Anyone who bears 14 children deserves a medal (or at least condolences). And if you die during the delivery of your last, you deserve to be memorialized. Such are the origins of the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is widely considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. We were a little anxious to see it, wondering if its iconic status might have created an image beyond reasonable expectations. But we were not disappointed!
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Her death left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair turned grey overnight (and possibly the thought of raising 14 kids without a mother).
Construction of the Taj began in 1632 and was completed 22 years later with the help of 20,000 workers. While the building looks white from a distance, visiting it up close reveals intricate marble inlay that adds splashes of colour to the building. Semi-precious stones create beautiful designs along with scripture from the Qur’an.
Unfortunately not all of the emperor’s children were saints, and one son in particular was hungry for power. After killing three of his brothers, the son deposed his father. The emperor was imprisoned for life, dooming him to see his wife’s grave only from a window.
This turn of events was unfortunate for more than just the emperor. His long-term plan had been to build a second temple in his honour across the Yamuna River. The temple would have mirrored the Taj, and been black in colour. Now that would have been a sight to see next to the Taj!
The Taj Mahal is an incredibly beautiful place, and there are several buildings on the site apart from the main memorial that are just as impressive. A mosque facing west is still used for daily prayer, and another building on the opposite side is used for ceremonial purposes.
Be prepared for a chaotic entrance to the site with everything from tuk tuks to rickshaws to camel rides and all manner of touts accosting you. We had a guide show us around, and it was well worth the hire. He gave us lots of interesting information and knew all the best spots for picture taking.
After visting the Taj, we went to a workshop to learn about the art of marble inlay found at the site. The craftsmen first create flower petals or other designs from semi-precious stones. The stones are then laid on top of the marble and the design is traced. The next step involves carefully carving out the design, and finally the stones are glued into the marble.
And yes, we were convinced to buy some art from the workshop. But our motto this trip is “no tacky souvenirs” so we take the chance to buy real art when we find it!