Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bhimbetka rock shelters

The Bhimbetka rock shelters compose an archaeological site and World Heritage Site located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The Bhimbetka shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India; its Stone Age rock paintings are approximately 9,000 years old, making them among the world's oldest.

Bhimbetka rock painting

The name Bhimbetika comes from the mythological association of the place with Bhima, one of the Pandavas (The five sons of king Pandu and the queens Kunti and Madri) in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetaka lie 45 km south of Bhopal at the southern edge of the Vindhyachal hills. South of these rock shelters are successive ranges of the Satpura hills. The entire area is covered by thick vegetation, has abundant natural resources in its perennial water supplies, natural shelters, rich forest flora and fauna, and bears a significant resemblance to similar rock art sites such as Kakadu National Park in Australia, the cave paintings of the Bushmen in Kalahari Desert, and the Upper Paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.

As reported in the UNESCO citation declaring the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka as a World Heritage Site, Bhimbetka was first mentioned in Indian archeological records in 1888 as a Buddhist site, based on information gathered from local adivasis. Later, as V. S. Wakankar was traveling by train to Bhopal he saw some rock formations similar to those he had seen in Spain and France. He visited the area along with a team of archaeologists and discovered several prehistoric rock shelters in 1957.[1]

Since then more than 700 such shelters have been identified, of which 243 are in the Bhimbetka group and 178 in the Lakha Juar group. Archeological studies revealed a continuous sequence of Stone Age cultures (from the late Acheulian to the late Mesolithic), as well as the world’s oldest stone walls and floors. The earliest paintings on the cave walls are believed to be of the Mesolithic period. A broad chronology of the finds has been done, but a detailed chronology is yet to be created.

The caves have evolved over time into excellent rock-shelters, ideal sites for aboriginal settlements. The smooth shape of the rocks has led some scientists to believe that the area was once under water. The rocks have taken on incredible shapes in several stunning hues and textures. Apart from the central place the aboriginal drawings have in human history, the caves themselves offer interesting material for a study of the earth's history.

The rock shelters and caves of Bhimbetka have a number of interesting paintings which depict the lives and times of the people who lived in the caves, including scenes of childbirth, communal dancing and drinking, and religious rites and burials, as well as the natural environment around them.

One rock, popularly referred to as “Zoo Rock”, depicts elephants, sambar, bison and deer. Paintings on another rock show a peacock, a snake, a deer and the sun. On another rock, two elephants with tusks are painted. Hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, swords and shields also find their place in the community of these pre-historic paintings. In one of the caves, a bison is shown in pursuit of a hunter while his two companions appear to stand helplessly nearby; in another, some horsemen are seen, along with archers.

It is a marvel that the paintings have not faded even after thousands of years. It is believed[vague] that these paints were made of colored earth, vegetable dyes,[dubious ] roots and animal fat. Brushes were made of pieces of fibrous plants. Because of the natural red and white pigments the artists used, the colors have been remarkably well preserved. The oldest paintings are believed[vague] to be 12,000 years old, but some of the geometric figures date to as recently as the medieval period.

The colours used are vegetable colours which have endured through time because the drawings are generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls. The presence of the figure of a horse, which is supposed to have come into India in relatively recent times, indicates that some of the drawings date back a few thousand years but there are other drawings which have been established as of the paleolithic age by archaeologists, using carbon dating techniques.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri (Hindi: फतेहपूर सिकरी, Urdu: فتحپور سیکری) is a city and a municipal board in Agra district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. It was the political capital of India's Mughal Empire under Akbar's reign, from 1571 until 1585, when it was abandoned, ostensibly due to lack of water. It is located in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India.

Built in honour of Sufi saint Salim Chishti in 1571 by Mughal emperor Akbar.

The fort is situated at 27° 05' N latitude and 77° 39' E longitude and a mean altitude of 708 meters above sea level.

Fatehpur Sikri shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra, where a bulk of the arsenal, treasure hoards, and other reserves were kept at its Red Fort for security. During a crisis, the court, harem, and treasury could be removed to Agra, only 26 miles away, less than a day's march.

Innovations in land revenue, coinage, military organisation, and provincial administration emerged during the Fatehpur Sikri years.

It is regarded as Emperor Akbar's crowning architectural legacy. Indeed, its numerous palaces, halls, and masjids satisfy his creative and aesthetic impulses, typical of Mughals.

Fatehpur Sikri is a World Heritage Site. Some contemporary Indian architects, notably B. V. Doshi, have cited it as an important source of inspiration. Architect or layperson, this city generally captures the imagination and wonder of all who experience its urban spaces and see its buildings. Charles and Ray Eames, cited Fatehpur Sikri in the landmark 'India Report' that led to the conception of the National Institute of Design, India's premiere design school. It is here, that the legends of Akbar and his clever courtier Birbal must have arisen. Another of his navaratnas, Tansen, perhaps had performance spaces integrated within the architecture of this fort.

The layout of the city shows a conscious attempt to produce rich spatial effects by the organization of built forms around open spaces in interesting ways. Of particular note is the way in which shifts in axes occur as one moves along the city and the location of squares in important places with buildings forming a backdrop or envelope.

Unlike other important Mughal cities (such as Shahjahanabad, which has a very formal planning), Fatehpur Sikri has aspects of informality and improvisation. Indeed, the newly constructed city bore a similarity to the movable imperial encampment also designed by Akbar.

The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri show a synthesis of various regional schools of architectural craftsmanship such as Gujarati and Bengali. This was because indigenous craftsmen from various regions were used for the construction of the buildings. Influences from Hindu and Jain architecture are seen hand in hand with Islamic elements. The building material predominantly used is red sandstone, quarried from the same rocky outcrop on which it is situated.

