The Wonder of the Taj Mahal as Seen by Author Sandra Wilson
The New Open World Corporation recently announced a list of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Some were surprised that 100 million votes were cast by phone or Internet for the greatest manmade monuments and sites. Far fewer were surprised that the Taj Mahal in Agra, India made the list. The shrine to 17th century Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s deceased wife Mumtaz (nicknamed “Taj”) is one of the most magnificent structures in history, and the epitome of Muslim architecture. In an age where India and Iran (the Persian contribution to the Taj Mahal was significant, as the Mughals claimed “Mongol” descent, but took many cultural cues from their years ruling Persia) are the subject of more news because of their nuclear capability than their architecture. As the world recognizes the 60th anniversary of the partition of India and Pakistan, Wild River Review contributor, Bijan C. Bayne, spoke with Sandra Wilson, a teacher and international lecturer in Washington State who taught English in India for two years. While teaching on the sub-continent, Wilson visited the Mughal memorial several times.
WRR: What did you learn about Mughal Islam and its emphasis on art?
Wilson: The Mughals of India were wealthy and highly valued beauty. They seemed to have planned their lives so their eyes could feast upon loveliness wherever they glanced. Their graceful buildings (the Taj Mahal being a stunning example of a “Building built by Tiffany”) adorned their skylines. Their abundant gardens were planted in intricate patterns. Their silk clothing, tapestries, and rugs were of the finest materials. Objects that were used on a daily basis looked different in a Mughal home. For instance, if a pot was made of brass when used in a village, the Mughals had it crafted in gold or inlaid with gems. Emperors supported multitudes of artisans who were employed to paint, carve, inlay, weave, and sew their fine works without the pressures of making a living.
WRR: How does the work on the book/the research shape your opinions in a post 9/11 world?
Wilson: The most obvious connection between India in the 1600s and today’s Post 9/11 world is Muslims. The followers of Islam built the Taj Mahal.. They also attacked and destroyed the Twin Towers. The groups involved in these diverse activities had different goals, didn’t they?
WRR: What surprised you about Shah Jahan and Mumtaz as a couple?
Wilson: Like most people, I knew the sound byte about Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife who had died giving birth to their thirteenth child. That alone seemed to be undeniable proof of the quality of their relationship. What I hadn’t appreciated then but do now, is that the Taj Mahal was built within a culture that kept women in harems, denied them public authority, and valued them primarily as being necessary for procreation and as bargaining chips in treaty negotiations.
It is mind boggling that in this time, Mumtaz Mahal inspired what we know as the Taj Mahal. It also is important that Shah Jahan, in addition to his strong love, was sure enough of his own position as Emperor to build the breathtaking mausoleum.
WRR: What did you find that various Indians feel about the shrine to Jahan’s amour? How do the Hindus feel about it? Muslims?
Wilson: Can you imagine the Taj Mahal being built today? I can’t. The Muslims would want the money spent differently. The Hindus wouldn’t toil to glorify the wife of an emperor. But today the native Hindus, Muslins, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, and others in India, can all appreciate the singular beauty of the Taj Mahal for its grace and symbolism, and for being their most well known tourist attraction.
Bijan C. Bayne is a Washington-based freelance writer, and author of “Sky Kings: Black Pioneers of Professional Basketball,“ which was named to the Suggested Reading List of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. The book is also cited in “Booktalks Plus: Motivating Teens to Read” by Lucy Schall. In July 2002, Bayne, who speaks Spanish, won the Robert Peterson Research Award for his presentation “The Struggle of the Latin American Ballplayer,” given at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. He currently writes for “Pro Basketball News.”
Bayne’s chapter on Black baseball in North Carolina appears in the book “Baseball in the Carolinas” (McFarland 2002). In addition to appearing in the upcoming documentary on the historic Baltimore Orioles, “The Forgotten Birds,” Bayne has been interviewed on radio programs in Puerto Rico, Boston, Providence, Durham, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. A member of United States Basketball Writers Association, his essay on schoolyard basketball appears in the anthology “Basketball in America” (Haworth 2005). Bayne has been a writing instructor in afterschool programs and at adult education centers, as well as a public relations writer. He is currently at work researching a documentary film.
Bayne has guest lectured on the social significance of the life of Jackie Robinson each year since 1996 at The George Washington University, at classes, and events such as Charter Day 1996 and Unity Week in 1999. His travel articles have appeared in AAA Horizons, Family Digest, Atlanta Goodlife, Ohio magazine, Arrington’s Inn Traveler, and Hotel Executive, and his book reviews have been featured in “Washington Post Book World”, “The Boston Herald,” and The Crisis. He is a columnist for Sports Central, and has served as a consultant for film, television and corporate clients such as Aviva Kempner, Jennifer Lawson, and Jay Smith, Spike Lee, Nike, and CINE. On June 10, 2006, Bayne was a panelist at the annual conference of Washington Independent Writers, on the topic of marketing as an independent writer. He is an Executive Board member, and Media Relations Director of the Association for Professional Basketball Research.
His sports commentary may be heard most Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s at 8 p.m. EST on Outsider Radio. Bijan C. Bayne’s sports analysis and NFL blog have earned him a spot in High Heat Radio’s “Living The Dream” competition, wherein sports bloggers will compete for a salaried national radio talk show. He is the weekly radio sports commentator for http://www.blackcoffeechannel.com/.