To walk through the gates of the Taj Mahal at sunrise is, for many, the seminal moment of any holiday in India. Not only is it a beautiful sight, the soft glow of dawn turning the marble from gold to pink, then white, but it is a deeply significant moment in the day. To the heartbroken emperor who built it as the resting place for his wife, the sun pouring over the building meant she was bathing in the light of God.
The Taj Mahal was created in 1632, when Mughal architecture was at its peak, for the wife of Shah Jahan who had died giving birth to their 14th child. Mumtaz Mahal had been his childhood sweetheart, his companion and adviser in all things. On the eve of her death, she had accompanied him to a battle camp, and went into labour while he was fighting. He returned to find his baby daughter safe, but his wife dead. Devastated, he commissioned her mausoleum as a magnificent resting place to link heaven and earth.
Three centuries later, it is more potent than ever. As you approach, the Taj Mahal grows like a grand mirage from the past in the dusty landscape, its perfectly proportioned gardens stretching out like an optical illusion.
To the Mughals, the path through the grounds mirrored the soul’s journey to the afterlife. Every arch, corner and tile has symbolism – be it the position of the carved decorations or the number of domes around its main roof.
Paradise is represented throughout in the beautiful tiled motifs of flowers and plants, colours carefully chosen for their function and significance. Even the inner acoustics have a meaning: the uninterrupted sound that bounces across the walls represents purity of the soul.
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