Some of the important buildings in this city, both religious and secular buildings, are:

  • Naubat Khana – Drum house: near the entry, where important arrivals are announced.
  • Diwan-i-Am – Hall of Public Audience: a building typology found in many Mughal cities where the ruler meets the general public. In this case it is a pavilion like multi-bayed rectangular structure fronting a large open space.
  • Diwan-i-Khas – Hall of Private Audience: famous for its central pillar with thirty-six voluted brackets supporting a circular platform for Akbar.
  • Raja Birbal's house: the house of Akbar's favourite minister, who was a Hindu. Notable features of the building are the horizontal sloping sunshades or chajjas and the brackets which support them.
  • Jodhabai's palace: The building shows Gujarati influence and is built around a courtyard, with special care being taken to ensure privacy.
  • Pachisi Court: a square marked out as a large sized board game (modern day Ludo) where live coins- people- participated.
  • Char Chaman Tank: a tank with a central platform and four bridges leading up to it.
  • Panch Mahal: A five-storied palatial structure. The bottom floor has 176 intricately carved columns.
  • Buland Darwaza – the 'Gate of Magnificence': one of the gateways to the Jami masjid, a stupendous piece of architecture from the outside, gradually making a transition to a human scale in the inside.
  • Jama Masjid: the mosque, built in the manner of Indian mosques, with liwans (aisles) around a central courtyard. A distinguishing feature is the row of chhatris (small domed pavilions) over the sanctuary.
  • Tomb of Salim Chisti: a white marble encased tomb within the Jama mosque's courtyard.

Sanchi -The great stupa

Sanchi is a small village in India, located 46 km north east of Bhopal, and 10 km from Besnagar and Vidisha in the central part of the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is the location of several Buddhist monuments dating from the third century BCE to the twelfth century CE. It is a nagar panchayat in Raisen district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

The 'Great Stupa' at Sanchi was originally commissioned by the emperor Ashoka the Great in the third century BCE. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chhatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics (Dehejia 1997).

The compound Buddhist symbols: Shrivatsa within a triratana, over a Chakra wheel, on the Tonana gate at Sanchi.The stupa was vandalized at one point, sometime in the second century BCE, an event some have related to the rise of the Sunga emperor Pusyamitra Sunga. It has been suggested that Pushyamitra may have destroyed the original stupa, and his son Agnimitra rebuilt it.[1] During the later rule of the Sunga, the stupa was expanded with stone slabs to almost twice its original size. The dome was flattened near the top and crowned by three superimposed parasols within a square railing. With its many tiers it was a symbol of the dharma, the Wheel of the Law. The dome was set on a high circular drum meant for circumambulation, which could be accessed via a double staircase. A second stone pathway at groundlevel was enclosed by a stone balustrade with four monumental gateways (toranas) facing the cardinal directions. The buildings which seem to have been commissioned during the rule of the Sungas are the Second and Third stupas (but not the gateways), and the ground balustrade and stone casing of the Great Stupa.

The gateways and the balustrade were built after 70 BCE, and appear to have been commisionned by the Satavahana. An inscription records the gift of one of the top architraves of the Southern Gateway by the artisans of the Satavahana king Satakarni:

"Gift of Ananda, the son of Vasithi, the foreman of the artisans of rajan Siri Satakarni"[2]

Although made of stone, they were carved and constructed in the manner of wood and the gateways were covered with narrative sculptures. They showed scenes from the life of the Buddha integrated with everyday events that would be familiar to the onlookers and so make it easier for them to understand the Buddhist creed as relevant to their lives. At Sanchi and most other stupas the local population donated money for the embellishment of the stupa to attain spiritual merit. There was no direct royal patronage. Devotees, both men and women, who donated money towards a sculpture would often choose their favourite scene from the life of the Buddha and then have their names inscribed on it. This accounts for the random repetition of particular episodes on the stupa (Dehejia 1992). On these stone carvings the Buddha was never depicted as a human figure. Instead the artists chose to represent him by certain attributes, such as the horse on which he left his father’s home, his footprints, or a canopy under the bodhi tree at the point of his enlightenment. The human body was thought to be too confining for the Buddha.

Foreigners of Indo-Greek appearance (wearing the chlamys cape over short chiton tunics, with short curly hair and headbands, playing carnyx (κάρνυξ) trumpets lower left) honouring the Sanchi stupa with gifts, prayers and music. Northern Gateway, Sanchi, India. 2nd-1st century BCE (Click image for reference).
Foreigners of Indo-Greek appearance (wearing the chlamys cape over short chiton tunics, with short curly hair and headbands, playing carnyx (κάρνυξ) trumpets lower left) honouring the Sanchi stupa with gifts, prayers and music. Northern Gateway, Sanchi, India. 2nd-1st century BCE (Click image for reference).

Some of the friezes of Sanchi also show devotees in Greek attire (Greek clothing, attitudes, and musical instruments) celebrating the stupa[3].

Further stupas and other religious Buddhist and early Hindu structures were added over the following centuries until the 12th century CE. Temple 17 is probably one of the earliest Buddhist temples as it dates to the early Gupta period. It consists of a flat roofed square sanctum with a portico and four pillars. The interior and three sides of the exterior are plain and undecorated but the front and the pillars are elegantly carved, giving the temple an almost ‘classical’ appearance (Mitra 1971).

With the decline of Buddhism, the monuments of Sanchi went out of use and fell into a state of disrepair.

Goa Velha

The Churches and Convents at Velha (Old) Goa owe their existence to the Portuguese rule in this part of the western coast of India.

The most comprehensive group of churches and cathedrals built during 16th to 17th century AD at Old Goa comprise of the following:

Se' Cathedral, Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapel of St. Catherine, Basilica of Bom Jesus; Church of Lady of Rosary; Church of St. Augustine.

The Church of St. Cajetan is modelled on the original design of St. Peter's Church in Rome. The Church of Bom Jesus with its facade decorated with Ionic, Doric and Corinthian pilasters, shows the application of the Classical order. The Se' Cathedral which was begun as a small chapel built of mud and straw under the order of Alfonso Albuquerque after his conquest of Goa is yet another example of Renaissance with its Tuscan exterior, the Corinthian columns at its portals, the raised platform with steps leading to the entrance and the barrel-vault above the nave. The principal chapel is large and ornamented with engraved pillars and pilasters. The images of Senhora d’Esperanca (Our Lady of Hope), Christ crucified and St. Catherine standing in the centre with statues of St. Peter and St. Paul on either side.

