Taj Mahal is overrated
No visit to the seventh wonder of the world can ever be a pleasant experience.
- Total Shares
Why do we visit Agra, the three-tier city in Uttar Pradesh, around 200km away from the national capital? To see the Taj Mahal. Period. Indeed, the Taj is on the itinerary of more than half the foreign tourists visiting India. Even domestic tourists throng the city to have glimpses of the grand structure that, it is said, stands as an iconic symbol of love and cultural heritage.
But how many of us find the Taj the same as it resides in our fantasy and imagination? Are we really smitten by the grandeur of the monument that we have grown up reading about in the textbooks and with the legend that has been a part of our folklore?
I have visited the Taj twice, but the cynic in me was not impressed on both occasions. Neither did I find it a maverick first-of-its-kind structure that the British humorist and writer Edward Lear once described in the following words, "Henceforth, let the inhabitants of the world be divided into two classes - them as has seen the Taj Mahal, and them as hasn't."
Nor did I find it to be the fruit of a lovelorn king's unflinching eternal love for a woman in his life.
Humayun's Tomb in Delhi.
Despite being an architectural marvel, Taj Mahal is not a maverick structure as it was inspired by the grand Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. Built by the second Mughal emperor Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun's wife Hamida Banu Begam, also known as Haji Begam in 1569, fourteen years after his death.
Taj was commissioned in 1653 as the final resting place for the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died while delivering her 14th child. She actually died in June 1631 in Burhanpur, which is now in Madhya Pradesh. Later, her body was shifted to Agra.
The seventh wonder of the world also came under biting criticism from two Nobel laureates: Rabindranath Tagore and VS Naipaul. Tagore termed the Taj as "a teardrop on the face of eternity" while Naipaul dubbed it as "so wasteful, so decadent and in the end so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people."
Tourists, too, kill the Taj experience.
About its grandeur, Shadab Bano, assistant professor of history at the Aligarh Muslim University and a friend, has a different take: "The monument always has a great impact on me but so do other monuments. If Taj is viewed without its crowds, then it can be awesome since all its beauty is actually spoilt by the people visiting it."
On Shah Jahan's longing for Mumtaz, Bano feels, "A husband loving a wife is such an exception that it has been made into legend. Yes, he loved her more than his other wives and had children with her. But he continued to have concubines. We need to understand the specific court-household relations of the Mughals in the 17th century. It appears that Shah Jahan wanted his wife to emulate Nur Jahan in grandeur, and therefore made her his premier wife."
The modern-day Agra lacks civic amenities. Despite being one of the most sought-after tourist destinations, the city has no world-class infrastructure and the surroundings of Taj are heavily populated. No visit to Taj can ever be a pleasant experience.