Everything about the Taj Mahal is so overwhelmingly incomparable and fascinating!
Downright Beautiful: Fresh as an early morning dream! Nothing else, but its imposing structure and beauty made me switch on my laptop and start jotting down my visit, the minute I was back in my hotel room. Credited for being amongst the world’s most celebrated structures and India’s rich history, is the architectural marvel of the Mughal Empire. I am really falling short of words to describe its imperial constructural beauty that hit me the minute I caught its first glimpse from “Gate of the Mausoleum” – Darwaza-i Rauza.
Unrivalled in its splendor throughout the world; and I couldn’t agree less; historians often label it as “a monument of immeasurable beauty”, “Taj Mahal – the epitome of eternal love” and much more.
Anchored on the banks of river Yamuna, the pristine flawless structure, sketched against the perfect evening sky; moves thousands of visitors to an eloquent expression of love witnessed by generations gone and generations to come.
As I moved closer, the delicacy and finesse of the carving started to unwind before my eyes. My gaze wanted to sketch a blueprint to insure it remains forever etched in my mind. The four tall minarets were framing the structure like the mounting of a jewel! Beyond the voluminous curves of the dome, the purity of the white marble and the fine symmetry, gave way to the exquisite ornamentation. Like lyrics of a song the real jewels, engraved on the surface came to life!
The striking detail of the carvings on the marble panels; the inlaid blooms bordering the relief frames, bespoke the fluidity of line and aesthetics analogous to Mughal design and architecture. The sheer volume of work that went into completing this majestic spectacle was feeding my mind and soul. On approach, the grand tomb loomed ever so large. Its awesome magnitude and fine detail of pietra dura carving, highlighting the floral patterns with imbued precious stones was heart-stirring.
The name Pietra Dura, generates a lot of dialect as far as the origin is concerned. The most widely accepted fact is that the form originated from Italy but was later adapted and widely used by Indian craftsmen according to their needs; they gave it an innate indigenous feel and used the technique to carve traditional Indian arts and sculptures, including the great Taj Mahal, Itimad-ud-Daulah, Agra Fort and much more.
After my Taj outing I told my guide Mukesh, I had to see how all this is achieved. I was in for a ride. The city Agra, abuzz with the chaos of commerce and commotion of the daily commuters was offering an altogether different kind of visual illustration. Cars with their drivers trying wade through traffic inch by inch. Dogs and cows crossing the roads much like the traffic around. It seemed to have a predominant effect in the fading evening sun, more so because we were left with less time before the shops closed.
Finally we reached! These unassuming shop fronts, all of them similar, belie the treasure of handmade goods inside. Inside it was work in progress. We sat on the floor next to Arif who was totally engrossed in executing his magic to a piece of marble.
The technique uses thin sections of precisely carved hard and semi-hard gemstones which are inlaid in sockets specially prepared in the marble surface. As you can see, the pietra dura inlay is engraved in the form of graceful floral blooms with inherent symmetry. A lot of precious and semi-precious stones like the carnelian, agate, turquoise, lapis, jasper etc are used to bring out the masterpiece.
It is a time consuming process in which the skilled artisans like Arif and Zain first prepare the surface by polishing it and then drawing outlines of the desired work. Thin slides of precious stones are cut and then shaped using a stone wheel. Zain informed me, these stones will be first assembled loosely on the surface and the final outlines for the carving will be made. Using a fine chisel, he prepared the groves at appropriate places ensuring they are of the same size as that of the cut stones to fit perfectly. Aasif prepared an adhesive (same as the one used in Taj Mahal) and using it the stones were glued and laid into the marble. After everything dried up, the surface was cleaned and polished. Like magic unfolding before the eyes, a mesmerizing creation rich with sublime finesse took shape. Some of the precious stones used are as fine as needle and it requires great precision, patience and mastery of the art to integrate these fine pieces in the marble.
So graceful and delicate the thin, curving lines, the flower tendrils!
A chaotic jumble of sounds, smells and bustle on the streets of Agra is a sharp contrast to the work being achieved by these master artists in their workplaces.
Like colors that never fade away, the undying love of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal immortalized in these phenomenal pieces of art!