The paintings in the churches were done on wooden borders and fixed between panels having floral designs as in the chapels housing the tomb of St. Xavier, the arches above the altars in the transept of the Se' Cathedral and in the nave on either side of the main altar in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Excepting a few which are in stone, the statues are mostly in wood delicately carved and painted to adorn the altars. They depict mostly the saints, Mother Mary and Jesus on the cross.

Bom Jesus is said to be one of the grandest Churches to be raised in Asia vast and magnificent with ornaments suited to its greatness. Made of black granite, it part Doric and part Corinthian façade is elaborately carved. The ceiling is highly decorated. Sarcophagi of illustrious Portuguese who were connected with the religious life of Goa are very interesting. Its high and broad altar is dedicate to the figure of infant (Bom) Jesus.u

Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves are the focal point of the Elephanta Island, located in the Mumbai harbour off the coast of Mumbai (Bombay), India. In 1987, the caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[1]

It is visited by many domestic and foreign tourists. In recent years, complaints have been made that visitors mistreat this important cultural and historic site.[2][3] Most of the sculptures here were defaced by the Portuguese, who used the sculptures as target practice in the 17th century. The Portuguese aslso gave the island it's modern name,Elephanta from Gharapuri.[4]

The caves are thought to date back to the Silhara kings of the 9th through 13th centuries (8101260).[citation needed] Some of the sculptures of this site are also attributed to the imperial Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (in present day Karnataka), the Trimurti of Elephanta showing the three faces of Shiva almost akin to the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. This was also the royal insignia of the Rashtrakutas. Other Rashtrakuta sculptures here are the reliefs of Nataraja and Sadashiva and the splendid sculptures of Ardhanarishvara.[citation needed]

The rock-cut temple complex cover an area of 60,000 sq ft consisting of a main chamber, 2 lateral ones, courtyards and subsidiary shrines. The site of these magnificent caves contained beautiful reliefs, sculptures, and a temple to the Hindu god Śiva. The caves are hewn from solid rock.[5] The temple complex is said to be the abode of Shiva.

The most important sculpture is that of Trimurti Sadasiva, carved in relief at the end of the N-S axis. The image, 20 ft in high is if the three headed-Shiva, representing Panchamukha Shiva.[6] The right half-face shows him as a young person with sensuous lips, embodying life and its vitality. In his hand he holds something that resembles a rose bud -- again with the promise of life and creativity. It is this face that is closest to that of Brahma, the creator or Uma or Vamadeva,the feminine side of Shiva.[7] The left half-face face on the side is that of a young man. It is moustached, and displays anger. This is Shiva as Aghora Bhairava[8], as the one whose anger can engulf the entire world in flames leaving only ashes behind. This is Shiva, the Destroyer. The central face, benign, meditative, as the preserver Vishnu. This is Shiva as the yogi -- Yogeshwar -- in deep meditation praying for the 'preservation' of humanity.



Mahabalipuram (Tamil:மகாபலிபுரம்) (also known as Mamallapuram) is a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It has an average elevation of 12 metres (39 feet).

Mahabalipuram was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas around 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It is believed to have been named after the Pallava king Mamalla. It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th century, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture wherein Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples. The pillars are of the Dravidian order. The sculptures are excellent examples of Pallava art.

It is believed by some that this area served as a school for young sculptors. The different sculptures, some half finished, may have been examples of different styles of architecture, probably demonstrated by instructors and practiced on by young students. This can be seen in the Pancha Rathas where each Ratha is sculpted in a different style.

Some important structures include:

  • Thirukadalmallai, the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was also built by Pallava King inorder to safeguard the sculptures from the ocean. It is told that after building this temple, the remaining architecture was preserved and was not corroded by sea.
  • Descent of the Ganges - a giant open-air bas relief
  • Arjuna's Penance - relief sculpture on a massive scale extolling an episode from the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata.
  • Varaha Cave Temple - a small rock-cut temple dating back to the 7th century.
  • The Shore Temple - a structural temple along the Bay of Bengal with the entrance from the western side away from the sea. Recent excavations have revealed new structures here. The temple was reconstructed stone by stone from the sea after being washed away in a cyclone.
  • Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) - five monolithic pyramidal structures named after the Pandavas (Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva) and Draupadi. An interesting aspect of the rathas is that, despite their sizes they are not assembled — each
  • of these is carved from one single large piece of stone.

According to descriptions by early travel writers from Britain, the area near Mahabalipuram had seven pagodas by the sea. Accounts of Mahabalipuram were first written down by British traveller John Goldingham who was told of the "Seven Pagodas" when he visited in 1798.

An ancient port city and parts of a temple built in the 7th century may have been uncovered by the tsunami that resulted from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. As the waves gradually receded, the force of the water removed sand deposits that had covered various rocky structures and revealed carvings of animals, which included an elaborately carved head of an elephant and a horse in flight. A small square-shaped niche with a carved statue of a deity could be seen above the head of the elephant. In another structure, there was a sculpture of a reclining lion. The use of these animal sculptures as decorations is consistent with other decorated walls and temples from the Pallava period in the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Archaeological Survey of India sent divers to begin underwater excavations of the area on February 17, 2005.


Agra Fort

Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Agra, India. The fort is also known as Lal Qila, Fort Rouge and Red Fort of Agra. It is about 2.5 km northwest of its much more famous sister monument, the Taj Mahal. The fort can be more accurately described as a walled palatial city.

It is the most important fort in India. The great Mughals Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived here, and the country was governed from here. It contained the largest state treasury and mint. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, travellers and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of history in India.

