Secrets of the Taj Mahal

India was ruled by the Mughals for approximately 300 years, starting from the historic Battle of Panipat, when Babur emerged victorious over Ibrahim Lodi in 1526, to 1858, when the British Crown formally assumed power, in the name of the British Raj. The Mughals have bequeathed an outstanding amount of cultural heritage to our country, from monuments to literary works, paintings, famous cuisines and the most remarkable contribution of  the Taj Mahal.

Built in 1632, by the the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal is an enormous mausoleum complex constructed to house the remains of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, and took over 20 years to take shape. This ivory white monument, built of shimmering white marble is one of the most stellar examples of classic Mughal architecture, which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. It was one among the seven wonders of the world and was designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1983. It remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a stunning symbol of India’s rich history. For tourists, whether native or foreign, visiting this magnificent monument is indubitably on their bucket lists.

However, one of the greatest symbols of love, remains shrouded in obscurity. There are a number of mysteries associated with this monument, some of which are not that well known.

First, the heritage site is also a spot for optical illusions. Needless to say, the architects of the Taj Mahal, were masters of proportion and visual tricks. It is very interesting to note that as we first approach the gates to the Taj, it appears gigantic and close. But as we go nearer, it appears to shrink in size, something that defies the laws of physics. Also, even though the four minarets that frame the main building seem upright, they actually lean outwards, to provide aesthetic balance, and in the event of a natural disaster, would crumble away from the main crypt, instead of crashing on and destroying it.

Another secret, is that the cenotaphs honoring Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are enclosed in an eight-sided chamber ornamented with pietra dura (an inlay with semi-precious stones) and a marble lattice screen. But the gorgeous monuments are just for show: the real sarcophagi are in a quiet room below, at the garden level. Moreover, the monument seems to be perfectly symmetrical, except that it’s not. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is strangely positioned west of the central axis, disturbing the balance, which has led many people to believe that he never meant to be buried there at all.

Yet another mystery, and a well deliberated one at that, is of the black Taj Mahal. Gathering from the haphazard placement of Shah Jahan’s cenotaph, according to local lore, it is said that a black Taj Mahal was being planned: a shadow image across the Yamuna River, where he was planning to be entombed. It is believed that the construction plan was abandoned, when Shah Jahan was deposed by his son, who ironically was a child of Mumtaz Mahal, and imprisoned at the Agra Fort. But this story has been dismissed as being a legend, without any concrete evidence.

However, there is indeed a black Taj in Burhanpur, which is the tomb of Shah Nawaz Khan, an Indian politician who served as a part of the Indian National Army during the second World War. Although similar to the Taj Mahal, it was built on a much smaller scale and budget, but nevertheless it is indeed a beautiful monument in itself.

Now, something that I’m sure of is that a lot of us are not aware about the fact that the Taj Mahal was protected with bamboos during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. There are images which serve as evidence, and it is only justified to protect one of the most important heritage sites of our country. The purpose of covering the Taj was to make sure that it looked like a bamboo stockpile from any bomber planes.

Yet another noteworthy point, is how the Taj Mahal appears to change colour throughout the course of a day. As has already been stated, this monument is a spot for optical illusions, from dawn to dusk, the sun transforms the hue of the mausoleum, making it appear gray or pale pink at sunrise, dazzling white at noon, and an orange-bronze when the sun sets. In the evenings, the Taj may appear translucent blue. Special tickets are even sold for full moon and eclipse viewings.

To retain its pearly white tint, this monument also gets regular ‘facials’. Pretty surprising, but it’s true. Since the colour of the outer walls is changing to a yellowish hue, due to pollution and acid rain, the Archaeological Survey of India has planned to give ‘multani mitti’ facials, so that it gets rid of all the dirt.

Yet another unknown fact, is that the foundation of the Taj Mahal would have eroded years ago, if it weren’t for the Yamuna river. Its foundation is made of timber, which would have weakened overtime and crumbled owing to rot and ruin, but thanks to the gushing waters of the Yamuna, the wood has been kept strong and moist, and prevented the foundation from getting destroyed.

Nevertheless, the Taj Mahal stands proud as the symbol of the glory of the Mughal dynasty and a sublime paradigm of everlasting love. Anyone who beholds the sight of this monument is awe-struck by its sheer magnificence and regality. At first glance, it justifies its glory that has lasted several centuries, and will last for the years to come. A closer look imprints the immortality of its beauty. And as we leave, it reduces itself to yet another chapter from history, the thought of which might be temporarily forsaken but never forgotten.

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