She passed from her body in 1631 while giving birth to her fourteenth
child by the Shah. She had been the Shah's inseparable companion for
nineteen years, accompanying him to the most official matters of state.
At the age of thirty-eight she was praised throughout the kingdom tor her
radiant beauty, kindness and generosity to the poor. After her death the
Shah was beside himself with the deepest grief. The light was gone from
the palace, and the Shah very nearly wilted away from lack of it. But out
of the darkness a new light was born. After neither speaking nor seeing
anyone, he announced to the court that a great memorial would be built
to immortalize his wife's great beauty. Its beauty would blaze for all time
in the hearts and minds of men as did Mumtaz's radiance when she
walked the earth.
And so the word was sent throughout the known world, and a great
council of the most renowned architects of the age gathered in the palace
of the Shah. Many plans were submitted, and many of the greatest artists
of the time were sent away. Only the best would do. Finally, a Turk from
Constantinople by the name of Ustad lsa, meaning "Master Jesus," presented
a plan that was to the liking of the Shah, and so the work began.
The finest craftsmen in the world were summoned. The chief masons
came from Baghdad and Delhi; the dome builders from Asiatic Turkey
and Samarkand; the mosaic workers came from Kanauj and Baghdad;
and the principal calligraphist, who wrote the Tughru inscriptions in and
about the Taj, came from Kandahar. They, in turn, sent for the finest
materials available, and the Shah put the treasury of his empire at their
Pure white marble for the walls came from Jaipur, to be inlayed with
a flowering, flowing pattern of vines in twenty different kinds of precious
and semi-precious jewels: jasper from Punjab; jade from China; turquoise
from Tibet; lapis from Lazuli, and sapphires from Celon, coral and carnelian
from Arabia. onyx and amethyst from Persia; and diamonds from
Panna in Bundelkund.
For twenty-two years, twenty thousand men worked to give shape to
one of the greatest treasures ever amassed on the planet. Slowly it rose
like the unfolding of a pure white lotus flower. Around the great marble
dome rose four graceful minarets, like ladies of the court attending their
Today, passing through the principle arch in the gateway, one can
begin to behold the wonder they worked. The Arabic inscriptions in black
marble invite the pure of heart to enter the Gardens of Paradise. So let
- KIP KIPNIS
This was my second trip to India and the seventh time I had visited the
Taj Mahal. It is a never-tiring experience to be there. The majesty of the
place staggers the imagination and the hushed atmosphere throughout
the grounds makes the soul begin to glow deep within.
Inside the central dome rests the bodies of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz
Mahal, entombed over 300 years ago. There is always a man there informally
standing guard who explains with great pride the inscriptions
and magnificent floral inlay work in the marble of the tombs. Quite unexpectedly
he bursts forth a vocal "call" every few minutes to demonstrate
the remarkable acoustics emanating from the solid marble dome 60 feet
in diameter and 80 feet high. (The album begins with this "call.") I later
found out his pride stems from the fact that he is the fourteenth generation
of the family that did all the inlay work of semi-precious stones that
adorn the entire structure, and to this day any repair work to be done due
to vandalism or neglect or natural causes is done by this man and his
From the first time I heard his voice in there I couldn't believe my ears.
I never heard anything so beautiful. Each tone hung suspended in space
for 28 seconds and the acoustics are so perfect that you couldn't tell when
his voice stopped and the echo took over. Also the individual tone didn't
spread as in other great halls, but remained pure and round to the very
This time I had brought my flute with the very faint hope that I might
have a chance to play even one note in that remarkable chamber.
A friend named Larry Kurland, a freelance photographer from New
York, and a 14-year·old Indian boy named Sankar were with me. I just
met Sankar a month before in a small Himalayan town called Swargashram.
I had just arrived for my second pilgrimage with my spiritual guru
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and as I stepped from the small ferry boat which
had just taken me across the holy Ganges, a small voice said "carry your
bags, Sahib? Are you going to Maharishi's ashram?" Ever since then he
attached himself to me and we became good friends. He acted as interpreter
and guide and saved me many a rupee when he felt that I was. being
taken advantage of. He had never seen the Taj so I took him along that
day. He was carrying my flute and Larry was shooting pictures all over the
place, some of which you see on this album. He was deathly ill with
dysentery that morning in New Delhi but seemed quite revived now probably
due to a combination of the pills he was taking (which he said were
very "groovy") and the overwhelming beauty of the Taj Mahal.
When we were inside one of the outer chambers leading off the central
dome, Sankar handed me my flute and said "Play, Sahib. Here is Lord
Krishna's flute." (Lord Krishna is a Hindu God who was an avatar that
descended to the earth plane some 5000 years ago and is always pictured
either playing or holding the flute. He used to lure the milkmaids, who
he was very fond of, by the hundreds with his magic flute. Times haven't
changed a bit!)
The central dome was too crowded with tourists to play in there so I
sat on the floor in this antechamber and began to play. Even here with a
rather low ceiling the sound was amazing as it bounced around and off
of the solid marble walls. Some people came over and stood above me
and Sankar, who was sitting beside me. They were smiling with joy at
the sounds and were fascinated with my gold flute. A couple of Hindu
monks came over and we talked for awhile. It was getting to be late afternoon
and we had to get back to Delhi. The central dome was still too
crowded so I packed my flute and the three of us started reluctantly
towards the entrance. Our driver had been waiting just outside all afternoon.
We entered the car and began the dusty, bumpy three-hour ride to
the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi. The sounds of the flute were still ringing
in my head.
A month later I was again in Agra. I was producing a movie and we were
planning to shoot here for a few days. Besides the Taj, we were to film
the Agra Fort, Akbar's Mausoleum and Fatehpur Sikri, the Ghost City.