This was originally a brick fort and the Chauhan Rajputs held it. It was mentioned for the first time in 1080 AD when a Ghaznavide force captured it. Sikandar Lodi (1487-1517) was the first Sultan of Delhi who shifted to Agra and lived in the fort. He governed the country from here and Agra assumed the importance of the 2nd capital. He died in the fort in 1517 and his son, Ibrahim Lodi, held it for nine years until he was defeated and killed at Panipat in 1526. Several palaces, wells and a mosque were built by him in the fort during his period.

After Panipat, Mughals captured the fort and a vast treasure - which included a diamond that was later named as the Kohinoor diamond - was seized. Babur stayed in the fort in the palace of Ibrahim. He built a baoli (step well) in it. Humayun was coronated here in 1530. Humayun was defeated in Bilgram in 1530. Sher Shah held the fort for five years. The Mughals defeated the Afghans finally at Panipat in 1556.

Realizing the importance of its central situation, Akbar decided to make it his capital and arrived in Agra in 1558. His historian, Abdul Fazal, recorded that this was a brick fort known as 'Badalgarh' . It was in a ruined condition and Akbar had it rebuilt with red sandstone. Architects laid the foundation and it was built with bricks in the inner core with sandstone on external surfaces. Some 4000 builders worked on it for eight years, completing it in 1573.

It was only during the reign of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan, that the site finally took on its current state. The legend is that Shah Jahan built the beautiful Taj Mahal for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Unlike his grandfather, Shah Jahan tended to have buildings made from white marble, often inlaid with gold or semi-precious gems. He destroyed some of the earlier buildings inside the fort in order to make his own.

At the end of his life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, in the fort, a punishment which might not seem so harsh, considering the luxury of the fort. It is rumored that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal.

This was also a site of one of the battles during the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company's rule in India, and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.

The Agra Fort has won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the year 2004 and India Post has issued a Stamp to commemorate this prestigious award on 28.11.2004.

The fort has a semi-circular plan, its chord lying parallel to the river. Its walls are seventy feet high. Double ramparts have massive circular bastions are regular intervals as also battlements, embrasures, machicolations and string courses. Four gates were provided on its four sides, one Khizri gate" opening on to the river.

Two of the gates are called the 'Delhi Gate' and the 'Lahore Gate' (sometimes called Amar Singh Gate).

The Delhi Gate is considered the grandest of the gates and leads into an inner gate called the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate). Due to the fact that the Indian military (the Parachute Brigade in particular) is still using the northern portion of the Agra Fort, the Delhi Gate cannot be used by the public. Tourists enter via the Lahore Gate. Lahore Gate is named so because it faces Lahore, now in Pakistan.

The site is very important in terms of architectural history. Abul Fazal recorded that five hundred buildings in the beautiful designs of Bengal and Gujarat were built in the fort. Some of them were demolished to make way for his white marble palaces. Most of the others were destroyed by the British between 1803 and 1862 for raising barracks. Hardly thirty Mughal buildings have survived on the south-eastern side, facing the river. Of these, the Delhi Gate and Akbar Gate and one palace - "Bengali Mahal" - are representative Akbari buildings.

The Delhi gate faces the city. A draw-bridge and a crooked entrance make it impregnable. Two life sized stone elephants with their riders were placed on its inner gate which was called "Hathi Pol". The Delhi gate was monumentally built as the king's formal gate.

Akbar Gate was renamed "Amar Singh Gate" by the British. The gate is similar in design to the Delhi gate. Both are built of red sandstone.

The Bengali Mahal is also built of red sandstone and is now split into "Akbari Mahal" and "Jehagiri Mahal".

Some of the most historically interesting mixing of Hindu and Islamic architecture reside there. In fact, some of the decorations are Islamic and yet feature dragons, elephants and birds, instead of the patterns and calligraphy, very much unheard of.

Sites and structures within Agra Fort

The Khas Mahal.
The Khas Mahal.
Jehangiri Mahal.
Jehangiri Mahal.
  • Anguri Bagh - 85 square, geometrically arranged gardens
  • Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) - was used to speak to the people and listen to petitioners and once housed the Peacock Throne
  • Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) - was used to receive kings and dignitary, features black throne of Jehangir
  • Golden Pavilions - beautiful pavilions with roofs shaped like the roofs of Bengali huts
  • Jehangiri Mahal - built by Akbar for his son Jehangir
  • Khas Mahal - white marble palace, one of the best examples of painting on marble
  • Macchi Bhawan (Fish Enclosure) - grand enclosure for harem functions, once had pools and fountains
  • Mina Masjid (Heavenly Mosque)- a tiny mosque; closed to the public
  • Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) - a private mosque of Shah Jahan
  • Musamman Burj - a large, octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal
  • Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque) - mosque designed for the ladies of the court, featuring the Zenana Mina Bazaar (Ladies Bazaar) right next to the balcony, where only female merchants sold wares
  • Naubat Khana (Drum House) - a place where the king's musicians played
  • Rang Mahal - where the king's wives and mistresses lived
  • Shahi Burj - Shah Jahan's private work area
  • Shah Jahani Mahal - Shah Jahan's first attempt at modification of the red sandstone palace
  • Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace) or Shish Mahal - royal dressing room featuring tiny mirror-like glass-mosaic decorations on the walls

Monday, July 23, 2007

Akshardham (Delhi)- New architectural Wonder of India

Akshardham is a Hindu temple complex in Delhi, India. It was inaugurated in November 2005 by the President of India, Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual leader of BAPS - the organization responsible for the creation of Akshardham. Sitting on the banks of the Yamuna River, adjacent to the proposed Commonwealth Games village, the complex features a large monument, crafted entirely of stone, permanent exhibitions on Bhagwan Swaminarayan and Hinduism, an IMAX cinema, musical fountain, and large landscaped gardens.

The Mandir

The main building at the centre of the complex is a 141ft high monument to Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Designed according to ancient Vedic texts known as the Sthapatya-Shastra, it features a blend of architecutral styles from across India. Within the monument, under the central dome, there is an 11ft high, gilded image of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. He is surrounded by the guru's of the sect. The building itself is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble, and features no steel or concrete. It's height and location on the banks of the Yamuna mean its presence is felt from afar, and its carved details of flora, fauna, dancers, musicians and deities covering its surfaces from top to bottom, leave most visitors in awe.

