Saturday, November 26, 2022

1 Jamadilawal 1444: Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


"Do not spy on one another,

nor let any of you backbite others..." (Hujurat 49:12)

'LET the splendor of the diamond, pearl and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow. Only let this one teardrop, the Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time…' - Poet Rabindranath Tagore

Visiting the Taj Mahal (Crown Palace) in Agra evokes memories when I was studying journalism at a local university in the 1980s. A lecturer, during one session of her lessons, screened a Hindi film (I have forgotten its title) and told us to write an evaluation on it. She told us to be sincere in our writing; "it had to be from deep inside your heart," she said.

A few of my friends who felt asleep while the show was on (they were actually not interested in watching Hindi film), wrote what a boring film it was, they could not understand the storyline of the film, so they fell asleep.

The lecturer became very angry and lectured the whole class; she accused that we were not good in appreciating beauty. She told us how she enjoyed the film; she had seen it several times before deciding to bring the tape to class.

That nostalgia was some 35 years ago; on one Tuesday morning a few years ago, I was standing in front of the Taj, witnessing its 'beauty' on a platform from a distance of about 400 meters away. What could I say about the Taj?

In layman language, I could only say it was very beautiful. But wait; that 'magnificent' building would be beautiful if it was masjid, but Taj Mahal is not a masjid, it is a mausoleum that houses the graves of the fifth Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved second wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

If Tagore calls it "a teardrop on the cheek of time," an English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, described it as "Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones."

The Taj Mahal which stands on the banks of River Yamuna, was built by Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of Mumtaz, a Muslim Persian princess. She died while accompanying her husband in Burhanpur in a campaign to crush a rebellion after giving birth to their 14th child.

When Mumtaz Mahal was still alive, she extracted four promises from the emperor: first, that he build the Taj; second, that he should marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb on her death anniversary. He kept the first and second promises.

Construction began in 1631 and was completed in 22 years. Twenty thousand people were deployed to work on it. The material was brought in from all over India and central Asia and it took a fleet of 1,000 elephants to transport it to the site. It was designed by the Iranian architect Ustad Isa and it is best appreciated when the architecture and its adornments are linked to the passion that inspired it. It is a "symbol of eternal love".

The Taj rises on a high red sandstone base topped by a huge white marble terrace on which rests the famous dome flanked by four tapering minarets. Within the dome lies the jewel-inlaid cenotaph of the queen. So exquisite is the workmanship that the Taj has been described as "having been designed by giants and finished by jewellers".

The only asymmetrical object in the Taj is the casket of the emperor which was built beside the queen's as an afterthought. The emperor was deposed by his son and imprisoned in the Great Red Fort for eight years but was buried in the Taj. During his imprisonment, he had a view of the Taj.

Declared a world Heritage Site by Unesco, the Taj Mahal has always evoked varying emotions from wonder to ecstasy and often times, inspired poetic verse.

Over the centuries, it has become the symbol of undying love and flawless beauty. Environmentalists are concerned about the possible hazardous effects of pollution on this marble wonder and are taking steps to preserve it for posterity.

The Taj Mahal is a total package of tomb, masjid, gardens, gateways and fountains; all are surrounded by high walls. The main attraction among visitors was of course the building that housed the graves of Shah Jahan and his wife.

On that fateful day, I too pushed myself among hundreds of visitors to be inside the building. Before entering it, one has to put on a pair of special covering on ones feet; then climbed wooden staircase and walked slowly through the only entrance.

The entrance of the tomb leads to the central hall, which houses the false tombs, and has four octagonal halls, grouped around it. The original graves are located in crypt, which is directly below the central hall. The cenotaphs are decorated with exquisite pietra dura (stone inlay) work.

While leaning against the railings erected surrounding the graves, our tour leader switched on his small torchlight, focused the lights on the patterns on the stone, it glowed as seem it was alive!

While walking out of the building and strolling on the courtyard overlooking the Jamuna River, I was of the opinion that even though my visit to Taj Mahal was a 'priceless' and unforgetful one, somehow I could feel the 'emptiness' in my soul and dryness in my throat.

I asked myself was it worth to sweat it out just to visit the grave of an emperor (and his wife) who had spent such wealth (nowadays we term it billions and billions of dollars on the people's money) to build such a 'magnificent grave'?

Allah's Apostle (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "This world is captivatingly sweet and rosy; and Allah will make you rulers therein and will see how you act. Behold fear this world and fear your desire for women." When the Jews rose to power, sex, gold and fine dresses became their weakness. Think for yourself, O brethren, have we not fallen victim to the same malady as had befallen the Jews?

Imagine the wastage of time and manpower (it took 22 years to be completed by 20,000 workers) just to build 'a resting ground' for two individuals, Mumtaz and her husband, Shah Jahan which means Conqueror of the World.

While sitting at one edge of the building overlooking River Jamuna, a Benggali girl from Kolkata, Kazi Nasima Begum, 27, greeted me, saying my appearance (different from the local) made her curious to know where I was from.

After a brief introduction about myself, I asked her opinion about the Taj. "Well, it is very, very beautiful," she said, "perhaps Mumtaz Mahal was much more beautiful."

Yes, as the saying goes, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Readers too could have their say once they put their foot on the grounds of the Taj.

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