The first day, bright and early, we arrived at the Taj Mahal to prepare for
our next day's shooting. How good it felt to be in that enchanted place
again. I closed my eyes and felt a warm glow inside and thought "how
lucky I am to be able to be here so many times." Sankar was with me. We
had grown very close. I was paying him 10 rupees a day to interpret and
do odd jobs for the crew (like get us a coke every five minutes, it was so
hot! One day I drank 25 of those lousy things. If the heat doesn't get you,
We walked into the mausoleum. The familiarity I felt gave me a strange
feeling, almost like being home. Weird. The same young man was guarding
the tombs inside the circular marble screen which surrounds them.
This alone is a marvel in itself, the height of a man and carved from a
single block of stone which gives the appearance of being as delicate as
lace. Every few minutes he gave that "call" which thrilled me so. His
voice seemed to there forever in that great dome. I went up and
started talking to him. He had that warm, beautiful openness that so
many of the people over there have. I told him how much I liked his voice,
that I was a musician and I sure would dig playing my flute in there. He
said to meet him around 8:30 that night. Very few people are there then
and I would have an hour to play before closing. They lock up at 9:30.
It was a very warm evening when Earl Barton (from California), John
Archer (from England), Sankar (from Rishikesh) and I arrived once again
at the Taj. I was not lucky enough to have a full moon, which is supposed
to be the most magical I time to be there. But there was enough moonlight
mixed with that hot air to give a feeling of suspension and a unique
charm of its own. I was filled with excitement and anticipation as I
mounted the stairs two at a time to the marble platform upon which the
Taj rests. We entered the arched entrance. No tourists! How still and
silent and soft and eternal! Some incense was burning and a lone candle
placed on the tomb of Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal), for whom
this priceless wonder of the world had been erected, flickered away, casting
fantastic shadows through the marble-laced screen onto the circular
walls Shah Jahan in his adjacent tomb seemed to be mysteriously watching
over everything. I approached my friend, the guard, from behind and
when he turned the smile on my face just froze and turned into disbelief.
This wasn't my friend but someone else! John Archer, not knowing this,
to set up his recording equipment. I said "Namaste" with my hands
together in polite Indian fashion. He nodded. I opened my flute case.
"what are you doing?" he asked. I said, "I'd like to play my flute in here."
"You can't do that." "Why not?" "Because this is a tomb," he replied. "But
you sing in here, don't you?" I said. "I sing to God," he answered very
emphatically. "Well I play my flute to God," I said, just as emphatically,
and to take it out of the case and put it together. I was bluffing and
wondering how far I'd get. John Archer was almost all set up, and I sat
down right in the middle of the tombs and played one note. I was using
alto flute and the low C just flew out and filled the entire room and
hung there. I couldn't believe it. It was the most beautiful thing I ever
heard in my life. The guard stood there transfixed. I played a few more
notes. HE' didn't say anything. I motioned to John, who had his monitoring
headsets on, to "roll it." I just began playing whatever came into my head.
I'd let the notes hang there. I could play whole chords and they came back
sounding like a chorus of angels. Then I'd play my next phrase on top of
that. There was a whole orchestra invisibly suspended in the obscurity
of the dome. After a few minutes I stopped. The guard seemed to really
enjoy it. He was smiling now and I beckoned to him to give his "call."
He did, and I signaled to John to keep the tapes rolling.
By now it was 9:30. He said it was closing time and he had to make
his rounds. As he started to leave he turned around saying "but you stay."
We were all so happy.
Earl and Sankar were sitting a little to the side and in back of me
slapping mosquitos. I began to play again. After a minute I opened my
eyes and looked at my arms holding the flute. They were covered with
the biggest mosquitos I ever saw. I just closed my eyes again and continued
playing. You know, I didn't get one bite all night. A funny thing
happened though. Listening to the playbacks later that night in my hotel
room I heard this mosquito go Bzzzzst! right in the middle of an improvisation.
It cracked me up. The little cat wanted to get into the act arc!
here he is immortalized! The only mosquito who "made it." You can hear
him on the track "Agra," about 42 seconds into it.
One other time there was an explosion of fireworks in the distance
celebrating a wedding, and although it was at least a half-mile away,
sounds like it was right in the place. That happens on "Mumtaz Mahar,
about 1 minute 45 seconds from the beginning.
The whole place was completely deserted. The guard came back in a
little while with two more men. One of them was my "friend" who apologized
for being late. He had brought with him a close friend who was a
very good singer.
I said to the man, "I'll play and you sing." I played a short phrase and
then stopped and motioned to him to do the same thing. He caught on
right away and we made up a beautiful duet which had so much empathy
that I felt like calling it "Unity." He spoke very little English and I spoke
very little Hindi, yet we created this music together not knowing each
other at all. Music really is that universal language which unites the spirits
It was around 11:00 P.M. All the tape was used up and we were all a
little tired. After packing up we walked slowly down the stairs and into
the garden. As we walked along the alabaster pool towards the entrance
my mind flashed to a childhood hero of mine. His name was Richard
Halliburton and he wrote a book called "The Royal Road To Romance"
back in the mid 1920's. He was a kid with great burning desires for adventure
and to do "anything once." He walked out of an economics class
in college one day and never went back. Instead, he followed his dreams
and went all over the world doing and seeing as much as he could and
getting any kind of odd job to sustain him. This book is his autobiography.
During one of his adventures he stayed all night inside the Taj Mahal,
escaping the guards when they closed down, and went for a dip in this
same alabaster pool was walking beside now.
I couldn't help but feel that right then, some 45 years later, I had done
something even more special!
- PAUL HORN