Sunday, October 14, 2018

Autobiography of Taj Mahal

I am very happy today as I am able to write an autobiography on my own self. I always wanted to do that. First of all let me introduce myself to you all. I am Taj Mahal, one of the greatest architectures of the world of all time. I am widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". I am a white marble mausoleum located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. I was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Behind my creation there was a history. On June 17, 1631 Shah Jahan’s wife and beloved Mumtaz Mahal died after delivering her fourteenth child Gauharar. Shah Jahan stood dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. She had died leaving all her children, her 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 within six months it was removed to Agra. Shahjahan had already acquired from Raja Jai Singh a plot of land on the Yamuna riverside. There on the tomb of dead Mumtaz, my foundation was built on a platform of 22′ high and 313′ square, was started in 1632 in a frenzy with thousands of artisans and labourers, toiling ceaselessly.

My building process goes on with excessive labour and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence and took 22 years for my completion. Gold and silver esteemed as common metal, and marble as ordinary stones. Shah Jahan had chosen the best specimen of designs offered by the famous designers of the world. The materials to my construction were collected from different parts of the world like turquoise from Tibet, jade and crystal from China, chrysolite from Egypt, lapis from Afghanistan, coral from Arabia, amethyst from Persia, quartz from the Himalayas, malachite from Russia and diamonds from Hyderabad in India. The water that used in my construction was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism. Over 1000 elephants were used to transport my building materials. It took the labour of 22,000 workers to construct my monument. A board of architects supervised the construction. Lahori is treated as my main designer. About 50 million rupees were spent to build up me.

Shahjahan issued ‘farmans’ to Raja Jai Singh ordering immediate and constant supply of the Makrana marble for the tomb which was situated in the centre of my foundation. An inclined two and a half mile long road ramp was built to carry huge marble slabs to my top. In absence of wood, the scaffolding was of brick. I was being risen higher and higher with every sunset. Within nearly six years, my main edifice of the tomb was complete. In the words of Ustad Ahmad Lahori, chief architect of the project: " And above this inner dome, which is radiant like the heart of angels, has been raised another heaven-touching, a guava-shaped dome…crowning this dome of heavenly rank, the circumference of whose outer girth is 110 yards high flittering like the sun with its summit rising to a total height of 107 yards above the (level of the) ground."

The legendary gold railing of my tomb was subsequently replaced by an octagonal latticed screen (Mahajar-i-mushababbak) of the most marvelous craftsmanship with an entrance fashioned of jasper after the Turkish style, joined with gilded fasteners. It costs over 10,000 rupees but it is the most splendid work of art, well worth its weight in gold. It stands enclosing the two cenotaphs.

  Humayun's Tomb and the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana in Delhi had served as model for me with their dome-topped structure raised on a high platform. Akbar's tomb at Sikandara lent my dominant four-pillar design. Its splendid calligraphic ornamentation by Amanat Khan inspired Shahjahan to entrust my ornamentation to the same artist. Each tower is 133 feet tall. The tomb is a wide large structure that stands on a on a square plinth and it is the central focus of my entire complex. My central dome is 58 feet in diameter and rises to a height of 213 feet. The tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula at Agra, built by Nurjahan for her father, had the most innovative and grand pietra dura decoration, a mosaic of exquisitely colored hard precious stones inlaid into the white marble. The lyrical rhythm of the floral motifs had an amazing beauty, which I greatly emulated. The crypt and the cenotaphs at my surrounding carry pietra dura decoration of a fabulous unexcelled elegance. In those days the cost of my expenses worked out to 50 lakhs and the annual revenue of 30 villages was earmarked for the regular maintenance of me.

Unwilling to allow the native artisans all the credit for this excellence, Father Manrique in 1641 advanced the preposterous claim of the Italian jeweler Geronimo Veroneo as the architect. But this claim could never be proved and remained a legend only. I derive much of my charm from the sprawling garden laid out in the Persian Char Bagh style. The fountains and canals provide a grand reflection of mine, accentuating the Paradise imagery. In my death-inspired monument rows of cypresses lead the eye to the tomb in white marble standing at the extreme end of the garden, rather than in the center as at other Mughal tombs.

