As I stated in previous posts, I went to India with little preparation. Sure, I had the required shots including the one for typhoid and also I had prescription pills to ward off malaria. ( I was told this medicine might produce crazy dreams while I was taking it, months later I am still plagued by night dramas with intriguing and intricate plots.) I bought a new pair of shoes carefully broken in before the trip. I wisely carried bottles of hand sanitizer and peppermint oil for odoriferous street smells.
What I didn’t bring was enough historical knowledge. As a person who thinks she knows enough to “wing it”, I found my head spinning when I saw the tremendous Muslim influence in a country I had thought was purely Hindu. This was a pleasant surprise since I always hoped to see Islamic architecture in my travels and in India, of all places, I did.
It’s funny how little I was taught in school about Islam or, maybe being a teenager, I didn’t have the motivation to pay attention. Finally, the Taj Mahal caught my attention.
The Mughals were Sunni Muslims who conquered Delhi, India and ruled northern India from 1526 to 1707. Akbar, the grandson of the first emperor believed in religious tolerance and ruled over the Hindus with diplomacy. He abolished the tax on non-Muslims, banned the slaughtering of cows, and promoted Hindu warriors in his army. He became a vegetarian and married a Hindu princes. He also established a place where religious scholars of all faiths could meet and share common beliefs.
Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, ruled from 1628-1658 and loved to build. He constructed the Tahj Mahal as a mausoleum for his dead wife, the love of his life, Mumta Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is made of ivory white marble and is the most famous example of Islamic architecture with its minarets (spire towers). a dome, and pointed arches. No images of living things are allowed in the Muslim faith but marble and inlayed flower designs are everywhere plus Islamic calligraphy.
Shah Jahan lived in the sandstone and marble Red Fort, which he also built during his reign.
Here I was able to see more Islamic architectural features including Moorish multifoil arches and muqarnas vaulting with its textured detail.
The fort was massive and fascinating.
Unfortunately, the romantic, creative Shah Jahan would have further tragedy in his life. His tyrannical son, Aurangzeb would become the last Mughal emperor. During Aurangzeb’s reign, Hindu temples and images were destroyed and the playing of music was forbidden. He imprisoned his father in the fort where legend says Shah Jahan died of a broken heart in 1660. As a prisoner, he could see the Tag Mahal in far distence but was never allowed to visit his wife at her final resting place again.
I learned both beautiful and tragic lessons in these historic places. We, as human beings, have clear choices in life, either we can create beauty or we can spend our lives destroying things, other people and maybe even ourselves. This sunny day in Agra, India made this lesson extremely clear.