The Taj Mahal

Prince Khurram ascended the throne of the Mughal Empire, in 1627, at the age of 35. In 1607, he was engaged to Arjunamand Bano Begum, and married her in 1612. She died in 1631, giving birth to their 14th child. She was temporarily buried in two locations, before she was finally shifted to her final burial spot at the Taj Mahal.

Prince Khurram is known to the world as Shah Jahan, or King of the World. The lady is known as Mumtaz Mahal, or Jewel of the Palace.

The Taj was constructed between 1631 and 1635. It is said that 22,000 worked on it, and the sum spent on it was 22 crores.

It is built, using the Mughal octagonal design, representing the 8 divisions of the Koran. Shah Jahan was an able ruler, and a builder of great buildings, gardens and palaces. His legacy has been left behind largely in Agra, Delhi and Lahore.

Yet, for all his great accomplishments, somehow, he could not resolve life between his four sons. Ultimately, his younger son, Aurangzeb prevailed. He had his elder brothers killed, and ascended the throne. In 1657, he declared his father incompetent to rule, and had him imprisoned in the Red Fort at Agra.

In 1666, Shah Jahan fell ill, and died. His son refused to see his father, and to have him properly taken care of. The body of Shah Jahan was quietly buried in the Taj, next to his beloved wife. The stories we have heard, is that as he died, he looked across the river Yamuna, from his room in the Red Fort, to the Taj, where his wife was buried. He was to join her soon.

The Taj itself, is sublime. I have been there some 50 times, and whenever I go there, my breath stops for a few minutes. Getting into the Taj is anything but sublime, especially in the peak tourist season. On the occasion that I took the above pictures, there was a line of people about 1 kilometer long, or so it seems. The place was crawling with touts, and we were soon directed to a short cut, at a fee. The line there was half a kilometer long. Bags, as we discovered, are not allowed inside. Neither are you allowed to take drinks or food. To this, I agree. However, your bags are just dumped carelessly in heaps, and I was carrying my camera bag, with all the assorted lenses. I managed to stuff my lenses into the various pockets of my jacket, and in I went. 
The Taj was teeming with people, and to take the shots above, I had to stand on my toes, on a platform. The light was waning, so the white marble acquired a yellowish hue, to reflect the sun that was about to  rest for the night. 
Going up the narrow steps to the main platform of the Taj is nightmarish, as there are people going up and down, and there was a high possibility of falling over backwards, and getting crushed. 
Despite the incompetence of the authorities (though, I must say, we Indians are not the most disciplined of tourists, and this makes their job hard), nothing can take away from the absolute feeling of peace and awe when you see the  Taj. 
There is something truly timeless about this. Whether it is the design, the love between the King and Queen, and his own sad end; or whether it is a combination of the above, there is something that is timelessly peaceful and spiritual about the Taj. It transcends everything – religion, caste, creed, ethnicity.  
I have been there about 50 times, yet every time I see it, it is as if I see it for the first time. There is always something more to discover about the Taj. 
One regret that I have, is that due to Hindu-Muslim tensions, and assorted reasons of security, you are not allowed to visit the Taj at night. 
I have been told that the Taj in the moonlight is ethereal. 
Maybe, someday, when the War of The Worlds end, it will be possible to visit the Taj and see it under the light of the full moon.

Etmad Ud Daulah

Itmad ud Daulaf, or Etmad Ud Daulah, if you pronounce it the way we do in Hindi, is the place where the parents of Nur Jehan were buried. The photograph above is the entrance to the main tomb enclosure and the gardens. The tomb has been built on the left bank of the Yamuna, which you can see as you walk to the gardens at the back.

Jehangir was the son of Akbar, and the fourth of the great Mughal Emperors. He ruled for 22 years, from the death of his father. Those were troubled times indeed, much like our own. Soon after Jehangir came to power, one of his sons wanted to overthrow him. The son was defeated, and blinded by his father. The fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Angad, who aided the young fellow, was tortured for five days, and then he disappeared.

Many years later, another young fellow, who later called himself Shah Jehan, murdered his brother, to ensure that there would be no opposition to his own accession to the throne.

Jehangir was a highly tolerant king, barring the Sikhs, and he had a highly elevated sense of justice. His twentieth wife, (and this shows he had stamina!), was Nur Jehan. She was by far his favourite, and as he increasingly battled his addiction to opium and alcohol, she became the real power behind the throne.

Mirza Ghiyas Beg, Nur Jehan’s father came from Persia. He was received by Akbar and rose quickly. He was an important official in Jehangir’s court, and was the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, who is the inspiration behind the Taj. In that sense, we can credit Mirza Ghiyas Beg for two of the more famous tombs in India.

