A Touch of Taj


Saturnino P. Javier MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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Yet again, I was just too ecstatic to tick one more place on my bucket list – the Taj Majal of India. This great monument of love built by a king for more than two decades for his beloved wife now stands as one of the greatest monumental proofs (literally and figuratively) of eternal love.

Situated in Agra, around 300 kilometers from New Delhi, the Taj Majal has been on my must-visit list for quite some time already. On two previous visits in India, I did not have the opportunity to spend an extra day for a visit to this magnificent edifice. Here in New Delhi for the two-day assembly of the Forum for Ethics Research Committees in Asia and Western Pacific (FERCAP) held at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, I made sure that I set aside an extra day this time to finally have the opportunity to take on an Uber ride to the famous love edifice.

As early as 6 a.m., I braced myself for a three and a half-hour car ride, braving the residual smog pervading the New Delhi air (I had an N-95 mask for most of the trip) and ignoring the entrance fee to the monument (a local is charged 40 Indian rupee – or less than a dollar, while a foreigner is charged 1,000 rupee, or roughly 83 US dollars).

The Taj Majal (which means Crown of the Palace) was built by Shah Jahan in honor of his third wife (but first love), Arjumand Banu Begum, or more famously known as Mumtaz Majal. Their marriage lasted 19 years and bore 14 children. Mumtaz had a complicated childbirth that led to her untimely demise at the age of 39. When he was widowed, he fulfilled three promises he made to his dying wife—he would not remarry, he would take good care of their children and he would honor her memory.

With a very able local tour guide, Razek, I learned new insights about this famed monument. For one, what I didn’t know was that the king, Shah Jahan, was eventually laid to rest in the same monument, side by side with his wife, when he died more than 40 years after her death. Also, out of despair, the king wanted to build a counterpart museum – a black Taj Majal – to immortalize his grief and despair after the death of Mumtaz had been monumentally celebrated and depicted via the first Taj Majal. The black Taj was never realized, although the initial foundations had been erected.

It was a shock to learn that his son with Mumtaz deposed him in his ailing years and placed him under house arrest in a tower of the Red Fort in Agra (another Heritage site), with a view of the majestic resting place of his wife. Razek also narrated a gruesome legend which claimed that Shah Jahan had the architect and his workers’ fingers cut off by his minions to ensure that they would never build another one of its kind.

The Taj Majal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being the most precious gem of Muslim art in India that admirably exemplified the Mughal architecture which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. In 2007, it was adjudged one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Created in 1621, the Taj Majal is not just a monument. Aside from the ivory white marble mausoleum that is the most towering and iconic structure captured in most images and photographs, where the towering marble dome is framed by four minarets, Taj Majal stands as the centerpiece of a nearly 20 hectare-complex, with a grand entrance gate, three entry portals, four towering posts, expansive gardens and fountains, and two mosques on either side.

Built at a staggering cost of 32 million rupees (more than 800 million dollars), the project took 20,000 artisans, as well as a thousand elephants, to transport materials and equipment to the site. Fashioned from slabs of marble and intricately crafted with inlays of semi-precious stones, the edifice ultimately and appropriately highlighted the extent (and the expense) of how a man would leave no stone unturned to honor a wife’s memory after her death.

Today, some three million people visit the Taj Majal each year, to partake off this enduring masterpiece of love and devotion and an unparalleled display of rich Indian architecture. The sight of the Taj Majal is always a jaw-dropping experience that is bound to elicit a collective gasp among its visitors. Notwithstanding countless photographs that should already sufficiently preempt actual visual appreciation of the edifice, the sight itself – when viewed up close and personal – still never fails to captivate.

Oct 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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