I was fortunate enough to be able to leave PACIFIC PRINCESS and escort the two-night overland tour to visit Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal.
The Taj itself overshadows the Agra Fort, called the “Red Fort” because it is built of red sandstone. The Red Fort is in reality a walled city, originally built in 1089 and then totally rebuilt in 1573. The rebuild took 8 years and required 1.5 million workers.
Shah Jahan The Magnificent came ruled from 1628 to 1658 from the massive complex that had been started by his grandfather. The period of his reign was the golden age of Mughal architecture. His court included many wives, concubines and dancing girls all housed within a lavish, lattice-covered harem. Shah Jahan took full advantage of the “perks” of his position with one visitor reporting, “It would seem as if the only thing Shah Jahan cared for was the search for women to serve his pleasure.” Well, it wasn’t the only thing, for the Shah was fascinated by architecture . . . but more about that later.
In spite of all the women, Shah Jahan had only one true love. For the Shah sex was sex, but love was love. They met when he was 15 and she was 14 and they had to wait five years to be married. She would give him 14 children, travel with him on military campaigns even while pregnant and Shah Jahn gave her the title “Jewel of the Palace.”
In the Agra Fort Shah Jahan constructed an enormous palace, including a splendid courtyard where he as “King of The World” would sit and receive visiting kings from his throne in the Hall of Public Audience. He built a magnificent adjoining palace called the Jahangiri Mahal to house the ladies of the court, and for his beloved wife a palace known as the Musamman Burj.
While Shah Jahan was away on a military campaign, the love of his wife died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. Shah Jahan was inconsolable and in his grief considering abandoning the throne and adopting a religious life. He sat around depressed, constantly weeping, refusing to wear colorful clothing, use perfume, or listen to music . . . Until he found solace in building a fantastic mausoleum for his wife. This great mausoleum would become the Taj Mahal.
The white marble-clad domed mausoleum is most familiar, but the Taj is actually a complex of structures. On either side of the mausoleum are two identical, smaller, red sandstone structures. One is a mosque and the other was built as a royal pavilion where the Shah could sit and supervise construction, as well as try out various designs.
A thousand elephants were used in the construction and building materials were imported from all over India and Asia. Skilled artisans in marble design were imported from Italy to teach locals the incredible art of making life-life flowers out of marble and precious stones.
From the outside the Taj is as impressive as you would imagine, although the actual structure was a little smaller than I at least had imagined. The interior was a major disappointment . . . dark, noisy, and crowded. The Taj is a major tourist attraction for Indians as well as visitors from around the world. All the Indian women were dressed to the hilt in beautiful saris and for many the visit was obviously a special family affair.
Well the Taj was eventually completed, but as the Shah and his children grew older, all was not well in the family . . . when the Shah became ill in 1657 one son led a rebellion and publicly executed his brother, the heir apparent
The other brothers ended up joining forces and putting Shah Jahn under house arrest in the palace he had built for his first wife, and from which, in the distance, he could see his beloved Taj Mahal. When Shah Jahn died some of his children wanted a state funeral, but the now ruling son refused, so the body as washed, put in a sandalwood coffin and taken by boat to be interred in the Taj Mahal beside his wife