“On a magnificent Friday evening, the fading rays of the day’s light were bathing the all white marble Taj Mahal with mystic orange delight. The emperor Shah Jahan was seated in his temporary royal tent looking at his ever busy engineers and their assistants hovering up and down the tomb-site. He had one more melancholic look at the tomb and its beauty out of the world; it was time to be back to his palace, his world of painful woes, the world without his wife Mumtaz, which he was afraid the most. His soul chanted another prayer until it was time to leave”…
I don’t know what words were woven by the melancholic Shahenshah, yet quoting Wordsworth’s “Farewell” might reflect the aura of his grief, he bore deep inside.
“FAREWELL, thou little Nook of mountain-ground,
Emperor Shah Jahan
Shah Jahan and the mighty Mughals might have gone long back in the pages of history. The emperor’s Taj Mahal, the all-white marble splendour and “Heaven-on-earth” would chant the poems of his eternal love, the love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal beyond time and would continue to inspire love for ages to come.
Looking Back in Time
The story of the Taj Mahal goes back in the pages of history with the blooming love at first sight in the royal “Meena Bazaar” (at Mughal Agra) between Mughal Prince Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram (emperor Shah Jahan) and the beautiful Arjumand Banu Begum (later known as empress Mumtaz Mahal), a young lady belonging to the Persian nobility at Agra.
Prince Khurram was born on 5th January 1592, as the third son of emperor Jahangir. His mother was a hindu queen, Jagat Gosain or “Jodhbai”, whose ancestral origin goes to the princely states of the Rajputana at Jodhpur. As per the advice given by the court astrologers, Akbar’s first wife and queen Ruqaiyya Begum (who was childless) adopted prince Khurram and looked after his upbringing. It is said that prince Khurram was very close to his grandfather Akbar in his early childhood and dear to his step-grandmother Ruqaiyya Begum (Eraly Abraham, 2000, p. 299). Infact his naming ceremony as prince “Khurram” (meaning “the joyous”) was celebrated at the Mughal court in the form of a traditional Chhati ceremony as per Rajput customs in presence of his majesty, emperor Akbar. Akbar ensured that Khurram was given proper education under the guidance of the royal court tutors namely, Molla Quasim Beg Tabrizi, Sheikh Abul Khair, Sheikh Sufi and Hakim Ali Gilani. The bond between Akbar and prince Khurram was so close that the prince even refused to leave his dying grandfather in his last days although the situation (due to the growing tension and conflict between his eldest brother Khausrau and his father Jahangir) demanded him to take shelter in a reclusive safe place away from Agra. Emperor Akbar had envisioned qualities of an able leader in his grandson Khurram and had strongly believed that he would succeed the Mughal dynasty as an able ruler.
After the death of Akbar and defusing Prince Khausrau’s rebellion, on 27th October, 1605 Jahangir ascended the throne according to his father’s wish as the fourth Mughal emperor. Prince Khurram decided to stick to a neutral political stand which provided him a buffer to stay away from the political turbulence and crisis issues affecting the empire. This stand also enabled him to concentrate on his own development particularly in terms of completing his education and training in military skills and martial arts.
Inspite of being a mere teenager, Prince Khurram was more than a mature young man. He had already become a skilful warrior and was also known as a strategic expert. This was the same time when Price Khurram also got his first ever military command in the form of leading 8000 warriors and 5000 horse riders. His early campaigns included the capture of Hissar Firoza (a Jagir in Ujjain). It is said that the emperor Jahangir had immense confidence on the capabilities of Prince Khurram and even gave him the command of using his royal seal “Mohar Uzak” through which he could issue official commands or “farmans” on behalf of the emperor. Although the relationship of the father and son began on a sweet note, it soon turned sour after the emperor got married to Meherunssia (Noor Jahan).
The turning point in prince Khurram’s life was, when he met the lady of his life, the beautiful Arjumand Banu Begum (27th April 1593 – 17 June 1631) at the royal “Meena Bazaar” function. Like any sweet romantic story, it was indeed true love at first sight. The couple was un-separable and madly in love with each other which culminated in their engagement ceremony in the month of March 1607. The Prince was just 15 when he got engaged to Arjumand Banu.
The majestic “Meena Bazaar” was the annual “Fancy Fair” festival cum function at the imperial city of Agra meant exclusively for the emperor himself and his royal family. The function was organized and coordinated by her majesty (empress) and the ladies belonging to the royal family and the Mughal nobility. The festival was started by emperor Akbar in order to allow the ladies of the royal harem to come out of their palaces and have fun by selling precious items, foods, sweet-meats, pets etc to the emperor and interact with each other. Prince Khurram’s romance with his to be wife Arjumand Banu had made “Meena Bazaar” immortal in the pages of history…..
The Taj Tour
Being humble lovers and admirers of art it was beyond our emotions to express the romance which adores every white marble and out of the world Peitra Dura at the Taj. The aura created by the majestic Taj itself, standing tall above all earthly splendours, was perhaps only envisioned by Shah Jahan’s love. Our visit to the Taj marked the emancipation of the long cherished admiration towards the monumental achievements made by the great Mughals.
