No trip to India is complete without a visit to the famed Taj Mahal. I’ll never forget when I discovered it for myself. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is famous for its beauty and grandeur. But knowing its history and pedigree are not the same as seeing this architectural gem with your own eyes.
In case you don’t know much about this magnificent structure, let’s start with some background. The Tah Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It was constructed to serve as a mausoleum for the emperor’s favorite wife. Built almost entirely of white marble, the structure is considered a masterpiece of Indian and Muslim architecture.
The words “Taj Mahal” mean Crown Palace, and it is fitting that one of the names of the emperor’s wife was Mumtaz Mahal, or Ornament of the Palace. Certainly the Taj Mahal resembles a regal palace more than a mausoleum. It is actually a complex of buildings, along with large ornamental gardens and reflecting pools.
When I finally saw the Taj Mahal for myself, I expected to see a lovely piece of architecture, of course. But I was unprepared for the effect that the first sight of the Taj Mahal created in me. What struck me most at first was the incredible beauty of the whole site. I saw the Taj Mahal near sunset, and the white marble literally shimmered in the fading sunlight. Its shape was mirrored in a reflecting pool that multiplied the effect. The entire complex was surrounded by tall trees that framed it like a painting, while the garden backdrop was an ordered riot of colorful blossoms and neatly trimmed greenery. When I moved closer, I saw that some of the building was intricately covered with inlaid stonework.
The beauty of the Taj Mahal struck me because of its elegant symmetry and the purity of its white shape rising from a calm natural setting. It is a sight that has brought many to tears. Rabindranath Tagore, a famous Indian poet, described the Taj Mahal as a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, and his words capture the sadness that is mixed with the monument’s beauty. For its purpose is to serve as a tribute to a dead empress.
After taking in the serene beauty of the Taj Mahal, I was captivated by the romance of the site. I recalled stories I had heard of the royal Mughal household. Legend has it that a young prince was strolling through a bazaar when he caught a glimpse of a young girl who was hawking glass beads and silk in the marketplace. Five years after first seeing her in the bazaar, the 20-year-old prince wed his 19-year-old bride. Even though Indian marriages were arranged ones, and the prince had other wives, this wife was part of a true love match – one that survived palace intrigues, including succession battles. The marriage lasted happily for 19 years, until her death. After her passing, Shah Jahan began construction of the monument that would etch their love story in stone.
Poet Edwin Arnold described the Taj Mahal as “not a piece of architecture… but the proud passions of an emperor’s love, wrought in living stones.” As I first saw this memorial site, I could feel the romance captured in its marble stones.
If you plan to visit the Taj Mahal – and I strongly encourage you to do so, plan to visit near dawn or dusk. The effects of the changing sunlight on the building are breathtaking, as light and shadows dance and the sun or moonlight is captured in the reflecting pool. Come with a heart ready to be filled with the beauty, sadness, and romance that are all evoked by this architectural wonder.