Saving Taj Mahal
From marble white to a polluted green, from a classic wonder of the world to a ‘no go’ for tourists — what have we done to Taj, asks MADAN LALL MANCHANDA
Taj Mahal has been in news for all the wrong reasons in the past few months. It started with the monument courting controversy over its name being dropped from the Uttar Pradesh Government’s tourism booklet. A clarification from the state government regarding the same, followed. Then, news reports regarding a stampede inside the complex and a proposed restriction on the number of visitors to be allowed daily entry, added to the chaos. More recently, the Archaeological Survey of India’s decision of giving the monument a very literal Multani Mitti facelift has been criticised as foreign travel magazines have added Taj to their ‘not to visit in 2018’ list. The mud pack process is likely to be completed in 2019. And in their defence, ASI has said that one side of the ‘wonder’ will always be uncovered for visitors.
All of this seems quite bizarre when one tries to place it in the context of what they have heard and known about Taj in the past. Recorded history tells us that it was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal. As well said, an emperor’s heart still throbs in this marvel, one of the seventh wonders of the world. It took 22 long years and some 20,000 workers to build the entire complex. It is built in white marble has a white dome and a minar each on all the four corners which sparkle under the glorious sunshine.
Undeniably, Taj Mahal is an Indian creation. Its chhatris and domes are crowned with such symbolic Indian elements as the ‘Padmakosa’ and ‘kalasa’. A perpetual dance of fountains is on, in the reservoir in front flanked by a row of evergreen trees Junipers Chinensis on its both sides. The colourful flowers peep through beds and a sheet of velvet verdure spread around to impart it an enchanting dreamy look in moonlit nights which have attracted lovelorn across the globe.
Mighty kings, queens, beauty queens, clowns, jesters, literary giants, Nobel laureates, Generals, Field Marshals, rich, low and beggars — one and all fall prey to witchery of its irresistible charm and felt compelled to steal a cursory glance. The glance turns into a gaze that leaves the spectators spellbound. According to an estimate, 65 lakh tourists visit Taj every year.
Is it mere coincidence that the glorious ruler who got the monument built also met a very inglorious end? History bears testimony that Shah Jahan, a great lover of architect, who also built the Red Fort in Delhi died a sad man in his old age. He was then confined to the Agra Fort and deprived of his liberty. As per his last wish, he was shifted to that part of the fort from where he could view Taj Mahal. On the fateful day, as he viewed Taj, he was seized of the feeling of self pity. A strange sadness came over him and Shah Jahan was filled with utter remorse: “Lab se sada yeh ayee, zamana badal gaya, ankhein raheen mazar pe, aur dum nikal gaya.” (A murmur came from his lips, the times have changed. His gaze was fixed on the tomb, and his breath gave way).
A symbolic structure of black marble distinguishes it from the grave of Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan had intention to build yet another such structure in black marble on the other bank of Yamuna. But this was not to be Shah Jahan’s son thought it to be waste of public money and time. According to a source, the land on which Taj was built was offered gratis by Jaipur Maharaja, Jai Singh, religious piety required that free or forced land should not be used for burial. Hence property from crown land was given to him in lieu thereof, the compensation given is authentically established by two firmans or royal decrees preserved in the Jaipur archives and also corroborated from other evidence as furnished by the veteran journalist, RV Smith.
However, Sahir Ludhianvi, one of the top most Urdu poets who kindled fire in young imaginative minds, mounts a powerful attack on the social system that permits extremes of wealth and poverty. In his poem titled ‘Taj Mahal’, he logically argued and reminded people that there have been many more including the craftsmen who have carved the artefact and not Shah Jahan alone who have in no lesser manner showered their affections on their love mates. But amazingly, their mazaars have remained unknown and erased from the memory of mankind. No one ever lit even a candle light on their mazaars.
Contrarily, for the stirrer of class conflict, Sahir, the monument of love and splendour evokes a different response. He saw in Taj, the design of its wealthy creator who ignored the concerns of common man. The poet mounted a scathing attack and dealt a grievous blow to shatter the illusion surrounding the splendid monument of love Taj Mahal thus: “Ek Shah ne daulat ka sahara le kar, hum garibon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaak.”(A king by taking advantage of his riches has mocked at the love of poor beings as us).
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