreted & led to the biggest capitalist cash cow in recent history. However, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, is pretty appealing to me & Frank Lloyd Wright is one of my favorites. (I’m lucky enough to have one of his public buildings in my neck of the woods).
Anyway, in my opinion architecture & other public art installations are vital to, & enrich the daily lives of, the citizenry – rich & poor alike. Next on my bucket list is Barcelona, Spain, to see the creations of Antoni Gaudi. Wow. Take a look at his work; it’s also worth a click, if not a full-on visit!
Near or far, armchair or not, traveller may you be! Namaste.
*(Namaste is a Sanskrit word with a gesture of folded hands to forehead. It is used when greeting another & parting ways. It essentially means, “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you”).