The Exhibitions

Hall 1
, named 'Sahajanand Pradarshan', features life-like robotics, dioramas, and incidents from Bhagwan Swaminarayan's life, portraying his message of peace, harmony, humility, service to others and devotion to God. The hall features the worlds smallest animatronic robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, the child form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.

Hall 2
, named 'Nilkanth Kalyan Yatra', houses Delhi's first and only large format screen. The theatre shows a movie specially commissioned for the complex that shows the journey Bhagwan Swaminarayan made during his teenage years across the length and breadth of India. An international version of the film was released in 2005 at IMAX and Giant Screen cinemas worldwide under the title 'Mystic India'.

Hall 3, named Sanskruti Vihar, takes visitors on a journey through 10,000 years of Indian history in 10 minutes. Visitors sit in specially designed peacock boats that make their way around an artificial river, passing the worlds first university, chemistry laboratories, ancient hospitals and bazaars, finally ending with a message for the future of India.

The Yagnapurush Kund

The Yagnapurush Kund is India's largest step well. It features a very large series of steps down to a traditional 'yagna kund'. During the day, these steps provide rest for the visitors to the complex and at night, a musical fountain show representing the circle of life is played to an audience which is seated on the same steps.

The Bharat Upavan

The Bharat Upavan, or 'Garden of India', has lush manicured lawns, trees and shrubs, dotted with bronze sculptures of contributors to India's culture, including Children of India, Women of India, and Heroes of India.

The Yogi Hraday Kamal

This sunken garden, shaped like a lotus when viewed from above features large stones engraved with quotes from world luminaries ranging from Shakespeare and Martin Luther King, to Swami Vivekananda and Bhagwan Swaminarayan.


Swaminarayan Akshardham was created by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the current spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). It was created under his guidance after his guru Yogiji Maharaj expressed a wish for the construction of the complex. As well as Swaminarayan Akshardham, New Delhi, he has created international cultural complexes like Swaminarayan Akshardham, Ghandhinagar (India), The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London (England) (Popularly known as the Neasden Temple), and similar temples in Houston TX, Chicago IL, Atlanta GA, Los Angeles CA, Toronto (Canada)and Nairobi (Kenya). His role as spiritual leader means he constantly travels and meets people throughout the world with an aim to helping them lead better lives.

Upon the opening of the complex in November 2005, Pramukh Swami Maharaj expressed the following wish:

“In this Akshardham, may one and all find inspiration to mould their lives and may there lives become divine. Such is my prayer to God.” ~Shastri Narayanswarupdas (Pramukh Swami) Inspirer and & Creator of Akshardham.

BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (of whom Pramukh Swami Maharaj is the leader) is an international social, spiritual and charitable NGO affiliated with the United Nations. Through its 9000 centers, 750 sadhus (or monks), 55,000 volunteers and over 1,000,000 followers, BAPS performs over a 160 humanitarian activities. Akshardham is a part of BAPS's culture and educational activities to promote Indian art, culture, and values. BAPS also has a charitable arm, known as BAPS Car

The Mahabodhi Temple (Literally: "Great Awakening Temple")

The Mahabodhi Temple (Literally: "Great Awakening Temple") is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located about 96 km (60 miles) from Patna, Bihar state, India. Next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi tree. In the Pali Canon, the site is called Bodhimanda, and the monastery there the Bodhimanda Vihara.
Buddhist legends concerning the site of the Mahabodhi Temple

The site of the Bodhi tree at Bodhigaya is, according to the Buddhist commentarial scriptures, the same for all Buddhas. According to the Jatakas, it forms the navel of the earth, and no other place can support the weight of the Buddha's attainment.

When no Bodhi tree grows at the site, the Bodhimanda (ground round the Bodhi-tree), for a distance of one royal karīsa, is devoid of all plants, even of any blade of grass, and is quite smooth, spread with sand like a silver plate, while all around it are grass, creepers and trees. None can travel in the air immediately above it, not even SakkaJ.iv.232f.

In the case of Gautama Buddha, his Bodhi tree sprang up on the day he was born.

Rise of Buddhism

Traditional accounts say that, around 530 BC, Gautama Buddha, wandering as a monk, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya, India. There he sat in meditation under a peepul tree (Ficus religiosa or Sacred Fig), which later became known as the Bodhi tree. According to Buddhist scriptures, after three days and three nights, Siddharta attained enlightenment and the answers that he had sought. Mahabodhi Temple was built to mark that location.

The Buddha then spent the succeeding seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. Several specific places at the current Mahabodhi Temple relate to the traditions surrounding these seven weeks:

* The first week was spent under the Bodhi tree.
* During the second week, the Buddha remained standing and stared, uninterrupted, at the Bodhi tree. This spot is marked by the Animeshlocha Stupa, that is, the unblinking stupa or shrine, which is located on the north-east of the Mahabodhi Temple complex. There stands a statute of Buddha with his eyes fixed towards the Bodhi tree.
* The Buddha is said to have walked back and forth between the location of the Animeshlocha Stupa and the Bodhi tree. According to legend, lotus flowers sprung up along this route, it is now called Ratnachakarma or the jewel walk.

In approximately 250 BC, about 250 years after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, Buddhist Emperor Asoka visited Bodh Gaya with the intention of establishing a monastery and shrine. As part of the temple he built, the diamond throne (called the Vajrasana), attempting to mark the exact spot of the Buddha's enlightenment, was established. Asoka is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi Temple.

Buddhism declined when the dynasties patronizing it declined, following White Hun and the early Islamic invasions such as that of Muhammad bin Qasim. A strong revival occurred under the Pala Empire in the northeast of the subcontinent (where the temple is situated). Mahayana Buddhism flourished under the Palas between the 8th and the 12th century. However, after the defeat of the Palas by the Hindu Sena dynasty, Buddhism's position again began to erode and became nearly extinct in India. During the 12th century AD, Bodh Gaya and the nearby regions were invaded by Muslim armies. During this period, the Mahabodhi Temple fell into disrepair and was largely abandoned. During the 16th century, a Hindu monastery was established near Bodh Gaya. Over the following centuries, the monastery's abbot or mahant became the area's primary landholder and claimed ownership of the Mahabodhi Temple grounds.

