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.


Veronique said...

Wow! I wish I could be there with you, sharing this incredible experience.

sam said...

you continue to amaze me with your powers of observation and expression. your description of this experience is, to me, as breathtaking as the experience itself was to you. i hope that each and every moment of your trip is this vivid...or maybe you need a bit of breathing room between these knockout moments...regardless, i know that you will appreciate each one.
thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Oh but for the love of a good woman. I loved it when I visited and I too was amazed by it's exacting symmetry. It truly is one of the great wonders of the world to me.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy that you have experienced the Taj. You have described it beautifully, when no words can express the experience. this is one of the few times in my life when my expectations were taken well beyond my imagination.
you travel girl

Cristina said...

your photos are even more attentive and heartfelt than usual: a real pleasure for us! thank you so much for sharing so meticulously your marvelous experience. awesome.

pve design said...

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safe-gaurds, policies and coercion are fruitless. WE find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us." - John Steinbeck

Glad to see the trip has take you...

A Life Unurried said...

Oh. My. Word. Couldn't you gradually lead us to your first photo? I had to catch my breath for a moment as I opened your blog! Although I may have seen a photo of the Taj a thousand times before, viewing it through your eyes as I've followed your journey to arrive here makes it that more special. Thank you for sharing your journey with us through your beautiful images. I think it's time I bring India further up my "list" to visit. -Grace

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

My favorite literary appearance of the Taj Mahal occurs during the first, balcony scene from "Private Lives" (for those who don't know the play, it begins with a divorced couple who discover that they are, unfortunately, honeymooning with their new spouses in the same, Deauville hotel):

AMANDA: What have you been doing lately? During these last

ELYOT: Traveling about. I went round the world you know, after....

AMANDA [hurriedly]: Yes, yes, I know. How was it?

ELYOT: The world?


ELYOT: Oh, highly enjoyable.

AMANDA: China must be very interesting.

ELYOT: Very big, China.

AMANDA: And Japan

ELYOT: Very small.

AMANDA: So, did you eat sharks' fins, and take your shoes off, and use
chopsticks and everything?

ELYOT: Practically everything.

AMANDA: And India....the burning Ghars, or Gadgets, or whatever they
are, and the Taj Mahal. How WAS the Taj Mahal?

ELYOT [looking at her]: Unbelievable, a sort of dream.

AMANDA: That was the moonlight, I expect; you must have seen it
in the moonlight?

ELYOT [never taking his eyes off her face]: Yes, the moonlight can be...
cruelly deceptive.

AMANDA: And it didn't look like a biscuit box, did it? I've always felt
that it might.

from Noel Coward's "Private Lives" (1930)

I love that exchange.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry

Dominique said...

Yes, that's it. A biscuit box...the moonlight remains cruelly deceptive. Many thanks all for writing! d

Anonymous said...

I believe you were moved to tears. That sight is truly breathtaking! Glad you got to experience it with your soul and not just a camera -- like so many others are doomed to do!

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

I should add (just in case anyone frets over "Amanda's" lack of sensitivity) that the character isn't SUPPOSED to be someone whose perceptions one would necessarily admire or emulate.

That said?...it's a still a very funny comment....reminds me of the time, years and years ago, that my aunt-in-law (she brought good cheekbones and a reasonable amount of Duke Power stock into our gene-pool, but little else) told me she HATED the movie "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" because "All they did was fight the whole time. Why would anybody want to to listen to THAT?". This was woman who's long been well-known for missing a point even if you put it on the end of a spear and drove it into her forehead.

That aside? One of the very first times (others have, predictably enough, followed) I ever really Got in Trouble was when I first saw pictures of the Taj Mahal. I think I was about 7, and the pictures were, I think, in National Geogprahic. I distinctly recall those photogprahs. That was first time, as I recall, I ever saw a picture of something and thought it was utterly beautiful.

I scissored the pictures out and put them on my bulletin board in the bedroom.

Later, I got a bigass scolding about cutting pictures out of magazines that hadn't yet been read by everyone else in the family, but I was allowed to keep the pictures up.

