Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guardians of the Taj

Probably everyone reading this knows something about the Taj Mahal. Still I shall here regal you with some well-known, taken straight from the guidebook, facts about this magnificent monument.

A lot can be gleaned by a name. Taj Mahal is an informal shortening of the name Mumtaz Mahal, which means "Chosen One of the Palace". Mumtaz Mahal was Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's favourite wife (he had many). When she died shortly after giving birth to their fourteenth child, his grieving process took an historical turn when he decided that she must still be set apart from all his other relations. Twenty two years later, her body was enshrined in the newly completed mausoleum, which became known as the Taj Mahal. It is constructed entirely of marble. The only exception to this marble is the precious stones used to inlay ornamentation and verses of the Koran into the white marble. The big picture of the Taj that everyone is familiar with is justifiably famous, but these details deserve the spotlight, I would say, just as much. I kid you not that the level of artistic execution achieved in even a single inlaid emerald petal is second to none. And that's where the trouble started.

Kristen is in touch with her five senses like no one else I know is. She loves the sound of lapping waves on the shore; and she always points out when she smells lilac in the air; our 'morning hug' is an important part of her day (and mine); her chronically overdeveloped interest in photo taking (we currently have 50,000 plus photos from this trip alone) shows how fully she appreciates seeing things (and maybe how little she appreciates the Delete button); and rest assured that taste is still her favoured of the five senses. Anyway, after a trigger happy storm of macro photography, Kristen was getting even more up close and personal with the fingernail-sized-stone-carvings. All of the stone, marble and other, is polished in such a way that it almost grabs your wrist and begs you to run your hand over its facade.

In this particular corner we were the only ones present. We didn't have to share it with anybody. As we have been so many times on this trip (but in general too), we were thankful for this particular good fortune that happened upon us. Here, Kristen gave in to the marble's urgings and put her hand on one of its inlaid carvings. There isn't any sign that says not to touch the stone. But neither was there any information about the Guardians of the Taj. These Guardians are like ninjas: shadows are their home. And it is for this reason that we were made to believe that we were alone. Before she knew what happened, one of the Guardians reacted to her having a hand on the carving. With startling speed and precision the Guardian went right for her hand. Kristen didn't stand a chance. In all of this, the Guardian didn't even so much as leave the shadows to deliver his warning. Giving her a moment to let what happened sink in, he then said, "You can look, but you can't touch."

Or that's at least the most probable translation that we could come up with for "Coo". Without ever showing his beak, he forced Kristen to wash and sanitize her hand, and he forced me to swipe the camera out of Kristen's hands to photo document yet another time that a pigeon had landed a direct hit on my wife.

But let this be a lesson to you. You won't know they're there, but they are. They are keeping a watchful birds-eye view on all goings-on at the Taj Mahal, these Guardians of the Taj. And before you reach out to touch that oh-so-fine geological ornamentation, just think to yourself: Coo.

No comments: