25 July 2009

The Immortal Love

Almost 400 years ago, a young king named Shah Jahan was the ruler of the vast Moghul Empire in northern India. In those days, there existed a market place in which only women were allowed, in which courtly women could shop and socialize free from the company of men- with one exception: the King, of course. One day, the King was visiting the marketplace, and his eyes met those of a remarkable young woman. She was well-educated (rare in those days), beautiful and quite intelligent, and the two fell in Love at first sight. He was only 21; she 19, but their Love was timeless, and they soon married, and from then on she was called Mumtaz Mahal. The King had other wives, would have more later, but these were all political marriages; this was his only marriage of Love. Mumtaz Mahal was a great Queen. She participated in many political decisions (her name and seal can be found on many documents), she was an advocate for the poor, she traveled with the King even on his military conquests. In 20 years together, they had 14 children, and lived a charmed, royal life; alas she died giving birth to their 14th child.
As she lay dying, the King wanted to go with her, but she told him that such matters were in the hands of the gods, not their own. But she did ask the King for one promise- to make their Love immortal. The King, heartbroken, brought her body to a new site in Agra, buried her in a tomb, and proceeded to build around her the greatest monument to Love in the world, the most beautiful and perfect building ever built, the Taj Mahal.
We went there today, and it is stunningly moving. 20,000 workers took 22 years to build it. Specialists were brought in from all over the known world; calligraphers, marble workers, semi-precious stone carvers, architects, artists and engineers from India, Persia, Afghanistan, Turkey and elsewhere. Semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, malachite, black onyx, mother of pearl, agate, abalone, jasper and turquoise were brought in from everywhere (turquoise is from Turkey, i never put that together before). Huge slabs of white marble were brought in from the Indian desert over 300 kilometers away on the backs of a thousand elephants. The craftsmen lived on site during the construction, and contrary to rumor, they were not hurt or killed after it was built, they only had to promise never to build such a design again.
The attention to detail and degree of planning are amazing. The 4 minarets are angled ever so slightly outward so that in the case of earthquake, they would fall outward, and not damage the main building. The arabic letters on the building that were made of single pieces of black onyx got larger as they went up, so that to the eye at ground level they would all appear to be the same size. Negative space domes carved out of the side match exactly the main dome, as if they were neatly scooped out and placed at the top. Marble was inlaid with tiny pieces of semiprecious stones depicting flowers, made of dozens of tiny, intricately carved pieces glued into placed and rubbed with sandstone until the walls were smooth and shiny.

In person, it still looks like a postcard. Word cannot express the incredible beauty and majesty of it. I never thought a building could move me so, and surely it's the story too, but the building itself is gorgeous. And today i saw it with my Love, my Mumtaz. 14 years ago I saw the Taj and dreamed of returning with my True Love, and to-day I did just that.
In the end, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son, who imprisoned his father in a fort across the river for the remainder of his days. But at least he had a clear view of the Taj and the tomb of his Mumtaz Mahal, to forever contemplate their immortal Love.

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