Pondering over a tomb

This has to be the most-photographed tomb in the world. Apart from the pyramids of Giza perhaps.

I always wondered what is the purpose of building mega monuments of tombs. Of learning centres, public libraries, sports grounds and even religious places, I understand. But tombs? Superb architectural achievements and craftsmanship are part of the human heritage. But what tangible difference does a mega tomb, for a privileged few, and that takes up so much resources, make to the general population’s lives?

There is no doubt that the Taj Mahal is, today, a iconic symbol for tourism in India (even though India itself is such a diverse country with many interesting places and different traditions). In that sense, there is tangible impact. But I wondered whether Shah Jahan, when he ordered the building of the Taj Mahal as the resting place of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, ever thought that one day this tomb would become a top tourist attraction.

A few people asked me whether it is worth going to the Taj Mahal. Quite honestly, if I weren’t sharing a car with 3 other friends while we happened to be in Delhi, I probably wouldn’t have gone. (The Delhi-Agra car journey itself is quite an adventure.) But there is a reason why the Taj Mahal is on the postcards. It is a colossal monument, all the more stunning in a palatial compound. Up close, the geometry and intricate details – though not as interesting as the mosque right beside it – are still quite a marvel. It is a world heritage that is testament to a Mughal emperor who (egotistically?) conceived the idea, and the unnamed architects, engineers, carpenters, labourers who helped built it.

Taj Mahal Mosque

Shrouded in the smog of Agra.

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3 thoughts on “Pondering over a tomb

  1. Feet on fire

    Despite all the bad press Islamic culture gets today, they have somehow managed to build the most beautiful structures in the history of humanity.

    The Taj Mahal is, along with the Alhambra, the most beautiful building I have ever seen. Located at opposite ends of the great Islamic universe, built in different periods by different rulers, they have somehow managed to leave the same everlasting impression on the human imagination.

    I never had a desire to be king. But to be emir of the Alhambra, I could enjoy that

    Reply
    1. plumerainbow Post author

      Do great minds think alike or what. While writing this post I was thinking about the Alhambra: walking through its compounds and imagining the rich tapestry draping the hallways, music drifting through chambers, the sweet smells of food & figs, warriors on horses charging up the slopes to the main gate, strolling around the Generalife … That was the main difference for me between the Taj and and the Alhambra. Apart from being more beautiful, the latter is actually a fortress/residence once filled with life and which served some practical use.

      Reply
  2. Feet on fire

    I managed to spend half an hour alone in the Alhambra a couple years back by evading the guards at lockup time. Sitting in the Hall of Ambassadors, in the dying twilight. One could feel the ghosts of centuries past. That why I like the chance to be alone at ruins and old sites, you can really feel the history.

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East but that evening in the Alhambra was the closest I came to the 1001 Nights feeling. If you haven’t read it yet, Washington Irving’s Alhambra is the next best thing to actually going there yourself.

    Reply

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