A Trip To The Taj Mahal

Taj acquires a different hue at different time of the day. You might have seen Taj 15 times but when you return back to see it 16th times, you will find it something different from the earlier visit. The Taj at noon, the Taj at sunset, under the full moon, against the setting sun, and against the rising ball of fire, each time the mausoleum acquires a different accent and tells a different story. It was a reminder of the love of a king for his queen Mumtaz Mahal who could inspire such a monument and also of the king himself who could sign his love across the horizon.

Whichever story it tells, there is a certain vulnerability, a softness about Taj Mahal that always touches the visitor. The white structure, actually nothing but a grave and yet so much more, stands unassumingly in spite of the yellowing pollution retaining a certain charm that takes the breath away.

The glory of Taj Mahal as seen today is considerably reduced. Historians and travelers have recorded a spectacle of grandeur and extravaganza when Shahjahan had built it. The beautifully laid out gardens holding out the Taj almost a thousand feet away from the entrance gate are said to have been beyond description. It is said that the gardens are modeled along the Persian Char Bagh style. Paved inroads divide the patches of green and little fountains and mark the two halves of the garden.

The Taj stands on a raised platform. At the entrance there are two sets of stairs, one leading to the real sarcophagus and the other to cenotaph counterparts. Rising on all four sides are minarets and in the center lies the magnificent dome over the central hall. The dome is crucial to Islamic architecture, cosmologically uniting heaven and earth. The square edifice represents the material universe while the dome symbolizes the vault of heaven. The Taj itself is octagonal and the base is said to represent the transitional phase. The finial, the golden needle at the top is indicative of the region of transcendence.

On the grave itself 99 names of Allah are inscribed and it is said to have lain inside a gem-encrusted balustrade. On it were placed bowls of jewelry, all of which together could still not match the beauty of the one who lay interred there. Persian carpets and sheets of silver for the door keep the silence in the mausoleum in splendorous solemnity. From the ceiling hung a glittering golden globe with convex mirror. While there were other chandeliers too, this was the most beautiful one and had come from Aleppo and it constantly wove patterns in the room.

The Italian Architect of Taj

Was the main architect of Taj, an Italian jeweler named Geronimo Veroneo? Though the claim was never proved, but it certainly created a lot of controversies. The claim has been mostly advocated by the European writers though there is not much in support of this theory in India.

According to the story, unwilling to allow the native artisans all the credit for excellence in creating the most magnificent building in the world, Father Manrique in 1641 advanced the preposterous claim of the Italian jeweler Geronimo Veroneo as architect of Taj Mahal. Father Manrique was an Augustinian Friar who came to Lahore for the release of one Father Antony who was captured by the Mughals. And yes, there was an Italian jeweler by the name of Geronimo Veroneo, who lived in Agra for some time. If ever this Italian jeweler was really commissioned, he was overawed by the mammoth work and cost, and wisely ran away to Surat in 1632 when the project had just started. Shahjahan had asked Veroneo, says Manrique, to spend two crores. The jeweler who only designed necklaces and bracelets proved thoroughly incompetent for the royal project and vanished from the scene, escaping the Emperor’s ire but providing much mirth and chuckles to the native artisans. Even if we accept that Veroneo had a part in designing the Taj, it is somehow unthinkable to have only one designer for this great monument. In most probability, he was just one of the many who worked on Taj Mahal at that time.

Veroneo later died on the way while he was going to Lahore and buried in the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Agra. There had for long been a belief that this architect of the Taj lay buried in the cemetery, but no one knew where. Then in 1945, Father Hyacinth, Superior Regular of Agra scraped the moss of a tombstone, revealing the simple epitaph: “Here lies Jerome Veronio, who died at Lahore.”

Taj History and Legends

On June 17, 1631 Mumtaz Mahal died, after delivering her fourteenth child “Gauharar”. Shahjahan stood dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. She had died leaving all her children, mother, and relations to his care. But he had promised her never to remarry and to build the grandest mausoleum over her grave. Her body received a temporary burial in the Zainabadi Garden in Burhanpur and in six months time removed to Agra. Shahjahan had already acquired from Raja Jai Singh a plot of land on the riverside. Here was to be built the Taj Mahal. Work on the tomb started in a frenzy with thousands of artisans and laborers toiling ceaselessly. The first anniversary urs was held in June 1632 amid royal pomp and show, attended by Shahjahan and Jahanara. The Mughal Emperor was a picture of grief.

On the second urs on May 26, 1633 the mausoleum had taken shape and the crypt chamber and the surrounding works accomplished. Peter Mundy’s eyewitness account relates: “There is already about her Tomb a rail of gold. The building is begun and goes on with excessive labor and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence. Gold and silver esteemed common Metal, and Marble but as ordinary stones. He intends as some think, to remove all the City hither, causing hills to be made level because they might not hinder the prospect of it, places appointed for streets, shops, etc. Dwellings, commanding Merchants, shopkeepers, Artificers to Inhabit (it) where they begin to repair and called by her name, Tage Gunge ‘Taj Ganj”. This fabulous gold railing made of 40,000 tolas of gold and encrusted with precious gems and diamonds, enclosed the grave lying under magnificent golden constellation of orbs and lamps.

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