In the 1880s, the-then British government of India began to restore Mahabodhi Temple under the direction of Sir Alexander Cunningham. A short time later, in 1891, the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala started a campaign to return control of the temple to Buddhists, over the objections of the mahant. The campaign was partially successful in 1949, when control passed from the Hindu mahant to the state government of Bihar, which established a temple management committee. The committee has nine members, a majority of whom, including the chairman, must by law be Hindus. Mahabodhi's first head monk under the management committee was Anagarika Munindra, a Bengali man who had been an active member of the Maha Bodhi Society.

Mahabodhi Temple's central tower rise to 55 meters, and were heavily renovated in the 19th century. The central tower is surrounded by four smaller towers, constructed in the same style.

The Mahabodhi Temple is surrounded on all four sides by stone railings, about two metres high. The railings reveal two distinct types, both in style as well as the materials used. The older ones, made of sandstone, date to about 150 BC, and the others, constructed from unpolished coarse granite, are believed to be of the Gupta period (300 CE – 600 CE). The older railings have scenes such as Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, being bathed by elephants; and Surya, the Hindu sun god, riding a chariot drawn by four horses. The newer railings have figures of stupas (reliquary shrines) and garudas (eagles). Images of lotus flowers also appear

Mahabodhi Temple is claimed as property of state government of Bihar, part of India. Under the terms of the Bodh Gaya Temple Act of 1949, the state government makes itself responsible for the protection, management, and monitoring of temple and its properties. The Act also has provisions for a Temple Management Committee, along with an advisory Board, which consists of the governor of Bihar state and twenty to twenty-five other members, half of them from foreign Buddhist countries.

The Temple Management Committee is the executive body for management of the Mahabodhi Temple and certain adjoining areas. The TMC functions under the supervision, direction, and control of the state government of Bihar.

In June 2002, the Mahabodhi Temple became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, specifically nominated for the international World heritage program.

All finds of religious artifacts in the area are legally protected under the Treasure Trove Act of 1878.

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb is a complex of buildings of Mughal architecture located in Nizamuddin east, New Delhi. In time of Slave Dynasty this land was under the KiloKheri Fort which was capital of Sultan Kequbad S/o Nasiruddin(1268-1287 AD). It encompasses the main tomb of the Emperor Humayun as well as numerous others. The complex is a World Heritage Site and the first example of this type of Mughal architecture in India. This style of mausoleum was the same that created the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The tomb of Humayun was built by the orders of Hamida Banu Begum, Humayun's widow starting in 1562. The architect of the edifice was reportedly Sayyed Muhammad ibn Mirak Ghiyathuddin and his father Mirak Ghiyathuddin who were brought in from Herat. It took 8 years to build and had a Chahr Bagh Garden style in its design, the first of its kind in the region.

Restoration work by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) was completed in March 2003, enabling water to flow through the watercourses in the gardens once more. Funding for this work was a gift from the institutions of His Highness the Aga Khan to India. In addition, AKTC is conducting a more significant restoration at Babur's tomb, the resting place of Humayun's father in Kabul.

The Delhi Fort also known as Lal Qil'ah, or Lal Qila, meaning the Red Fort, located in Delhi, India is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Red Fort was the palace for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's new capital, Shahjahanabad, the seventh Muslim city in the Delhi site. He moved his capital from Agra in a move designed to bring prestige to his reign, and to provide ample opportunity to apply his ambitious building schemes and interests. The Red Fort stands at the eastern edge of Shahjahanabad, and gets its name from the massive wall of red sandstone that defines its four sides. The wall is 1.5 miles (2.5 km) long, and varies in height from 60ft (16m) on the river side to 110 ft (33 m) towards the city. Measurements have shown that the plan was generated using a square grid of 82 m.

The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats that surround most of the wall. The wall at its north-eastern corner is adjacent to an older fort, the Salimgarh, a defense built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546. Construction on the Red Fort began in 1638 and was complete by 1648. But it is believed that it is The Ancient City of Lal Kot which was captured by Shahjahan since Lal Kot literally means Red(Lal) Fort(Kot). lal Kot was the capital city of Prithviraj Chauhan in the late 12th century

On 11 March 1783 Sikhs entered Red fort in Delhi and occupied the Diwan-i-Am. The city was essentially surrendered by the Mughal wazir in cahoots with his Sikh Allies. This task was carried out under the command of the Sardar Baghel Singh Dhaliwal of the Karor Singhia misl.

(Sardar Baghel Singh Dhaliwal on the third of his 3 campaigns to conquer Delhi.)

The Red Fort was conceived as a whole, and subsequent modifications have not taken away from the overall unity of the scheme. In the 18th century, however, occupiers and looters damaged some sections of the palace. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, when the Fort was used as a headquarters, the British army occupied and destroyed many of its pavilions and gardens. A program for restoring the surviving parts of the fort began in 1903.

The walls of the fort are smoothly dressed, articulated by heavy string-courses along the upper section. They open at two major gates, the Delhi and the Lahore gates. The Lahore Gate is the main entrance; it leads to a long covered bazaar street, the Chatta Chowk, whose walls are lined with stalls for shops. The Chatta Chowk leads to a large open space where it crosses the large north-south street that was originally the division between the fort's military functions, to its west, and the palaces, to its east. The southern end of this street is the Delhi Gate. On axis with the Lahore gate and the Chatta Chowk, on the eastern side of the open space, is the Naqqar Khana ("drum house"), the main gate for the palace, named for the musicians' gallery above it. Beyond this gate is another, larger open space, which originally served as the courtyard of the Diwan-i-Am, the large pavilion for public imperial audiences. An ornate throne-balcony for the emperor stands at the center of the eastern wall of the Diwan, conceived as a copy of the throne of Solomon.

