In the early 17th century, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was completely and totally enamored with his stunningly beautiful wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
So when she died giving birth to their 14th child (damn), he was devastated. It was said he developed a head of gray hair overnight, became an alcoholic, and pretty much a miserable person to be around. 6 months after her death, he got to work on a mausoleum that would immortalize her forever. It took about 20 years to complete, 20,000 workers, and 1,000 elephants to carry all of the marble over from the Middle East. After he died, he was also buried alongside his wife. The end result- the symbol of eternal love becomes the 7th wonder of the world and the jewel of India.
A few interesting facts…
In the general story of the building of the Taj Mahal, one hugely important detail is left out. During our tour of Agra Fort (the first of many forts throughout our trip), the sprawling grounds where Shah Jahan and his family lived, along with his ancestors and descendants, we learned about how the concept of the Taj was developed. Mumtaz, Shah Jahan’s wife, was sleeping in her palatial room one night when she had a dream that she and her hubby built a new home across the Yamuna River. The next morning, she drew out a picture of this home and requested he build this summer home home for her. Although she died before he could start construction, he decided to use her design for her mausoleum so she could lay in her dream home forever.
1) Hubby of the century award goes to this guy. And 2) One of the most widely recognized architectural symbols was conceptualized by a woman! Not the hapless-in-love husband! Credit should be given where credit is due. 4 for you, Mumtaz.
Another important thing to note about the Taj Mahal is that it is a sight to see. It’s large and imposing in a city that is otherwise dirty and poverty-stricken. When I first stepped through the archway and saw the Taj in all of its glory, my heart leapt up to my throat. But as you get closer, you can tell exactly why this mausoleum was truly a labor of love. There are plenty of architectural wonders in the world that surpass the size and even the design of this building. What is truly astounding is the insane amount of inlaid work inside and outside.
We learned about how marble inlaid work is made by hand. Each colored piece of stone is cut, shaved, and polished to be the right size– oftentimes as thin as the sliver of a fingernail. Then these pieces are slowly and carefully pieced together like a puzzle to make a design- flowers, elephants, scenes, etc. Then after the puzzle has been made, another guy sits and carves out the space where each of the teeny tiny pieces will go into the marble in the right size as the puzzle piece design. Only then are the pieces pain-stakingly placed into the marble. A flower the size of a tennis ball can take anywhere from 6-8 hours to make. Now imagine– the ENTIRE TAJ MAHAL is sprinkled with all of these flowers and huge beautiful arabic script and diamonds and optical illusions and pretty designs. Everywhere you turn, there are itty bitty details where you practically have to put your nose to the marble to notice. This is what makes the Taj Mahl a truly astounding marvel of the world.
We first went to see the Taj at 6:30 AM, hoping for a pretty sunrise. Instead we showed up and it looked like this–
The humongous building was entirely enveloped by fog. We had to walk all the way up to the building to even see the walls.
So we went back to the hotel, ate breakfast, worked out. And then we trekked back at around noon to hopefully get a better view.
It was worth the second trip.