I was in Agra over the weekend for a shoot & I experienced a different kind of Agra … primarily because I did not go to see the Taj Mahal or rather, I didn’t get a chance to visit it because by the time we’d pack up it would be past 5pm & they shut the entry after that. Visiting hours are from sunrise to sunset.
Yet I managed to catch sneak peeks of it as I entered the city on my way to the hotel.
Our driver was quite the know-it-all who gave us history lessons on the Mughals & the Taj. We all know about how it was built by Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. We also know that it is one of the 7 wonders of the world & a Unesco world heritage site. But I didn’t know that there are claims to it being a Hindu temple ! In his book Taj Mahal: The True Story, P. N. Oak an Indian writer, notable for his Hindu-centric brand of historical revisionism claims that the Taj Mahal was originally a Shiva temple and a Rajput palace named Tejo Mahalaya seized by Shah Jahan and adopted as a tomb. He says that Mahal is a word to describe a royal palace and not a tomb and after seizure by Shah Jahan, the name was changed to Taj Mahal.
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Whatever may be the case it is a magnificent monument. Especially because it’s the story of a king who loved his queen so much that he built a beautiful tomb in her memory, which makes you romanticize the whole thing even more.
But I’m no romantic !
I’d gone to see the Taj all by myself about 20 years ago on a similar work trip & this time too I’d planned on doing the same, but couldn’t … yet I managed to see it all day long from afar, since we were shooting on a terrace which was barely a few feet away from the boundary wall of the Taj.
As it shimmered in the morning sun & glowed in the light of the setting sun it seemed to be whispering to me… there are so many stories I can tell you but I wont because then there will be no mystery & no enigma behind my story…
And a nazm by the famous Indian poet & film lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi came to my mind …
“The Taj, mayhap, to you may seem, a mark of love supreme
You may hold this beauteous vale in great esteem;
Yet, my love, meet me hence at some other place!
How odd for the poor folk to frequent royal resorts;
‘Tis strange that the amorous souls should tread the regal paths
Trodden once by mighty kings and their proud consorts.
Behind the facade of love my dear, you had better seen,
The marks of imperial might that herein lie screen’d
You who take delight in tombs of kings deceased,
Should have seen the hutments dark where you and I did wean.
Countless men in this world must have loved and gone,
Who would say their loves weren’t truthful or strong?
But in the name of their loves, no memorial is raised
For they too, like you and me, belonged to the common throng.
These structures and sepulchers, these ramparts and forts,
These relics of the mighty dead are, in fact, no more
Than the cancerous tumors on the face of earth,
Fattened on our ancestor’s very blood and bones.
They too must have loved, my love, whose hands had made,
This marble monument, nicely chiseled and shaped
But their dear ones lived and died, unhonored, unknown,
None burnt even a taper on their lowly graves.
This bank of Jamuna, this edifice, these groves and lawns,
These carved walls and doors, arches and alcoves,
An emperor on the strength of wealth, Has played with us a cruel joke.
Meet me hence, my love, at some other place.”
So perhaps I will visit Agra with my love some day & we shall go make the mandatory visit to the Taj Mahal, but after that I shall take him to the small “gallis” of old Agra where each beautiful door seems to have a story hidden behind it… A story of love & longing…stories of ordinary people just like you & me.