The imperial private apartments lie behind the throne. The apartments consist of a row of pavilions that sits on a raised platform along the eastern edge of the fort, looking out onto the river Yamuna. The pavilions are connected by a continuous water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht, or the Stream of Paradise, that runs through the center of each pavilion. The water is drawn from the river Yamuna, from a tower, the Shah Burj, at the northeastern corner of the fort. The palace is designed as an imitation of paradise as it is described in the Koran; a couplet repeatedly inscribed in the palace reads, "If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here". The planning of the palace is based on Islamic prototypes, but each pavilion reveals in its architectural elements the Hindu influences typical of Mughal building. The palace complex of the Red Fort is counted among the best examples of the Mughal style at its Shah Jahani peak.

The two southernmost pavilions of the palace are zenanas, or women's quarters: the Mumtaz Mahal (now a museum), and the larger, lavish Rang Mahal, which has been remarked for its gilded, decorated ceiling and marble pool, fed by the Nahr-i-Behisht. The third pavilion from the south, the Khas Mahal, contains the imperial chambers. These include a suite of bedrooms, prayer rooms, a veranda, and the Mussaman Burj, a tower built against the fortress walls, from which the emperor would show himself to the people in a daily ceremony. The next pavilion is the Diwan-i-Khas, the lavishly decorated hall of private audience, used for ministerial and court gatherings. This finest of the pavilions is ornamented with floral pietra dura patterns on the columns, with precious stones and gilding. A painted wooden ceiling has replaced the original one, of silver inlaid with gold.

The next pavilion contains the hammam, or baths, in the Turkish style, with Mughal ornamentation in marble and colored stones. To the west of the hammam is the Moti Masjid, the Pearl Mosque. This was a later addition, built in 1659 as a private mosque for Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's successor. It is a small, three-domed mosque in carved white marble, with a three-arched screen which steps down to the courtyard.

To its north lies a large formal garden, the Hayat Bakhsh Bagh, or 'Life-Bestowing Garden', which is cut through by two bisecting channels of water. A pavilion stands at either end of the north-south channel, and a third, built in 1842 by the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, stands at the center of the pool where the two channels meet.

The iron pillar in Delhi: A miracle

In the courtyard of the Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque stands the famous iron pillar, which bears a Sanskrit inscription in Gupta script, assignable to the 4th century. The inscription records that the pillar was set up as a standard or dhvaja of god Vishnu on the hill known as 'Vishnupada', in the memory of a mighty king, named 'Chandra', who is now regarded as identical with Chandragupta II (375-413) of the imperial Gupta dynasty. The base of the pillar is knobby, with small pieces of iron tying it to its foundations, and a lead sheet covers the portion concealed below the present floor-level.

According to the British historian Percival Spear, there was a statue attached to the pillar but he failed to identify it. Dr Munish Chandra, former additional director-general of ASI and noted scholar claims that the attached statue was that of Vishnu which the Muslim invaders destroyed.

The total length of this slightly tapering shaft is 23 feet 8 inches in length and its diameter varies from 12.5 inches at the top to 16.4 inches on the ground. The metal of the pillar has been found to be almost pure malleable iron. Its portion below the ground shows some signs of rusting, but at a very slow rate. The manufacture of such a massive iron pillar, which has not deteriorated much during seventeen hundred years of its existence, is a standing testimony to the metallurgical skill of ancient Indians.

A traditional belief says that the mighty Bheem (the mythological strongman of the Mahabharata) lifted the pillar with his right hand and impaled it in the ground. With this myth is also attached a legend that any one who can encircle the entire column will have their wish granted. However, it is fenced off from tourists so as to avoid any damage.

Qutub Minar - The tallest brick minaret in the world

Qutub Minar (Urdu: قطب منار) is the tallest brick minaret in the world, and an important example of Indo-Islamic Architecture. The tower is in the Qutb complex in South Delhi, India. The Qutb Minar and its monuments are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Qutub Minar is 72.5 metres high (237.8 ft) and requires 399 steps to get to the top, although it had not been possible for visitors to ascend the tower for some years, due to safety reasons (mainly due to the stampede tragedy) ,but now the visitors can reach the top of the tower by paying a fees of 500 INR or about 12$. The diameter of the base is 14.3 metres wide while the top floor measures 2.75 metres in diameter.

Surrounding the building are many fine examples of Indian artwork from the time it was built in 1193. A second tower was in construction and planned to be taller than the Qutub Minar itself. Its construction ended when it was about forty feet tall.

Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and wishing to surpass it, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, commenced construction of the Qutub Minar in 1193; but could only complete its basement. His successor, Iltutmish, added three more stories and, in 1368, Firuz Shah Tughluq constructed the fifth and the last story. The development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tuglak are quite evident in the minaret. Like earlier towers erected by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids in Afghanistan, the Qutub Mahal comprises several superposed flanged and cylindrical shafts, separated by balconies carried on Muqarnas corbels. The minaret is made of fluted red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur'an. The Qutub Minar is itself built on the ruins of Lal Kot, the Red Citadel in the city of Dhillika, the capital of the Jat Tomars and the Chauhans, the last Hindu rulers of Delhi.

According to John Keay's "History of India," 27 previous Hindu and Jain temples were destroyed and their materials reused to construct the minar.[citation needed]

The purpose for building this beautiful monument has been speculated upon, apart from the usual role of a minaret—that of calling people for prayer in a mosque—in this case the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque to the northeast of minar in AD 1198. It is the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. Other reasons ascribed to its construction are as a tower of victory, a monument signifying the might of Islam, or a watch tower for defence. Controversy also surrounds the origins for the name of the tower. Many historians believe that the Qutb Minar was named after the first Turkish sultan, Qutb-ud-din Aibak but others contend that it was named in honour of Khwaja Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiar Kaki of Ush, a saint from Baghdad who came to live in India who was greatly venerated by Iltutmish. According to the inscriptions on its surface it was repaired by Firuz Shah Tughlaq (AD 1351–88) and Sikandar Lodi (AD 1489–1517). Major R.Smith also repaired and restored the minar in 1829.