  I was nearly completed within ten years around 1643. Tavernier claimed to have seen the commencement of my work. I had been started in 1632. It did not take 22 years and twenty thousand men for workers in my construction. In fact, Tavernier first arrived in Agra in 1641 when I was nearly finished. Later on the tomb of Satti-ul-Nisa, chief maid of Mumtaz and later on of Jahanara and the mosques built by Sirhindi Begam and Fatehpuri Begam were added to my complex.

  In 1652, Aurangzeb pointed out the leakage in my dome on the northern side. The garden also was water logged during the rains. These defects were immediately attended to by Shahjahan. There is no truth in the familiar tale that Shahjahan had the hands of his chief architect chopped off to prevent building him another building of my same reputation and beauty. Before he met his fate, this architect, it is said, was allowed to take in the last look at me to ensure perfection. At this moment he hammered the dome at the point, which caused leakage. This only adds to my legendary perfection in all details.

  In 1648 Shahjahan had shifted capital to Shahjahanabad. He already had the Peacock Throne and the Kohinoor. He never remarried but his lust for life continued unabated. Bernier, Tavernier, and Niccola Mannuci provide salacious details about the Mughal Emperors private indulgences. As prisoner in the Agra fort during his last days, Shahjahan fell terribly ill. His parched throat could hardly swallow a few drops of ‘sherbat’. Nicola Manucci relates a tale that a faqir in Bijapur had warned Shahjahan that the day his hands stopped smelling of apples he would die. Shahjahan recalled the words and smelt his hands. A sigh escaped his dry lips. He casted his last lingering glance at me from his bed in the Musamman Burj. His tired eyelids closed on a shattered heart forever. And so died on January 31,1666.

Jahanara planned a funeral procession befitting the grand Mughal. She was herself a prisoner. Hence she couldn't order people. A small number of insignificant menials carried the body through the small Watergate to the river. Quietly Shahjahan's body left the fort where he had embellished the magnificent marble palaces and pavilions. In the early hours of the day his body was entered into the crypt. It is rather a poignant end for the fifth Mughal Emperor. It is said that Shahjahan's favorite elephant Khaliqdad sensing the tragedy also died as the burial was in progress.

Nicola Manucci adds a spicy tale of Aurangzeb's reaction to Shahjahan's death. Aurangzeb sent a trusted man to pass a heated iron over his father's feet, and if the body did not stir, then to pierce the skull down to the throat to make sure that he was really dead. Orders were sent to I'tibar Khan not to allow his burial until the arrival of Aurangzeb in person. Once Shahjahan had escaped Bijapur in a coffin to reach Agra. The son remembered the tricks his father could play. But court chronicles mention that Aurangzeb reached Agra 25 days after the burial when all he did was to enact a brief scene of simulated grief, and offer fake condolences to Jahanara as a ploy to snatch jewels in her possession.

  Only Tavernier mentions the beginning of another tomb for Shahjahan, across the river. Historians and archaeologists dismiss this idea. However, the foundations of a mammoth building, deep huge wells on which stood plinth structures now exposed due to erosion of land under water, and lone cupola at the end of a long boundary wall replicating me, are all too evident of the abandoned enterprises. For once

Tavernier could be believed. His Majesty Firdaus Ashvani, (Shahjahan's posthumous title) was buried beside the Empress, the only asymmetrical work at me.

Moving further down the history, it was at the end of the 19th century that British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908, as a measure to restore what was lost during the Indian rebellion of 1857: I being blemished by British soldiers and government officials who also deprived the monument of my immaculate beauty by chiseling out precious stones and lapis lazuli from my walls. Also, the British style lawns that people see today adding on to my beauty is remodeled around the same time. Despite prevailing controversies, past and present threats from Indo-Pak war and environmental pollution, this epitome of love continuous to shine and attract people from all over the world.

Now more than three centuries have passed and I am seen by millions of visitors every year continues to retain a romantic aura about me. Some women like Mrs. Sleeman would exclaim "I would die tomorrow to have such another rover me". I am still "the grand passion of an Emperor's love," as Edwin Arnold wrote, or as Tagore said of me "one solitary tear… on the Cheek of time." The subtle play of light on the white marble dome creates my own moods to which even the hardest cynic ultimately succumbs. Millions and millions of photographs taken but they fail to capture the quintessence of my inner secret heart.History of immortal love of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal is the integral part of my history. Even today, I symbolize the true love in this ungrateful, corrupted world.

The End