India Celebrates as Taj Mahal Gets Modern Day Recognition

You may call it just modern day affirmation of a historical marvel, but when the magnificent 17th century Taj Mahal in the north Indian city of Agra made it to the New Seven Wonders of the World list it meant something more than mere tokenism for millions all over the country.

After all, the luminescent white marble mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal is not a mere tourist attraction.

The onion domed monument with four minarets, all of which are inlaid with intricate jewelled work, marble filigree and calligraphic inscriptions from the Quran is a manifestation of the best in Indian craftsmanship, architectural traditions and culture.

And when the eight-year campaign by a private body, the New7Wonders Foundation, finally ended in July with the Taj Mahal making it to the final seven on the basis of popular votes - 100 million of them received through SMS, emails and phone calls - there were rapturous cheers all over.

Apart from the Taj Mahal - construction of which started in 1632 and finished in 1648 - the others are the Great Wall of China, Brazil's Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Peru's Machu Picchu, Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid, Jordan's Petra archaeological site and the Colosseum in Rome.

Mushirul Hasan, noted historian and vice chancellor of the Jamia Milia Islamia university in the Indian capital, was elated: "The Taj is a symbol of India's glorious heritage, of love and unparalleled architecture. We should celebrate the occasion."

Mughal historian R. Nath added: "Taj Mahal represented undoubtedly the 5,000 years of excellence of Indian creativity in different forms."

Sushil Sitapuri, a Lucknow-based writer who recently brought out a special volume on the Taj Mahal, told IANS: "The Taj Mahal is a jewel, like Kohinoor. Former US president Bill Clinton said there were two groups of people in the world - one, those who had seen the Taj, and others, those who had not seen the Taj."

The excitement was palpable. People stayed up all night to catch the news on television as direct pictures beamed in from Lisbon, where Indian star Bipasha Basu joined Hollywood actors Ben Kingsley and Hillary Swank to announce the names.

In Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, it was festivity time. People took to the streets in their motorcycles and cars while others got busy bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets - so what if it was the dead of night.
Agra's municipal commissioner Shyam Singh Yadav told IANS: "It is a great psychological boost. I am very happy. Agra will now get wide publicity all over the world and many more people will come to see the Taj Mahal which represents India's cultural unity."

Although UNESCO categorically denied its involvement with the contest, it was a matter of pride for the people of Agra.

"Agra-ites voted with full enthusiasm till the last minute," said Amit Agarwal, an IT professional who himself voted 10 times.

Rakesh Chauhan of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Agra said the results had come at the right time when much was happening in the city and the Commonwealth Games were to be held in New Delhi in three years.

Poulomi Saxena, an advertisement professional in Jaipur, Rajasthan, said that the declaration would certainly bring more foreign tourists to India.

"There was no doubt about the beauty of Taj and its standing as a tourist attraction site. But its place in the new seven wonders list would certainly generate a lot of awareness among people across the globe and attract them
to India."

But despite the jubilation nationwide, there was one corner that was truly special.

As the results came in in the early hours of July 8, a dingy tenement in West Bengal's Howrah area lit up. The last of the Mughals, Sultana Begum, the 54-year-old great granddaughter-in-law of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, whooped in sheer joy.

"It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I stayed up till late in the night to watch the telecast of the results from Lisbon," she said from her 66 sq ft dingy room in a Howrah slum, 10 km from the state capital Kolkata. Sultana's husband, late Mirza Mohd Bedar Bukht, was a direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar and crown queen Zeenat Mehal.

"The Taj will always remain among the top draws and it doesn't require any fresh voting to validate its standing in the world. When some television channels reported that the monument was slipping out of the race, I was sure it would figure in the list prepared by the New7Wonders Foundation," Sultana Begum told IANS.

While the rest of India celebrated the entry of the Taj Mahal into the ivy league of world wonders, Sultana Begum had only a few family members with her to enjoy the moment.

Her daughter Madhu Begum, granddaughter Roshna Ara and brother Parvant Singh Maihari were basking in the reflected glory of the luminescent white monument built by their forefathers. As was the rest of the nation, of course. 


More by :  Brij Khandelwal

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Comment A few lines from Rabindranath Tagore's famous poem Shah Jahan -

O you poet of an emperor!
This is the mirror of your heart
This is your love’s messenger
It is unique and wonderful
Like a great piece of music
It has risen towards the unknown
Where your beloved, separated from you,
Lies mingled
With the rays of the rising sun,
In the whispers of the horizon
In languid evenings,
In the beauty of chameli in full moon,
Beyond the limits which our words can reach
Whence our expectant eyes rebound.
And your messenger of beauty
Defying time’s command
Travels through endless time
Carrying this wordless message-
“I have not forgotten,
I have not forgotten,
I have not forgotten you, my love.”

01-Nov-2011 04:21 AM

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