Some say it is a palace. Some say it is a tomb. But everyone agrees it is The icon of India and one of the most recognizable structures on the planet. But for me and many others, it was also a powerful spiritual experience.
The approach to the Taj is a masterfully crafted reveal. Driving through Agra (an action/adventure ride more thrilling and scary than anything Disney could dream up) you are teased by quick, partial glimpses of it’s shimmering white dome. Then it disappears all together as you get close to the grounds. Not until you park, run the gauntlet of beggars and souvenir hawkers, and walk through one of the massive
and beautiful in their own right gatehouses do you get to see the Taj – suddenly and in whole, all at once - framed perfectly by the ornate archway. It’s a startling, breathtaking, mind-blowing, stop-you-in-your-tracks, major-tourist-traffic-pile-up, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it, pickpocket’s dream come true. WOW.
I was not the only one to fall under the spell of the Taj’s magic. Everywhere I looked there were people stopped in their tracks, mesmerized by the view, all overcome by the same indefinable sensation. Young couples clung to each other, oblivious of the hordes swirling around them, gazing at the miracle that is the Taj. I saw older couples, their eyes glued to the vision, blindly and spontaneously reach for each other’s hand. Rambunctious children were brought to a standstill and could only stare and point. I saw an unshaved, rough-looking backpacker lean against a wall, sigh heavily and brush tears from his eyes. Nobody who comes to the Taj is immune.
And it’s big. Much bigger than most people (including me) image it. 213 feet tall and 58 feet in diameter. In photos, due to it’s perfectly proportioned architecture and the harmony of its design and ornamentation, it gives the illusion of a beautiful little jeweled box. And that’s not far off from the truth. All of the decorations on the shimmering white marble are made of inlaid semi-precious stones. Intricate flower patterns and passages from the Koran cover the entire structure – inside and out!!! The letters and flowers gradually increase in size higher up on the walls. The decorations at the top are nearly twice as big as those at the bottom but appear to be the same dimensions. An amazing optical allusion!
Beautiful and Dutiful
And the story behind it is equally beautiful. Most people know the Taj Mahal was built by an Indian Mongul king to be the tomb of his beloved wife. But there is much more to the story. In the 1600s in India it was the custom for rulers to have four or more wives along with a harem of 100 or more. Don’t even get me started on that. But not Shah Jahan and his beautiful and dutiful wife, Arjuman Banu Begum At a time when it was even more unusual than now for couples to stay faithful, they did - through life and beyond. At 37, as Arjuman lay dying in childbirth, she knew her husband, out of loneliness and despair, would soon follow her into death. To prevent this she had him make a deathbed promise to her that she knew he would keep. She asked him to build a magnificent tomb in her honor. Charged with such a last request from his beloved, he could do no less than live and work many long years, employing 22,000 workers for over 20 years, lovingly creating a show-stopping last expression of his devotion.
The Niagra Falls of India?
Today young Indian couples flock to the Taj Mahal to bask in its spirit of love and faithfulness. It’s India’s number one honeymoon destination. Likewise long-married couples come to the Taj to renew their vows of togetherness. The place is just dripping with sentiment. It’s in the very air surrounding the Taj. You just can’t help but feel the love!