Down Memory Lane History & Culture

The Taj Mahal: An emperor’s gift of stone

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Long after the immortal love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, lovers over the centuries have a fascination for meeting at the iconic Taj Mahal

The sudden death of the ghazal maestro Rajendra Mehta in Mumbai at the age of 85 vividly brought to mind his 1960s ghazal’s memorable lines: “Jab aanchal raat ka lehraye/Aur sara alam so jayey/Tum mujhse milne, shamma jala kar/Taj Mahal mein aa jaana”. It was in the same vein that Yesudas sang his famous lyric, “Jab deep jalaein aana/Jab shaam dhale aana”. Both compositions have the same theme of lovers’ meetings after the evening fades away and the solitude of night envelops the world — at the Taj and elsewhere too. However, Tesu and Jhainji, like Baaz Bahadur and Roopmati, as erroneously believed, don’t meet at the Taj but in Malwa.

The Taj Mahal is no doubt the greatest embodiment of love and so it is believed to strengthen the bond between lovers over the centuries. Gossip says that Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal meet there even now on Amavasya (moonless) nights. This theme was depicted in M. Sadiq’s film “Taj Mahal” too. The belief is also there that if a lovelorn man goes to the monument at midnight he would meet Mumtaz Mahal and a love-begone woman could hope to meet Shah Jahan. There are more such old wives’ tales, including the one about how Jahanara Begum, the Mughal emperor’s eldest daughter, would go secretly at night to meet her lover, a doting poet, at the Taj, while her father was lying restless pining for Mumtaz in the Khawabgah (sleeping quarters) at the Agra Fort. This was also portrayed in the 1970s film, “Jahanara”.

At the fag-end of the 19th century the wife of a British Major used to meet her lover, a Lieutenant, at the Taj. Both were shot dead one night by the Major who surprised them while they were making love. The incident was recorded in a now out of print book. “Murder at the Taj Mahal”, which once used to be the prized possession of the Queen Mary Empress Library in Agra Cantonment.

The lure of the Taj is such that, despite all the security, lovers do manage to steal in there from time to time to seal their bond of affection. Love-crazy Mashooq Ali Khan managed to often get into the Taj compound even after closure hours to lament over the death of his beloved Sitara Begum, the wife of a noted local lawyer, in the 1930s.

He was arrested one night while loitering on the Taj platform facing the Yamuna and later sentenced to just a day’s imprisonment by a kind-hearted Munsiff Magistrate. Ustad Bismillah Khan played the shehnai one night near the eastern-most minaret during the annual Sharad Purnima (harvest moon) fair at the Taj and drew enthusiastic response from people, among them lovelorn couples of course.

The Taj Mahal: An emperor’s gift of stone

No less a person than Maulana Azad was fascinated by the romantic appeal of the Taj. Maulana Azad, few know, was a keen sitar player. On one memorable visit to the Taj he played his sitar as he watched the monument by moonlight. It was a thrilling experience for the scholar – statesman who, in an ecstatic moment, felt as though one of the four minarets was kissing his hand in a mystical union in an ethereal setting. It’s better to hear about it in his own words, extracted from the book Sallies of Mind: English translation of Ghubar-e-Khatir.

“Once I happened to visit Agra in those (tumultuous) days of the freedom struggle. It was the month of April and nights brought waning moonlight. Late into the night, the moon would peep through the veil of darkness. I had made special arrangement for going to the Taj with my sitar. I would sit on its roof with my face towards the Jamuna. As moonlight began to spread itself, I would start a tune and lose myself in it. I don’t have expression to tell what magical experiences the imagination then brought before the eyes,” exclaimed Maulana Azad.

All this comes to mind as a belated tribute to Rajendra Mehta as someone croons, “Jab anchal raat ka lehraye…Taj Mahal mein aa jaana”. What a beautiful tribute by the maestro to the memorial of love of a heart-broken emperor for his dear departed consort!

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 1:01:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-taj-mahal-an-emperors-gift-of-stone/article30265285.ece

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