Domes have a very special significance in both Islamic and Hindu architecture. It is believed that the power and energy of a celestial presence can be felt by standing under the centre of the dome in silence. In the stillness clear answers to puzzled questions easily come. One can only gaze awestruck at the grandeur of the building that stands tall at 244 feet, taller than the Qutab Minar at Delhi. Most people think that the ground on which they are standing is the ground floor. In reality it is the fourth floor. The level of the courtyard corresponds to the third floor.
Quite remarkably, it is the four top stories that have the lovely marble plastering. The remaining three floors below are actually made of red sandstone. In fact, it is quite probable that the entire building was once made of red sandstone, before the marble replaced it as an afterthought. Two identical buildings stand on either side of the Taj Mahal like identical twins. The one to the west is a mosque while the other is a community hall.
Sunlight plays hide and seek with invisible pillars of air. Golden rays of sunbeams dance through a million, secret stairways to emerge transformed as columns of vibrant energy. A rare harmony, of perfectly synchronized movements spells a mind-blowing fusion of shapes and styles. Each day, a dazzling display of light and shade alters contours and draws anew arches and pillars, fragrant flowers and sacred verses. Even as translucent shades of white reflect afresh their brilliance. They appear pure, pristine, yet broodingly melancholy in their awesome splendour.
On some days at noon, the Taj Mahal sparkles with the brightness of a thousand suns, radiating a healing warmth that lights up the hearts of young and old, near and far. At night the sparkling radiance of a million stars cheers the mind. The beauty of Taj Mahal is mystical as it represents ageless wisdom and at other times the perfectly harmonious proportions of a beautiful building can astound the mind.
Tranquility steps in through delicate bouquets of floral sculpture and dedicated verses. Jewels are also part of the sculpture of Taj Mahal. These are found in a panoramic assortment of colours and shades and bring to life the beauty of flowers. No stone was left unturned, so to say as the rarest and most precious of gems and jewels from India and different parts of the world were used. Drawn by powerful teams of bullocks, horses, camels and elephants from all over India the gemstones came. Jasper from Punjab, diamonds from Patna, red stone from Fatehpur Sikri and garnets from Bundelkhand.
These jewels have been brought from far and distant lands. Crystal was brought from China, cornelian from Baghdad, turquoise from Tibet, agate from Yemen, sapphires and lapis lazuli from Ceylon, coral from Arabia and the Red Sea and onyx from Persia were just some of the huge assortment of gemstones used.
It is amazing to watch the different hues of the colour white in this monument. Its various hues are reflected in the walls, floors, corridors, dome and latticed framework of the Taj Mahal. It is not just the tones in white that radiate such an aura of peace. Black and yellow marble enliven the art to distinct patterns. The finest white marble from Makrana was used. Besides, white marble from Jaipur, yellow marble from the banks of the Narmada and black marble from Charkoh were all used. That marble could have such an infinite array of textures feels like an adventure into an ethereal universe. The smoothness of silk, the rugged strength of granite and the tenacity of steel are seen here. The sun and wind seem to breathe life into marble.
Joy and sorrow find solace in the many layers of stone. Marble in its many moods has never been so perfectly blended as to be an awesome expression of a surreal emotion. The indefatigable energy of a joyous spirit continually striving to persevere and perfect forever, the essence of a precious emotion haunts the marbled spaces. Like life experienced in manifold layers of complexities, the calligraphic verses too serve countless interpretations depending on the eye of the beholder. The sheets of marble appear to shoulder a grave responsibility, to serve as mystic problem solver to crowded flocks of humanity.
The walls and floors, arches and pillars in their brilliant, geometric designs, blend with one another to give one the experience of being a traveller to another world. Taj Mahal is truly a wonder. As the sun's rays fall on the marble they emit the shades of grey, mauve, rose and russet and even some ravishing hues of gold and silver. The colours and tints keep changing with the seasons and the passing moments. When it came to building the main tomb, the architects decided on doing it freehand. The result is a fantastic optical illusion, not discernible even to the discriminating eye.
The central point on either side of the main tomb is almost half to one inch higher than the sides. The deliberate convexity given to the plinth in the centre of each arch will compel the onlooker to gaze at it in admiration and amazement. Without that special effort, the building would have looked as if it were falling down.
Another sculptural delight at Taj Mahal is the delicately reticulated frames. The extraordinary artistry of the sculptors in creating dainty filigree is bound to astonish the viewer. Octagonal lattice frames screen the tomb. They stand as mute defenses, as sacred, protective shields of awesome beauty.
