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Assignment 1: Architectural Experience

The Taj Mahal

EVDA 523.01: Premodern Traditions of the World


Name: Sumer Matharu
Student ID: 10047835
Date: 22 September 2015

List of Figures
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At the base of the Taj Mahal


Behind the Taj Mahal, overlooking the Yamuna river
Looking through a carved motif inside the Taj Mahal
Inlaid precious stones inside the Taj Mahal

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The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in India for his wife
Mumtaz Mahal. I visited this architectural marvel when I was 7 years old and again
when I was 27 years old. It was a different experience each time although I saw the
same things.
When I was 7, I visited as part of a group of family friends and there were other
children as well. We all drove down in several cars from New Delhi to Agra and as a
child, the road trip was rather exciting. At 27, I visited with my fiance. I was living in
Canada by that time and on a brief 10 month hiatus in India, my fiance visited me in
New Delhi and we both drove from New Delhi to Agra. This was also exciting because it
gave us a chance to see the sights along the way to Agra and also the local scene
there.

The first time I visited the Taj Mahal at 7, my family drove us there and all the
adults in the group herded the children through the entrance. The tickets had already
been bought. All we had to do was pose for pictures and run up to the Taj Mahal. It was
a magnificent sight and even as a child I was in awe at how beautiful it was. One of my
friends crossed over a barricade and got in trouble with the police that was standing on
guard. His parents had to come and free him. Our group paid a guide to show us around
and tell us about the history to which I listened carefully. He mentioned how the south
facing pond was designed so one could see the entire reflection of the Taj Mahal, how
every piece of decorative stone inlay was unique and had to be crafted by hand, and I
remember especially well how Shah Jahan had the workers hands cut off at the end of
construction which my parents later told me was a myth. There were beautiful motifs cut
into the marble used as screens and window coverings. Couples would go there and
pay to get a piece of sacred cloth and tie it into the motifs to bless their relationship. My
parents did it and I stood there silently staring at them while they held each other and
tied the cloth. It was supposed to be blessed to how much Shah Jahan and Mumtaz
Mahal loved each other. I also remember how the marble was turning yellow. I noticed
this more closely than anything else because in school they had taught us about the
pollution in the air, how it was causing acid rains and how this was all collectively
discolouring and destroying the marble. Apart from that I highly enjoyed the different

motifs and the view of the coffins where Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were buried. I
noticed a series of smaller domed buildings surrounding the Taj Mahals and thought
about how they looked like mini Taj Mahals. More than anything, I was waiting to go
back to the hotel and jump into the pool with my friends.
Right after our visit to the Taj, we drove to Fatehpur Sikri, a Mughal fort not too far
from the Taj Mahal. Here again the group paid a guide to show us around. It was built
completely using indigenous red sandstone. There was a pit with a sitting area above
where the King would punish prisoners or criminals to death using a mad or drunk
elephant that would crush those it faced. I also remember a board game similar to chess
that the royals would play. This version was enlarged, engraved into the ground and was
played using live characters, almost like battle chess. Fatehpur Sikri was larger and
seemed to have more action than the Taj Mahal. There was also a pool where the local
boys would dive in and retrieve coins thrown to the bottom by the tourists. Most of them
would keep the coins after the stunt.
During my second visit to Agra with my fiance, we had a brief encounter with a
local policeman. We were driving a European car with New Delhi licence plates, so it
was evident we were visitors. The policeman accused us of running a red light and not
wearing seat belts, neither of which were true, at the end the policeman just wanted us

to pay him a bribe. When we entered Agra, we took a wrong turn while on our way to the
hotel and it led us to a small residential area. I dont think the children playing on the
streets had ever seen a European car because as soon as we halted to turn back
around, they stopped playing and jumped on top of the car, almost draping themselves
over it. One of the children even tried to open the door to get in. It was shocking. A
young man on a motorcycle stopped and shooed the kids off, spoke to us in English and
asked us if he could be our guide to the Taj Mahal. We agreed because I remembered
about how my parents also paid a guide thinking he would know more than them, and
he accompanied us to our hotel and then to the Taj Mahal.
My fiance had to go through the foreigner line where they pay a larger entry fee
in USD. Even though I lived in Canada, I was born in New Delhi so I didnt think
anything of it and went through the Indian line. There is always an inspector standing at
the end of the line who firmly told me to go through the other line since he did not think I
was Indian or at least a resident of India. It was uncanny how he knew. Once we got
inside we were bombarded by agents and peddlers who wanted to take our pictures, or
wanted to guide us. Our guide told them all to go away but called his friends to peddle
us so he could get a commission. Once we cleared our heads from all the chaos at the
entrance, we greatly enjoyed the view of the gardens and how well maintained the
flowers and trees were along the way to the Taj Mahal. The architecture seemed to

intensify and the structures got larger as we got closer to the main gate of the Taj Mahal.
There were numerous old buildings that used to be living quarters for the maintenance
team at the Taj Mahal and were now being used as administration and tourist offices.
Once we entered the main area leading up to the fountains and the main structure, we
were once again bombarded by peddlers. It was a struggle to find a place at the base of
the building to get a picture together because the area was very crowded. Once we
started walking towards the building, listening to the guide and admiring the building
became easier. He explained how the towers or minarets surrounding the structure were
intentionally designed with a slight tilt angle so from every perspective they would look
straight. The attention to detail by the artisans, engineers, architects and builders alltogether was astounding. It was amazing to comprehend the fact that even back then,
there was perfect and disciplined harmony between all the different disciplines working
together to emphasize each and every detail that went into completing the Taj Mahal, no
matter how minute it was. Each arched doorway had calligraphy of beautiful Persian
poems all around. I asked our guide about the surrounding buildings and he mentioned
that they were tombs for some of Shah Jahans other wives and one of them was also
for a loyal servant. Behind the Taj Mahal we could see the river Yamuna which is slowly
drying up and is but a mere shadow of its former glory. It was intriguing to hear that
across the Yamuna, a black stone or marble Taj Mahal was slated to be built. The

foundation was laid, but Shah Jahan departed the world before he would see it to
completion.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

After we left the building, we paid our guide who then tried to sell us marble
statues and we politely declined. We spent the rest of the evening at the hotel and the
next day we set out for Fatehpur Sikri. As we started to enter the area to the fort, a
group of men jumped in front of our fast moving car and stopped us. They asked us if
we had been there, started yelling at us and told us that we needed a guide. Once I
declined one of them tried to put his arm into the car and I drove off with him trying to
run with us. It was again, shocking. When we got to the premises, before we left our car
we were again surrounded by peddlers. At this point we got overwhelmed and decided
we were not going to see the fort anymore. It was disappointing because I wanted to
relive my childhood memory of seeing the structure, and it was going to be something
new for my fiance. By this point we just wanted to go back to New Delhi.

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Overall, the Taj Mahal is truly one of the most magnificent displays of Islamic
Architecture from the Mughal eras. On writing this paper it is interesting to see my own
perspective about the structure from when I was 7 and then at 27. My interests have
evolved but more of less I am still intrigued by the same things. I wish to go back to see
the Taj Mahal again and compare with a later perspective.

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