I wouldn't be the first to have remarked that the Taj Mahal (like The Mona Lisa and at least several compositions by Mozart) is one of the very few works of art that you can pace around for decades, trying to figure out what "trick" or artifice was employed in its making.....and you end up with no answer except saying "good Lord...it's just....perfect".

It's sort of difficult to conceive that any of those things were "made".....they just EXIST and seem, oddly enough, as though they always have.

thanks for your lovely and (as usual) evocative posting.


David Terry

P.S. I guess you already know about this morning's NYT article on Architectural Digest's new editor. I read it (and its account of Conde Nast's doings) and considered that I was very lucky not to have know (for the most part, in this life) most of that sort of people. Don't feel overly-obliged to respond to that comment.

SherryMarie said...

I may not be able to read "A prayerful calligraphy from the Koran", but your prose is poetry as well. I envision a string of pearls as your words scroll across my screen. I'm thankful to be given this glimpse of the beauty of the world through your eyes, from a place I'll never get to see on my own.

William said...

Thanks so much for the clarification regarding the Amanda character in 'Private Lives'. I found myself fretting over her lack of sensitivity and now I can stop and get on with things.

david terry said...

To "wiliam"

Oh, just stop it.

The only reason for my writing that would be my not happening to assume that most folks are familiar with Noel Coward's queeniest of plays from.... EIGHTY years ago?. It's not exactly the sort of thing one expects most normal people with actual lives to have kept on top of....

I was just trying to make it clear (and just in case someone had thought otherwise) that I wasn't "making fun" of Ms Browning's obviously sincere posting.

As I've also previously written, feel free to contact me off this message-board. You can do so by writing to dterrydraw@aol.com. E-Z-Enuff, mister?....

I think that would be the most productive way for you to proceed, since (and as I've also written previously) I doubt that this is either amusing or interesting for anyone else.

Your doing so would spare a lot of people a lot of time....and I'd be quite free (this is, all done and said, Ms Browning's table) to tell you what I think.

Thanks in advance,

David Terry

William said...

Truly, I, for one, very much appreciated your most thoughtful post clarifying the character in the Noel Coward play excerpt. My first thought when reading your post was, "hmmmm....I wonder if most folks know about this play from 80 years ago and will they understand the complexities of the Amanda character and, most important, will Ms. Browning think of this as making fun of her obviously sincere posting?" Understandably, I began to fret. Then, you stepped up, unsolicited and out of your natural great concern for others, and offered clarification of the Amanda character and I was able to let go of the fretting and just move on with my life. Thank you, again.

karensandburg said...

the convergence of so much spiritually transcendent talent expressed in this building is hard to grok, but you make an impressive effort. i love how you struggle struggle struggle with it and that struggle so well describes how one feels when confronted with such inexplicable beauty... ironically, maybe that feeling of struggle (whether in art, music, nature)is literally feeling the profound movement of beauty making its way deep within?

Claudia Juestel said...

What a beautiful recollection of the experience of seeing the Taj Mahal, one I can very much relate to.

I had wanted to see it since I was a small child. When I finally went to India for the first time and we arrived in Agra I went up into my hotel room and admired it from afar. The next morning I would see it close-up. I am not a morning person, and the fact that our tour guide told us that we should see it at sunrise did not sound so appealing. Would it be beautiful any time of the day? I acquiesced and was grateful.

The Taj Mahal in the pink light of the rising sun, combined with the haze you described, was simply breathtaking. From afar and up close it is an example of perfection, beauty, passion and the incredible skill of the craftsmen of India.

Did you see the Baby Taj?

I had the pleasure of seeing it a second time a few years later, and my reaction was the same. That time we stayed at Amarvilas where every room has a view of the Taj. We all had massages at sunset in rooms also overlooking the Taj. I refused to put my head down until the sun had faded. How often do you get massage with such a mesmerizing view?



Paula said...

I share your awe for the Taj Mahal. My sister and I visited India for the first time in November and the Agra was our first stop. I wasn't sure whether reality could live up to the thousands of photographs I had seen. How wrong I was. It is a magical and breathtaking place. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see it. The long haul from LA would have been worth it for this alone! Thank you for sharing your experience. Paula

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