I cannot take it in. It is monumental, too beautiful, an architectural divinity. To gaze fully upon it must be some sort of sacrilege. Tears come to my eyes. The haze of pollution as much as the haze of history? No. I am awed in the presence of the Taj. Days later, the wonder still wells up.
There is a stillness about its majesty, but there is nothing placid about this building. What a diva she is--a presence decidedly feminine. The stage setting of red stone--that feels masculine--in which she is enthroned is handsome, bold . To approach her properly, you must walk slowly, ceremonially, along the paths, through the gateways, so that she reveals herself little by little--a dome, an arch, then the minarets flanked protectively around her, stretching her dominion, adding to her imposing presence….Like a beautiful woman, our guide says, the Taj should be covered up, only slowly revealed.
And we are like the paparazzi, desperate for the right shot.
Is architecture frozen music? Am I seeing Bach? But to my eye Bach would be suspended in a building that is more complex, more lilting and full of surprise. The symmetry of the Taj is fiercely rigorous. Nothing diverges. Yet it is full of tricks of perspective, of horizon--its complexity is subtly engineered and it, too, is revealed slowly. Bach, then.
The Taj is softened by the play of decorative pietra dura--flowers of carnelian and jasper and other precious stone inset into the surfaces, paintings in stone--the mottled marble flecked with crystals that catch and scatter sunlight, moonlight. The lines are so fluid they seem painted in stone.
A prayerful calligraphy from the Koran is set in stone around the entrance; huge ribboned screens are chiseled of blocks of marble.
The Taj was under construction for 22 years, a building project that supported the families of countless artisans, craftsmen, laborers, engineers, designers.
I recover my breath, my courage, but it is still nearly unfathomable. I try breaking the building apart, to see it in stacks and layers, in portions, framing with my eye, my camera, a minaret, a dome, an interrupted series of arches, just so I can try to understand how it is constructed. I try breaking the symmetry, moving sideways, but I cannot get away from it.
I feel as if I am at the piano, practicing a Bach canon, breaking it apart, getting a feel for it into my fingers, trying to grasp its power bit by bit.
But I miss the point. There is nothing human about the scale, or about this "monument to love" as the Queen's tomb is often called. This is architecture meant to defy what it means to be human, to defy death. But it is a testament to the marvel of human ingenuity and imagination.