Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Taj Mahal

For my last few days in India I totally abandon my practice of avoiding cities and tourist destinations. I took a two hour bus ride to Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, spent the night there, flew early the next morning to Bangalore, then to Deli, the capital of India, traveled by train from Deli to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, the single biggest tourist destination in India, spent the night in Agra, went back to Deli the next day, spent the night there, flew to Taipei, spent the night there, took an overnight flight to Honolulu and arrived there the next day where I caught the short flight back to Kauai. That’s a lot of moving around!

The problem with the “seeing the sights” approach to tourism is that one becomes jaded and unable to appreciate even the most spectacular destinations. Since I hadn’t been seeing the sights, I wasn’t jaded and I arrived in a good state of mind to appreciate the Taj Mahal. It was worth the trip.

The first thing I noticed about “The Taj” as it is affectionately known, is its grand scale. The main building and its surrounding gardens are enormous. Its construction employed 20,000 workers and took 22 years. For comparison consider a wonder of nature such as a mountain. While its awesome size might take your breath away, there is also great beauty a wildflower you see as you walk along its base. So it is with the Taj Mahal. The great slabs of white marble from which it is constructed are inlaid with stones of various colors. In the interior the inlay work is done with brightly colored semi-precious stones. The amount of hand carved stone inlay work is staggering, it boggles the mind to think about how much time and careful work went into the construction of that building.

To my mind the scale and the fine workmanship are simply displays of wealth. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum; it has no earthly function. Emperor Shah Jahan had a lot of money so he could afford to buy a lot of stone and hire all the best stone carvers. Anyone with that much money could do the same. What impressed me even more was the architecture. It is not known who designed the Taj Mahal but whoever it was had a kind of inspiration that money cannot buy.

It’s symmetry and singularity of focus are what really amazed me. It is as if all the beauty and careful work in every detail is focused on a single, unwavering goal, an architectural expression of the complete devotion to a single god so revered in Islam, the religion that puts the “mono” back in monotheism. While the gardens and the red of the surrounding walls and mosques are rooted in the earth the pale central building itself seems to float and shimmer as if it were almost perfect enough to simply float up to heaven at any moment.

Working hundreds of years before the invention of photography, the designers could not have anticipated how incredibly photogenic their creation would be. The urge to photograph is almost irresistible even when you know you’re taking the exact same picture that is taken hundreds of times a day and can be found printed with professional quality in books and on postcards everywhere.

It pleases me that people built such a sublime structure hundreds of years ago without the benefit of computers or modern engineering. Like all great works of art, it is a reminder that human genius is always present and that our age is no more advanced in its imagination despite all of our amazing technology.


At 3/24/2009, Blogger Martin said...

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