Layout & Design of the Taj Mahal Complex
The Taj Gates
The Taj Mahal consists of three gates, namely the South Gate or the Sirhi Darwaja, the Western Gate or the Fatehpuri Gate and the Eastern Gate or the Fatehabad Gate. Out of these the South Gate is the most important gate as per its historical significance. It is said that emperor Shah Jahan used this gate while visiting Mumtazabad (the present Tajganj) during his visits to the Taj Mahal. Apart from this, the south gate led to the marketplace cum residential area and caravanserai for the architects, engineers, sculptors, workers engaged during the construction of the Taj Mahal at Mumtazabad (Tajganj). The South Gate has a peculiarity that is not found in hardly any famous historical monuments in India. Here the road leading to the Taj Gate from the Tajganj market area is aligned centrally with that of the pathway leading to the Taj monument located inside the Taj complex.
South Gate of the Taj..early in the morning…
The Forecourt (Jilaukhana)
Entry from any of the three gates leads to the forecourt or Jilaukhana (meaning in front of the house) lying in front of the main gate (Darwaza-i-Rauza) to the Taj monument. The forecourt was probably used for ceremonies, assemblies and processions. In ancient times members of the royal family and the visitors would have descended from their horses, elephants and or other rides at the forecourt before entering the main mausoleum. During the first death anniversary of the empress, rituals and prayers might have been organized at the forecourt area.
The Forecourt garden & view of the khawasspuras located near the Taj west gate
Great Gate or Darwaza-i-Rauza
Oh! It was a moment to remember! We were awestruck by the shear grandeur and beauty of the Great Gate or Darwaza-i-Rauza. This grand gate leads the visitors to the Taj monument complex from the forecourt area as well as from the walkaways coming out from the three outer Taj Gates. The Darwaza-i-Rauza has many similarities in its look like that of the southern gate of Akbar’s tomb. The monumental gate has a huge structure constructed by red sandstone and white marble inlay works.
Great Gate or Darwaza-i-Rauza
Well the moment of lifetime had to break on us any moment. The Taj view from the Great gate had always been a prized moment for any Taj admirer. This was the moment of greatest excitement for all of us. Our long cherished first Taj view! The Taj view in such a wonderful morning! Oh God, we think we don’t have enough words to express the chill we had when we entered the main mausoleum complex through the central pishtaque of the Great gate, and had our prized Taj view. The Taj was bathing the freshness of the gilded morning daylight. The Sun God was perhaps there around the Taj caressing its pure whiteness with all the glowing tenderness. A moment like this creates a magical spell on any mind on the earth. It seemed, time had momentarily frozen like a photograph in front of us. We were all spellbound, awestruck and hypnotized. Well this was truly the “Wah Taj” Moment we were eagerly waiting for.
The out of the world Taj Moment
Beyond the Great Gate lies the vast green expanse of Shah Jahan’s “Heaven-on-earth” garden that guided us to the Taj……
View of the Darwaza-i-Rauza from the Taj Garden
The Taj Garden (Bagh-i Firdaus-a’in)
Shah Jahan’s vision of the Taj garden (“Bagh-i Firdaus-a’in”) was something similar to the aura created by the heavenly gardens in the paradise. He believed that the mausoleum of his dear wife would be a true “heaven–on-earth”. It is said that, the emperor had given the responsibility of laying this beautiful garden to the able hands of Ran Mal from Kashmir as its chief designer and consultant.
View of the primary walkaway and the central shallow waterway containing fountains
The Taj garden typically bears all the features of the typical “Charbagh” garden (Persian garden or the garden of paradise) design brought in by Emperor Babur. The entire square shaped garden is divided into four equal square sections by two large paved primary intersecting walkways or khiyaban. Each of these square sections are further divided into four sub-sections by smaller secondary intersecting walkways (thats why the name “Charbagh” design or four-garden” style).
The Taj view from the central waterways
A central shallow waterway or canal runs along the centre of the primary walkways leading to a raised square tank (hauz or al Hawd al-Kawthar). This raised square tank houses five fountains, four located at its corners and the fifth in the centre. While operating in full swing, these five fountains create a majestic Taj view. It is said that the fountains were the symbols of gushed out tears mourning the loss of the empress. The central square tank is paved by all-white marble having floral designs at their corners. The central tank contains four exquisite marble seats placed at right angles to one another on each side of the tank.
…This was the Jannat…one among the seven wonders..the world is so proud of….
The Taj view from any of these marble seats is one of the most beloved places for shooting snaps with the Taj in the backdrop. And we too were no exception…..We sat spell bound….looking at this marvel out of the world…just one thing came to our mind…..
“Garfirdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto”
….If there is ever a heaven on earth, its here, its here, its here…
……..To be continued……..
Written by: Rimi Mutsuddi
Snaps: Indranil Mutsuddi