It was a cloudy day when I went to the Etmad Ud Daulah. The photo above shows the main building in which the tomb has been housed. I took a low shot, to emphasise the walkway leading up to the tomb, and to dramatise the trees and the clouds. The gardens are on either side of the walkway. The Mughals loved their gardens, and the gardens in all the major structures that I have seen are truly beautiful.
Some people believe that this tomb is historically significant from an architectural perspective as well. Prior to this, most Mughal structures, including the Sikandra, had been made of red sandstone. The Etmad Ud Daulah has been built in marble, with an incredible amount of inlay work. This practice of using pietra dura inlay was perfected in the Taj.
Nur Jehan commissioned the building of the Etmad Ud Daulah. She was, later, interred in her own tomb in Lahore, Pakistan, quite close to Jehangir’s tomb. After Jehangir’s death in 1628, she was interred in a comfortable mansion for the rest of her life. 
Quite possibly, she did not realise that, with the building of the Etmad Ud Daulah, she also planted the seeds for the construction of the most famous tomb of all – the Taj Mahal. She was indeed a most incredible woman who, in my opinion, deserves a more prominent place in Indian history than has been accorded to her. 

A Short Break

This is a short break to talk about 3FB88YA3VMA5. I don’t know why!

Fatehpur Sikri

From Sikandra, to Fatehpur Sikri we went. This is a place that had a brief moment of glory in history, and then just faded out until Lord Curzon, one of the British Viceroys sent an archaeological team to excavate the site at the end of the 19th century. 
Yet, it has survived as a tourist destination. Like place is dotted with tourists who, like dutiful children, follow the tour guide around the place, some taking notes, and the others hanging around at the periphery of the group, some scratching their noses, others scratching their bums. 
I have never been part of this circuit, and I have often thanked the ladies and gents who created and developed the Web. There is so much content on the net, that it becomes easy to research stuff you need. There is very little need to walk around with dog eared note books. I do carry the notebooks, however. 
Fatehpur Sikri was first ‘named’ by Babar as Shukri, which means ‘thanks’, after he defeated the Sanga of Mewar there. 
Later on, when the city – village – was re-discovered by Akbar, there was a Sufi saint called Shaikh Salim Chisti who was living there. Chisti foretold that Akbar would have an heir. Indeed, Salim, or Jehangir as he was later called, was born soon afterwards. In gratitude, Akbar moved his capital to Fatehpur Sikri. This was built between 1571 and 1586. Historians believe that Fatehpur Sikri was also chosen for the site because of it’s proxmity to Gujarat, and this suited Akbar’s expansionist ambitions. 
In the centre, there is a huge square. The white building in the centre houses Salim Chisti’s tomb. Akbar did indeed revere him. The dargah of Salim Chisti, or the Jamat Khana, where Salim Chisti’s disciples gathered for prayers is used till this date, and is a fascinating building indeed. 

I shot the above picture, of the eastern door (the Badshahi Darwaza) through the main door, the Buland Darwaza. I love the architecture of most old Mughal buildings, and it is good that we still honour them. 
Every time I go to Fatehpur Sikri, I think that the Fatehpur Sikri is a fitting tribute to Akbar, the man. He is truly one of the most fascinating characters in Indian history. Extremely militaristic on one hand, illiterate yet devoted to learning; tolerant of religious views, and a great ruler. 
We do owe him a debt of gratitude for his contributions to India.

On The Road To Agra

Of all the trips that I have made to Agra, one stands out rather vividly in my memory. This goes back a few years, when I was living in Singapore, and had come to India during the winter holidays, to visit my parents.
We had hired a car, and had driven down to Agra with some good friends of ours. We were lucky. It was not a foggy December morning. It was rather pleasant in fact. However, being the rather lazy bums that we are, we left rather later than usual. Yet, we had to stop for tea on the way. I wanted to stop at a good old roadside Indian dhaba. But, my kids were too foreign at that time, and all they could say was ‘yuck’, at the sight of the dhabas. So instead, we stopped by at one of the various touristy points that dot the highway.
The place was nice enough, being as it was, on the edge of mustard fields. The yellow mustard flowers fluttered in the breeze, as I sat on the edge, basking in the sun, thinking back on my days of selling virgin mustard oil in Calcutta (Kolkatta, as it is called now). “Diesel”, is how our Head Office folks described virgin mustard oil. Still, the pungent, golden brown oil aroused fiery culinary passions in the breasts of many a good Bengali housewife.
Touristy stop offs, like the one where we had our mid way tea break do have the obligatory Rajasthani / local fellow, with  kid, playing traditional music on traditional music. Colourful costumes and turbans not only send tourists into orgasms of delight, but they make for some nice photographic subjects. I have no clue where the above gent comes from, but experts on turbans can usually tell where a person comes from, from the manner in which turbans are tied. Someday, if I have the time, I will study this. 
Time was up soon enough. It was time to move on to Agra..
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