Remains of a great empire - Vijayanagar

The first time most Indians not living within a few hundred miles of Hampi first heard of the site was probably in the late '80s when the group of monuments was added to Unesco's World Heritage list. Both the international body's watch over it, and the lackadaisical approach of Indian tourists still besotted with boating in Ooty or watching the waters meet in Kanyakumari on their trip to South India, have been responsible for letting Hampi 'just be'.

Thankfully. The 14th century ruins - "among the most extraordinary constructions of India," says the Unesco report - nestle within them almost every highlight of classical Indian architecture.

Palaces, temples, marketplaces, watch towers, stables, baths and monoliths lie scattered amidst enormous boulders, which complement the rugged look and historic feel of the place. To complete the calendar look is the Tungabhadra river, its flow providing a much-needed sense of movement in the ambience that has remained frozen in time for long.

Built as the capital of the Vijaynagar empire, Hampi has all the elements that would make any royal proud of his abode. Horses, elephants and dancing girls carved in stone, musical pillars, cusped arches, a lotus-shaped fountain, a stepped water tank, an underground chamber, a massive chariot.

The ruins that speckle about 25 sq km area elicit exclamations after every short distance. The Virupaksha Temple has a nine-tiered 50-metre gopuram. The Vithala temple has 56 stone pillars that produce musical notes when tapped. Then there is the 6.7 mt Narasimha monolith.

The jewels may have been plundered, the city abandoned a couple of hundred years after it was founded, but the grandeur of the last Vijayanagar capital has to be seen to be believed. Even now.

Small wonder - Darjeeling Himalayan Train ( The toy train huffing and puffing its way up from Siliguri to Darjeeling is no ordinary train)

You've seen this locomotive chugging away happily in popular Hindi movie songs such as Mere Sapno Ki Rani and, more recently, Kasto Mazaa from Parineeta.

Of course this toy train huffing and puffing its way up from Siliguri to Darjeeling is no ordinary train. It's part of the folklore of the hill people. Locals wait everyday for the train to show up, coming from behind the mountains and then disappearing into the distant mist.

They wait for this sighting, for the tiny steam engine to blow its whistle and puff past their houses. The sound has been part of their memory since 1881, so much a part of their daily life that the railway authorities had to modify the whistle of the diesel engine to make it sound like a steam engine's.

The train runs on a zig-zag railway track not more than 2 feet wide. Along its way, it crosses tropical mixed evergreen forests and tea gardens (where you get Darjeeling tea from), making the hill railway what many say "a marvel of miniature engineering."

What's fascinating about the toy train is that even after 100 years little seems to have changed about the journey. Along the 86 km-stretch travellers can see magnificent pine trees dotting the Bhutan range, and the Teesta river just below.

On some stretches, the train runs parallel and on the same level as the Hill Cart road and provides a breathtaking view of the tea gardens on either side of the track. But what leaves everyone enchanted as they enter this toy train is the fascinating idea that perhaps the Lilliputian world described in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels has finally come to life.

Petal perfect - Bahai Temple of New Delhi

If you stand atop any highrise in Delhi's Connaught Place on a clear day and look towards the south east direction, the outline of a white lotus is silhouetted against the blue sky.

An epiphany in marble, the Bahai house of worship has etched itself on the consciousness of the city's inhabitants — capturing their imagination, fuelling their curiosity, and revolutionising the concept of worship.

Set among sprawling green lawns, the petals of this grand lotus are surrounded by nine pools that represent the floating leaves of the flower.

The interior dome is spherical and patterned after the innermost portion of the lotus flower. Light enters the hall in the same way as it passes through the inner folds of lotus petals. The interior dome is like a bud consisting of 27 petals.

Light filters through these inner folds and is diffused throughout the hall. The central bud is held by nine open petals, each of which functions as a skylight. The nine entrance petals complete the design. External illumination is arranged to create the impression that the lotus is afloat on water.

A spectacular combination of architecture, nature and culture, the Bahai house of worship combines the grandeur of a palace and the peace of a monastery. There are no priests, idols, pictures, sermons or rituals here. It is a place for communication between man and his God. The aura of silence surrounding the Prayer Hall instills reverence.

Daily public services here include selections from the holy books of all religions. Few temples radiate the atmosphere of sublimity, peace, and calm so necessary to elevate a devotee spiritually as the Bahai House of Worship.

Love in marble - Rabindranath Tagore called the Taj 'a tear drop upon the cheek of time.

What can be said about the Taj Mahal that hasn't already been said? Ever since it was unveiled to the world, almost four centuries ago, praise for the marbled wonder has never ceased.

Shah Jahan, himself, in his Badshahnama, wrote that the sight of its beauty 'creates sorrowing sighs and makes the sun and moon shed tears from their eyes.'

Other poets, writers and artists too outdid themselves, when it came to speaking about the Taj. Rabindranath Tagore, for instance called it 'a tear drop upon the cheek of time.'

The British painter Hodges compared it to 'a perfect pearl on an azure ground - with an effect so dazzling that no other work of art can ever produce.' Even the otherwise reticent Rudyard Kipling found it to be 'an embodiment of all things pure.'

So, what makes the Taj so universally appealing? When Shah Jahan conceptualised it, he wanted his monument to be unique. And, his architects did not let him down. The main marble tomb stands on a square plinth, with four minarets on each corner of the plinth, giving it a symmetrical design.

The minarets, in fact, have been so designed that in an earthquake, they will fall away from the tomb and not on it. The surface of the tomb has been extensively decorated with exquisite calligraphs.

However, what adds to Taj's beauty, many feel, is not just its physical perfectness but also the story behind it - of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, which gives that extra touch of romance to the monument. Maybe it is this diversity, in which lies the beauty of Taj — to be different things to different people, yet still be beautiful to all.