The Taj Mahal was built 350 years ago by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a place to bury his deceased wife. In Agra, India, it is proudly hailed as a great monument to the power of love. However, my personal reaction was a little mixed…
I experienced genuine awe and appreciation of the monument’s great beauty – the solid marble archways and bulbous domes are really an incredible feat of architecture. The walls are lavishly sculpted with flowers and semi-precious gemstones. It is a great pleasure to view the building and to rest in its grounds… But I couldn’t help thinking what an extraordinarily gross misutilistation of resources it must have been, in an area that was and still is incredibly poor.
It took more than 20,000 men more than two decades to build, at a cost of around $500 million (in today’s terms). Some of the main craftsmen were rewarded by having their thumbs or hands amputated to prevent them from ever repeating such excellence and perfection in architecture.
So, was Shah Jahan only motivated by love?
- Did a dead body and a memory really require such opulence and grandeur?
- Was it an expression of guilt for the deceased, or an outward display for those still living?
- Could the expense even have been justified if the building had served society – say, as a parliament, law court, college or temple?