Monday, April 03, 2006

Majical Mughal Masterpieces

Upon consolidating power in India in the 16th century the Mughals went on an impressive building spree, erecting mosques, mausoleums, markets, monuments and entire mmcities. The most famous Mughal monument is the ionic Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal emperor, as a mausoleum for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The Taj has often been called "the world's greatest monument to love" but personally I think it's more of a testament to fecundity! Many, more eloquent and poetic people than I, have eulogised the Taj to the heavens and so nothing I could say would do it justice. I would just like to state that it is very big, very white, and very pretty. Just don't expect to be alone to contemplate its splendour, even at 6:30 in the morning. And it's not just the Taj, but the entire environs of Agra seem to be filled with mausoleums and cenotaphs to emperors, their wives and their cronies. But I'm not complaining; not only are they invariably exquisite examples of architecture, but they are also serene havens of peace and tranquility away from the craziness of Agra.

About 40km west of Agra and its dead Mughals lies the ghost-town of Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar (the Great) decided to move his capital from Agra to this pleasant greenfield site with plenty of space for the kids to play, neighbourhood shops and good public transport. Unfortunately Akbar failed to appreciate the site's one big drawback: lack of water (not so Great now, eh?). So only some 20-odd years after being founded out of nothing the town was just as suddenly abandoned, leaving it to nature. What's left are the skeletons of an extensive palace complex made of blood-red sandstone, solid against the deep blue sky. There is, however, one part of the city that is still in use and that is the imposing Jama Masjid mosque, site of the tomb of a famous Sufi saint. Locals come here to pray and play and women tie red threads to the saint's tomb in the hope of conceiving. And in the evenings traditional qawwali singers fill the courtyard with their mystical chanting. Just don't spend too long listening as you might miss the last bus out of town like I did!

No comments: