Taj Mahal in the Moonlight
Legend has it that Emperor Shah Jahan desired a mausoleum for himself similar to the one he had built for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It was to be a Black Taj with a silver bridge over the Jumna River connecting it to the Taj Mahal. Sadly his wish was never fulfilled.
My grandfather was exiled in India from 1942 to 1945 when the Japanese occupied Burma in World War 2. During this time he served in British Intelligence in Delhi. One day he took time off to visit Agra and the Taj. The following excerpt from his journals describes his wonder at it’s beauty and a resurfacing of a strange memory that returned to him as he stood in the darkness gazing at the most lovely thing he had ever seen.
TAJ BY MOONLIGHT
I had never seen the Taj Mahal by moonlight. That was because in those days, long, long ago when my Father was in the Indian Army, little boys had to be in bed early.
So, though I had once lived in Agra, and though the Taj was associated with my earliest childhood, I had never yet seen the most lovely thing in the world, the Taj by moonlight. And then one day I stole a weekend from my military duties in Delhi and went.
Of all Emperors I like Shah Jahan best because he built the Taj for his most lovely and delightful lady Muntaz Mahal. The Taj is her garden, her imperishable memorial. No words have ever done justice to the Taj, still less to the Taj when it stands like a misty dream of swelling dome and tapering minarets in the soft light of a rising full moon. Thousands have beheld that wonder—the ghostly translucence of the white marble, light and delicate as a phantom, against the deep blue of a cloudless night sky. It is the most moving creation that has ever issued from the hand of Man. It left me speechless. Groups of visitors around me too were speechless. We just stood and looked, and looked.
And then it gradually dawned upon me that I had in fact once before seen the Taj by moonlight. How? When? In the silence of that spellbound night, memory retraced the years. I saw a very little boy. Perhaps five years old. He was riding a pony amidst the shadowy tombs, for it was night, and in those days the immaculate open lawns which now spread smoothly all the way to the Fort were encumbered with hundreds of graves.
What was I doing there? It was coming back to me. Yes. There was a grand entertainment for a visiting Viceroy. My parents had let me come out, riding on my pony under the escort of the nanny and the groom, to look from a distance. Anyhow we could see the rockets and fireworks in the direction of the Taj, and we could hear the band inside perform its star piece—something very soft under the echoing dome of the mausoleum.
I don’t remember much about the nanny or the groom. Probably they were looking up at the fireworks. I only know that presently she came and laughed at me as I lay in the dark shadow on a Mohammedan tomb, a lovely, joyful, sympathetic laugh. She held out her hand to me as I awoke, and said “Why don’t you come in?”
“I can’t come in tonight,” I replied. “Mother says it is only for the Viceroy.”
But she only laughed again and led me on through the great echoing gate. “Look,” she commanded. And I looked upon that wondrous sight—the Taj swelling high into the moonlit night. The fireworks were all extinguished. The band was no more. Everyone had gone home long ago, for there was a slight shiver in the air, and the moon was in the west, casting long black shadows of cypress and minarets on the still garden.
She led me onto the great terrace overlooking the Jumna River. “Why,” I said, “I have never been here before. Look, the bridge!”
“Funny little man! Of course you have been here. You come every Sunday afternoon to sail your boat.”
“But the Silver Bridge—and the Taj—the Black Taj over there across the river!”
“Well, what about them? See. A black Taj opposite this white one, and a silver bridge to join them. But come Little Fellow. The dawn approaches. I will take you back.”
And as the sun rose I heard my dear Mother cry, “Here he is. Here he is. Where have you been Darling?”
“I went to the Taj, Mother. She said it was alright, and, oh Mother she showed me the Black Taj and the Silver Bridge.”
“Who Showed you Darling?”
“Why Muntaz Mahal. She said her name was Muntaz Mahal, and Oh Mother she was beautiful.”
“Bring him along,” I heard my Father’s voice say, and I saw he was seated in our high gig by the roadside. So my Mother carried me, while the groom and the nanny followed.
“Can you see the Black Taj and the Silver Bridge, Mother?”
My mother turned and looked out across the sleeping Jumna River. “There’s no Black Taj or Silver Bridge, darling. You’ve been dreaming.”
I turned again and again to look, to take one last regretful impression away with me of the most lovely thing that ever I had seen.