The legendary shrine to love and power viewed as a defining statement of two centuries of Moghul rule in India.
The Prestons (co-authors, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, 2004) brook no casual approach to appreciation of the architectural masterpiece in Agra, India, long known as one of the world’s wonders. Readers should be prepared to trek back to the roots of the Mongol/Turkic people, direct descendants of conquerors Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine, who flooded through the Khyber Pass into Hindustan (northern India) early in the 16th century, led by Babur, the first Moghul emperor. A century of conquests, internecine rivalries and political intrigues, plus the melding of the Moghuls’ Islamic customs with the Hindu ways of their Indian subjects, is given considerable detail before the emergence of Shah Jahan (1592–1666), the grandson of the emperor Akbar, who was Babur’s grandson. The familiar tale of the tragic death in childbirth of Jahan’s beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal ensues, along with the enduring passion of his grief and the erection of an extraordinary monument and tomb in her honor. The authors give a mere nod to modern factions at odds with consensus history (claims include that the Taj Mahal actually incorporates a pre-existing Hindu temple). They acknowledge that the actual architect has never been named, nor are there indisputable records of the total cost of erecting the Taj as a new structure (both cited as arguments for pro-Hindu claims of origin). However, their statement that the Taj not only incorporated both Muslim and Hindu elements but synthesized them into “a building that is much greater than the sum of its influences” seems well buttressed by generations of breathless observers glimpsing its marble and sandstone exterior in the changing light of late afternoon.
<\b>Perhaps more than some architecture buffs may bargain for, but enriching in its historical sweep and context.