Published on August 21, 2010
Slide 2: The Taj Mahal defies photography, because it changes aspect according to the light. Pink at dawn, white in the afternoon, orange/red during a brilliant sunset. Like a jewel with many facets, it defies the camera to capture them all in a single shot. It requires visits at every time of year and every time of day and night to witness all that it offers. Slide 3: "The Taj Mahal is the most symmetrical building in the world" Slide 6: A story has evolved, delicate as the carvings and jeweled flowers on the surface of the Taj Mahal. A ruler's favorite wife (for he had more than one) is on her death bed in 1631--a 39-year-old woman in the throes of childbirth, one that she cannot possibly survive. Slide 7: She has already given birth to 13 children in their 18 years of marriage, and she had accompanied her husband on most of the military campaigns that beleaguered rulers must conduct. She no longer could stand the strain. Slide 8: Her name was Arjumand Banu Begam, but her devoted husband, the emperor Shah Jahan, called her Mumtaz Mahal for "light of the palace" or "elect of the palace." Slide 9: And then, during a stay in the Deccan, she passed away. Before she did, Jahan--wrecked by sadness--promised her a fitting memorial. Almost immediately he began construction of her tomb in Agra, beside the Yamuna River. Slide 11: "She must have been a beautiful woman," it is said, referring to the favorite wife of Shah Jahan. "She was Persian and Muslim.” The Indian poet Tagore described the Taj Mahal as a "tear on the face of eternity." Slide 12: The Taj Mahal has been lavished with artistic pietra dura, inlaid stones that resemble blossoms, sparkling on their marble stems. Most of the jewels have been sliced and carved to resemble flowers tinted by all the hues available in amethyst, jade, carnelian, onyx, coral, jasper and turquoise. Slide 13: India is a country full of superlatives. Lots of languages, hundreds of wonderful monuments and palaces, a great depth of history, some of the world's most delicious food, precious stones of the highest quality and fabrics unmatched for vivid colors. Slide 14: Marble screens surround the cenotaphs, each panel carved from a single marble slab with thousands of perforations forming all manner of exquisite and perfectly matched patterns. Slide 15: Perfection obviously was the goal here, and a perfect Taj Mahal would have to occupy the northernmost end of the property, backed by the river and visible from the Agra Fort and Shah Jahan's palaces. A less exalted tomb also would not have a triple-domed mosque on one side and an identical building on the other side--just for symmetry Slide 16: The gardens and parts of the tomb have an Islamic theme, representing the Koranic Paradise, but for esthetic reasons, the Taj deviated from standard practices. A typical Muslim tomb would be unadorned. It probably wouldn't be surrounded by a high wall marked with passages from the Koran and topped by kiosks designed in Hindu fashion, but Shah Jahan's vision went far beyond convention. Slide 19: The Taj Mahal--the translucent marble that glows different colors depending on the time of day, the graceful spires, domes and arches that seem to be the work of some superhuman force with otherworldly talent. Slide 20: The India architecture expert G.H.R. Tillotson writes: "It is a seductive building; to dislike it requires a very determined cynicism which few can honestly sustain." Slide 21: After 350 years, the Taj Mahal stands majestically as a monument to love and Moghul power It shimmers. It floats. It overwhelms. Slide 22: We feel a closer kinship to the Taj Mahal, which means "Crown Palace," partly because it's a human achievement that can be measured in mere centuries. Brilliant designers and highly skilled artisans transformed dead stone into near-translucent marble that almost seems to breathe. They constructed an architectural masterpiece that soars yet balances perfectly, its many tons appearing light as gossamer. Gravity, winds and harsh weather still can't weaken the structure; it only looks like a confection.