As the placid drops of sunshine flow into the room in gentle swirls and eddies, they reflect the serene contemplation of pious minds and searching for a resting place. Double screens of white marble trellis work, exquisitely patterned from within and without, enchant the eyes as bejewelled wands of sunbeams filter through many apertures.
Moreover it is believed that the lattice screens, eight feet high, were carved from single blocks of marble, octagonal in shape over a period of ten years. Embroidered with the rarest of gems, flowers reach out gracefully to echo a fragrant essence. Lapis lazuli, coral, cornelian, jade, agate, bloodstone and other precious gems breathe life into lilies, irises and so many other beautiful flowers. The painstaking perfection with which each flower has been given the breath of reality is astounding.
In some instances in order to get the correct shade, the sculptors used as many as 60 different gems in an area that was less than one square inch. Piedra dura or stone inlay work reached dazzling heights of perfection during the reign of the Mughal rulers. In addition to these the contoured arches, grooves and apertures have been perfectly carved.
As one wanders about from frame to frame appreciating the sculpture of Taj Mahal, he or she will be further astonished by the mystical experience of octagonal rooms. These rooms reach out to the eight different directions. At the comer of each room spiral stairway helps lift one quite literally to a higher dimension.
Diametrically opposite the centre of the dome on the ground below are located the cenotaphs or false tombs and in the chambers below the sepulchers or the real tombs. A beautiful lamp that was made in Egypt sways to the lilting melodies of a celestial celebration. The lamp is a lovely addition made by Lord Curzon during his efforts at renovating and preserving the Taj Mahal. Originally, a chandelier of agate and another of silver was used.
A graceful arch, a few feet higher than the lattice frames ushers one in to explore another dimension of life. Muted tones of words lost in deep reverie charge the floor's repeating geometrical and floral patterns of black and white.
In its hushed silence, one may feel the presence of divine spirits holding out eclectic debates on the origins of creations. The echoing melodies of whispered hymns and sacred chants resonate in the air. Moreover the ghazals and 'Shayarees', melodious rhythms and magical ballads, bring to life the alluring beauty of an earlier time. Mystic symbols of grace touch the sacred cenotaphs and the sepulchres below with an eternal glow of life.
The sculpture of Taj Mahal is worth watching as it makes one realize that there still exists on earth a monument, the like of which one only reads about in mythological tales, from millennia ago, is unbelievable. Standing majestically against the backdrop of a great river, the monument invites one to join in a cosmic celebration.
The sculpture of Taj Mahal gets a completely new dimension as one watches the monument and the Jamuna River together. The static monument stands as a declaration of love as the river meanders gracefully in the background. Jamuna sometimes seems as a wavy, blue, green ringlet swirling with the breeze. At other times, the river moves fast, like a star, spangled blue- grey shimmering sheet of water drawing one in, like quick sand. While standing before the Taj Mahal, the viewer will definitely be transported to another world.
If distance makes the heart grow fonder, then even from a great distance the beautiful sculpture of Taj Mahal draws the heart-strings closer with each passing step. The entire space around the complex was once Mumtazabad. It was home to thousands of craftsmen working on this great project.
An innocuous gate marks the entry into the complex. Before one reaches this gate, two octagonal buildings greet the eye. On the left is the tomb of the Serving Ladies, while on the right is the Fatehpuri Mosque, also known as the Stonecutter's Mosque. In Islam the gateway to a tomb is of great significance. It means passing from a materialistic, physical world of senses, into a divine world of spirit.
Within the gateway is an arterial corridor that threads into different rooms leaving the visitor disoriented, should one decide to enter. With its many rooms, the gateway forms a stupefying maze of perplexing spaces. At a height of 100 feet and in red sandstone, the four-storied gateway looms tall even in front of the Taj Mahal.
A lovely arch spreads out to form double-storey wings. The wall of the arch folds inwards to form a chamber within the roof. Octagonal towers at the corners with attractive, open domed kiosks draw one's attention. The eleven chhatri's (umbrellas) with marble cupolas on the north and south sides appear to be singing out a warm greeting. Midway between the gateway and the Taj Mahal on either side of the courtyard are two identical buildings known as the 'Nagar-Khanas' or drum houses.
It is amazing, but as one stands in front of the towering gateway, the enchanting tomb looks much smaller than one imagined it to be. One wonders about the photographic tricks that have gone into all those famous pictures of hundreds of people looking so tiny in front of the Taj Mahal. Then again, as one nears the edifice, the flashback of mere pictures pales into insignificance as a synthetic image simply cannot emulate the magical spell of the real thing.
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