The Taj Mahal is one of those places that, like all beautiful things, is never left alone. It has admirers at moonlit midnights, in pink dawns and all through the hot daylight in Agra.
We went at daybreak, but already there were busloads of people from every corner of the planet milling about, waiting to see the wonder built 400 years ago by a brokenhearted emperor who won vast territories only to lose the light of his life. In building a mausoleum for his third wife, Mughal emperor Shah Janan conquered the world’s heart.
A red sandstone entry building precedes the Taj, so you come upon it through a high arch, from shadow into light. And there it is. At the end of its long narrow pool, it’s immense but not imposing, ravishingly beautiful but serene – a monument with nothing to prove. It hasn’t the hard stamp of the conquerer, the virility of the minaret or the brute strength of a fortification. Built of a particularly hard white marble with a high crystal content, it has a translucent quality that radiates softness, making it glow tenderly at dawn and reflect moonlight from innumerable semi-precious stones. The Taj is not the fire of love. It’s the calm pool of love, the still air of love, the white light of love. No wonder couple after couple have their pictures taken with the Taj; they want to feel what the emperor felt.
And because the Mogul was Muslim, a religion that forbids the depiction of a deity, the Taj Mahal is adorned only with an infinite variety of patterns, from the flowers that arch above the doorway and the graceful and expressive calligraphy to countless geometries and patterns of the imagination.
But if the emperor’s love was boundless and blissful, his progeny was nasty and brutish – the youngest son, thirsty for power, slaughtered his three older brothers and imprisoned his father in a nearby fort. The deposed emperor’s quarters faced the Taj in the distance, so for the last eight years of his life, he watched it from afar. The Taj is where you’ll feel the love, but it’s here, pacing the floor of the Emperor’s exile, that you most keenly felt his loss.
You walk out of the perfect symmetry of the Taj world into a desperately dry street and a crowd of touts selling Taj fridge magnets and marble boxes that are actually soapstone and Taj T-shirts and there’s the kid who first spotted you at 6 a.m., now back nipping at your heels.
But none of that matters, because you’re at the Taj Mahal, and you can only be in love.
story © Dianna Carr images © Francis Tremblay