Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Taj Mahl "Museum of Love"

Dani and I woke up at 5:30 AM to get ready for the Taj. Unfortunately, the night before after dinner I was getting up and I felt a weird sensation in my hip all the sudden my knee began to swell and a became a bit worried. I iced my knee the night before, however, it was still very painful and swollen. I tried not to make a big deal of it. Dani told me it would be OK if we did not see the Taj. I was determined to go see it no matter how my knee was, so we did. I am very happy we did cause the Taj is gorgeous.
The Taj was built in 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was griefstricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
The central focus of the complex is the tomb. This large, white marble structure stands on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin. The complex is set around a large (980 ft) square charbagh or Mughal garden. The garden uses raised pathways that divide each of the four quarters of the garden into 16 sunken parterres or flowerbeds. A raised marble water tank at the center of the garden, halfway between the tomb and gateway with a reflecting pool on a north-south axis, reflects the image of the mausoleum. The raised marble water tank is called al Hawd al-Kawthar, in reference to the "Tank of Abundance" promised to Muhammad. Elsewhere, the garden is laid out with avenues of trees and fountains. The charbagh garden, a design inspired by Persian gardens, was introduced to India by the first Mughal emperor, Babur. It symbolizes the four flowing rivers of Jannah (Paradise) and reflects the Paradise garden derived from the Persian paridaeza, meaning 'walled garden'. In mystic Islamic texts of Mughal period, Paradise is described as an ideal garden of abundance with four rivers flowing from a central spring or mountain, separating the garden into north, west, south and east.
Most Mughal charbaghs are rectangular with a tomb or pavilion in the center. The Taj Mahal garden is unusual in that the main element, the tomb, is located at the end of the garden. With the discovery of Mahtab Bagh or "Moonlight Garden" on the other side of the Yamuna, the interpretation of the Archaeological Survey of India is that the Yamuna river itself was incorporated into the garden's design and was meant to be seen as one of the rivers of Paradise. The similarity in layout of the garden and its architectural features with the Shalimar Gardens suggest that they may have been designed by the same architect, Ali Mardan. Early accounts of the garden describe its profusion of vegetation, including abundant roses, daffodils, and fruit trees. As the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined, and when the British took over the management of Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of lawns of London.

Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoluem next to his wife.
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen badly into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of 1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a massive restoration project, which was completed in 1908. He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modeled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.

The Taj was a true symbol of love and fidelity. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and I was so lucky to be able to see it. After Taj, Dani and I went and had breakfast at the hotel, check out and headed back to New Delhi so Dani could meet up with Tide to go to the bus station and I could go to the airport back to the US. I ended up relaxing before my flight at a five star hotel and making more friends with people in the shops. The people I met wanted me to stay and were willing to take me around New Delhi but my flight leaving that day. My driver came back for me and picked me up to take me to the airport. While at the airport I have never been asked so many questions and checked so many times. Security asked me questions about my passport to who packed my bag. Before my flight took off I met a nice lady who is a teacher at the Indian English Acedmay. She has been travelling around the world for the last 20 years and has been teaching English. It was great to talk to her about India and get her perspective on living in New Delhi. She was excited to get to Indiana to see her sister and family. I don't blame her with the crazy heat Delhi has been having. I had a nice flight home and met up in New Jersey with Lynne for our flight back to SD. Even though it was 6 AM EST Lynne and I missed salad and raw vegetables so much in India that we purchased salads for our trip home. I also got a great photo of the sun coming up over New Jersey's downtown area. Coming into SD it felt so good to be home. India will be missed, however, there is nothing like a nice hot shower, seeing friends, the SD sun and my nice comfortable bed :)

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