LETTER: Thoughts on the Taj Mahal

An old friend recently returned to India, the land of her birth. While there she paid a visit to the Taj Mahal. On his last trip to India the President did the same, an almost obligatory visit to what must be one of the ten wonders of the world.

Strangely, I was just preparing to read a copy of Diane and Michael Preston’s “Taj Mahal, etc ” With your approval and for benefit of those who might be interested, I’d like to list some of the highlights.

In 1621 the Empress Mumtaz died while giving birth to her fourteenth child.

She asked her husband, Shah Jahan to build her a mausoleum resembling paradise on earth. The Shah, his hair turning white in grief, resolved to carry out her wish. The result was the Taj, considered by many to be the most beautiful structures on earth.

The Shah was a descendant of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol empire, one of the largest to ever exist. It had been shrinking ever since under his descendants like Babur, Akbar, and Jahan, whose capital was Agra, located on the Deccan Plateau in north-central India. That is why the Taj was built in Agra.

The Taj was built of rose sandstone and white marble at a cost that nearly bankrupted the treasury. The design was a combination of Hindu (Indian) and Muslim. The Moguls, or Mongols we, of course, Muslim, and that is why there are still so many Muslims in India today, even after so many left to found Pakistan.

The Shah sent his armies, led by one of his four sons, against some of the wealthy Hindu potentates in order to augment his shrinking treasury.

Each Moghul ruler gained control of the throne by fratricide and Shah Jahan was no exception. In later years he imprisoned his own father in a fortress where he could only view the Taj from a distance.

Moghul emperors had harems of a great many wives (Akbar had 5,000) guarded by numbers of eunuchs. One ruler inherited 125 kilos of diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds, amounting to 625 carats of gems. For entertainment elephants were trained to fight each other.

In more recent years the Taj has begun to show the effects of pollution and a great many nearby factories have closed down. Applications of various solutions have helped to restore its glow. So have restrictions on the number of visitors.

In WWI attempts were made to camouflage the Taj to prevent attacks by the Japanese and later by Pakistan.

Who can predict the future of this world’s cultural treasure?

Robert Hall, Bellingham