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« Robert Glaser, American Psychologist, 1921 - 2012 (Norman Costa) | Main | 3rd Annual 3QD Arts & Literature Prize »

February 21, 2012

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LUSH GREENERY!

Fond though I am of lush greenery and sylvan surroundings, I am with Lord Curzon on this one. His manicure may have messed up the verdant vision of Shah Jehan and the Mughal landscape artists, but I think highlighting the perfect pearl-like structure of the Taj Mahal at the cost of tall trees and thick foliage was a designs triumph. As such the abbreviated garden not only brings out the monument into sharp focus, it also unclutters the view of the long reflecting pool (an inspiration for its latter day counterpart at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.) which is as much a part of the Taj's beauty as the surrounding trees and lawn. The older pictures are fascinating but they evoke the sense of a tropical forest of which the Taj is an organic piece made of marble. For me, that detracts from the overall awesomeness of the architecture.

More than cutting down the forest of trees around the marble mausoleum, the British and other raiders like the Jat, did more harm to the Taj Mahal by robbing it of the precious stones that used to encrust the delicate work on its walls at one time. The holes that were once occupied by emeralds, rubies, amethysts, lapis lazuli and other gems are now filled with colored glass leaving intact only the mother-of-pearl inlays. But then it is too much to expect that such valuable items would be left unmolested by vandals only out of aesthetic considerations.

Thanks for posting the interesting before-and-after images of the Taj Mahal. Having little time and few ideas for posts, I was planning to put up a photo montage of Lucknow. Now that can wait awhile.

You should go ahead with the photomontage of the Lucknow buildings and places, Ruchira. It would be the perfect segue after the Taj post, if you ask me.

I didn't know that the precious/semi-precious stones used in the Taj were removed and replaced with glass. But it boggles my mind to think that it would have survived for so many years till raiders gouged those out. Or maybe it was too well-guarded in the Mughal heyday for anyone to think of looting it.

I'm in two minds over the manicuring of the landscape. I love lush greenery too, but we can't forget that the tall trees in the 19th century photo would once have been smaller, closer to the topiaries as they now stand pruned. I suspect that Curzon may have had that in mind when those were reduced to give prominence to the Taj Mahal building. But from the panoramic view, I see much greenery that was perhaps needlessly removed - specifically the second line of mature trees behind the towering ones next to the reflecting pool.
As an ode to love, the building shines now, but the lush gardens and probably overgrown greenery that would have provided visitors respite from the heat of summers are pushed into the periphery. In any case, I guess that the Mahtab Bagh, across the river, would have afforded the better view of the whole Taj, in those days, before it got neglected in its turn, only now being restored to some semblance of the original.

You can debate the relative aesthetic value of the British vs the Mughal ideas, but insofar as appropriateness to India is concerned, it's a no-contest. If you've been to Agra any time other than winter, you've somehow survived the heat to view the Taj. The shady trees in the Mughal plan would have made visiting the Taj a far far more pleasant experience.

I have been to the Ellora caves in July; Amritsar's Golden Temple in June and December; Delhi's Jama Masjid in August and to the Taj Mahal three times in various seasons. Vast stone and marble structures in India's extreme climes where one is exposed to the elements (often barefoot) rarely make for comfortable tourism or pilgrimage. At least at the Taj, one is required to be shoeless for a short time, only to enter the main mausoleum.

Sujatha, I am not sure what Shah Jahan had in mind re the Mehtab Garden as a vantage viewing point for his architectural pride and glory (I doubt that the Taj Mahal had much to do with spousal love). The Mughals were indeed master garden designers. But any garden built in Shah Jahan's days would not have survived in its original form today. The river Yamuna has meandered away from its route along the compound of the Taj Mahal in the last four hundred years. Also, the last time I was in Agra (1999), the river was a pitiable and filthy trickle - far from the healthy bouncing river of yore on the way to meet her sister, the Ganges, in Allahabad. The guides in Agra do indeed talk about a black Taj Mahal across the river, joined to its marble counterpart by a silver inlaid bridge that was to be built for Shah Jahan's own resting place. That may well be a pretty myth. However, it is certain that Shah Jahan meant the Taj to be the sole memorial to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. That he was eventually buried next to his wife is a testimony to his son Aurangzeb's austere and parsimonious outlook and the depletion of the treasury by his father, not the original master plan.

The facade of the two graves can be seen in the main hall of the mausoleum - the actual graves in the ground are located in a windowless, dark vault below the main floor where entry is no longer permitted. (I saw the actual dim grave site on my first visit as a teenager; it was closed to the public a few years later due to the damage to the marble walls by the CO2 exhaled by numerous visitors within the enclosed space) Mumaz Mahal's grave and its facade are placed right in the center of the building, directly beneath the focal point of the central dome above. Shah Jahan lies a little to her side. The asymmetry is jarring in an otherwise perfectly proportioned and geometrically flawless monument. There is little doubt in the minds of historians and architects that the emperor never meant this to be a joint mausoleum. The Taj was surely dedicated solely to his wife's memory. He must have had something else in mind for himself. Perhaps the equally grandiose Black Taj Mahal of local folklore as a foil or may be a more humble edifice in Mehtab Bagh gazing up soulfully at his wife's magnificent monument across the river. Who knows? The Mughal kings in their prosperous and ego laden times knew how to leave their mark in history.

I will hold off on the Lucknow post. It was going to be photos mainly. I didn't have a great accompanying story in mind. Perhaps I will ask Hemanshu (see comment above) to write a foodie post about Lucknow's famous cuisine to go with the pictures :-)

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