The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognized landmarks in the entire world, and is visited by as many as 3 million people each year. I am sure right now, upon the mention of its name, you can picture its gleaming white façade and domed crown set against the brilliant blue Indian sky. I can also promise you that it is one thing to view photos of the magnificent Taj, and quite another to visit it in person.
While preparing for a trip to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, you may find yourself wondering, can I visit this architectural marvel despite its connection with the Muslim faith? I can assure you, yes, you certainly can. Despite common misconception, the Taj Mahal is neither a temple nor a home. It is actually a mausoleum, serving as a tomb. And persons of all faiths are able to visit it. For Jewish travelers, India, with its stunning landmarks, is a truly wonderful place to visit. Why? Well, India is a nation that has been most benevolent to the Jewish Diaspora. Jews have lived in India for more than 2,000 years without persecution, and without any anti-Semitism. So you can explore not only the fascinating aspects of Hindu culture and the sacred cows, but also the unique ways in which Judaism has influenced Indian life. You’ll even see Jewish influence in the architecture of the Taj Mahal, with the inclusion of the Star of David, which became popular during the Mogul period, and was used to symbolize a harmonious interfaith society.
There is, quite simply, so much to explore and discover when visiting the Taj Mahal. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and for good reason. It is said to have taken a full 22 years to construct, from 1631-1653. Today, contributing to the monument’s peaceful atmosphere is its nickname as the “great monument of love.” But was love really the reason that the Taj Mahal was built? There is a debate as to the original origins of the monument.
The Taj’s love story (and the story that you’ll hear from tour guides) begins in 1631 when the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during childbirth. The emperor brought 20,000 skilled craftsmen from all over Asia and Europe to build the white marble monument, which was to serve as his wife’s tomb. The emperor’s intent was to build a black marble mausoleum next to the Taj Mahal that would serve as his own tomb, and to connect the two with a silver bridge. Sadly, the emperor’s own death before the construction of the black building thwarted his architectural plans.
This traditional story, the love story known and loved by Indian children as well as much of the world, has been challenged by some who believe that that Taj Mahal is actually an ancient Hindu temple palace dedicated to Lord Shiva, who was worshipped by the Rajputs of Agra city. Leading up this line of thought is Professor P.N. Oak, author of Taj Mahal: The True Story, who explains that Shah Jahan usurped the palace from the Maharaja of Jaipur, Jai Singh. Shah Jahan then remodeled the palace into the memorial from his wife.
So which story do you believe? You may wish to launch your own -up-close-and-personal investigation yourself. But don’t get to wrapped up in origin stories, because there is much beauty to simply be surrounded by and enjoyed at the Taj Mahal.