The golden triangle – Delhi, Agra, Jaipur
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part 2)

The Delhi, Agra and Jaipur region lies at the geographic heart of North India. It is strategically located along the north-south and east-west routes. This golden triangle is a focal position in Indian history and many great empires have been ruled from here. This landlocked region is enclosed by the Himalaya Mountains to the north, the desert and the forested Aravallis to the west. To the east are agriculturally rich riverine plains, with vast fields of sugarcane, wheat, mustard and lentils.

The Harappan and Aryan settlements in the second and third millennium BC provided the region with its philosophy, epic literature such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. Religion has always been the cultural link between the eras from the early Hindu kingdoms, then becoming the center of a Buddhist empire followed by the Muslim Moghuls.

New Delhi ‘showcase’ of the empire

No other city in India can boast of such an ancient, turbulent and heterogeneous history as perhaps Delhi. A study of the last 3,000 years reveals the rise and fall of many great empires here. The fabulous wealth of India attracted Arab traders and raiders, such as Mahmud and Ghazni and Tamerlane, Alexander the Great, followed by the Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodis. 

The capital of India, New Delhi, is known as a city of migrants. After the violent Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, millions of people, mainly from West Punjab, flocked here in search of new life. Since then, there has been a continuing influx of people from all over India. The majority of Delhi’s 12 million citizens have settled here primarily for economic reasons.

The British built New Delhi, between 1911 and 1913, to be the showcase of the Empire. On independence, this grand imperial capital became the official and bureaucratic center of the new Indian nation. Today, Viceroy’s House is the president’s residence, and ministers and civil servants live nearby in spacious bungalows along the tree-lined avenues. Kingsway, the east-west processional avenue leading to India Gate, is now Rajpath, where every 26th of January the Republic Day Parade is held. The National Museum is on Janpath. 

Gandhi ‘the Mahatma’

The Gandhi Smriti is a museum commemorating Gandhi’s life and final hours. It is the site where he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu radical. My daughter, Sara and I were fascinated by the appealing dioramas telling the story of the eventful life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the inspirational political leader.

Gandhi converted the Indian Freedom movement from a narrow struggle of lawyers and politicians to a countrywide mass movement. After successfully organizing Indians to fight for their rights in South Africa, Gandhi inspired multitudes in India to struggle without hate and protest without violence. Under the banner of Gandhi’s satyagraha (truth force), the people of India faced police batons and went to prison with dignity that impressed the world. His efforts to bring harmony at all levels of society and his personal asceticism earned him the epithet “Mahatma,” or “great soul.”

Agra, the imperial capital of the Mughal Court

It took us three hours with a rented van to reach Agra from New Delhi and about the same time to travel from Agra to Jaipur, the major points of the “Golden Triangle.” It saves more time though if we had taken the Shatabdi Express or Taj Express train for Delhi-Agra as well as the Agra-Jaipur routes. Different tour guides accompanied us in each place.

Agra was the imperial capital of the Mughal court during the 16th and 17th centuries before it was shifted to Delhi. The Mughals were prolific builders and nowhere is this more evident than in the picturesque region along the Yamuna River which is the backdrop for its palace, tombs, forts and gardens. The Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and Akbar’s abandoned capital of Fatehpur Sikri have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

The mighty empire was founded by Babur and strengthened by the wit and wisdom of Akbar, the Great. The same empire was given the sense of justice by Jahangir and immortalized by Shah Jahan by constructing the Taj Mahal. Empress of India Arjumand Bano Begum was Persian by blood and the daughter of the Prime Minister of Jahangir’s court. Her father arranged for her education in a royal manner and she developed in her all the qualities and merits of a royal family. When she became a young woman, she attracted Prince Khurram, who became the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (“conqueror of the world”). He conquered almost all of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma Indian sub-continents.

Taj Mahal, a great eulogy to sublime love

Our guide Balvir Singh hurriedly isolated us from the crowd swarming all over the place to a quiet garden corner with the grand white mausoleum gleaming behind. His oration of praise stated, “It is said that Shah Jahan was ruling the world, but his heart was ruled by the empress on whom he conferred the name Muntaz Mahal the loveliest out of all the loveable ones in the palace.” He continued his tribute as he became teary eyed, “Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal were inseparable loves.”

Married at 19, she gave birth to 13 children. The empress accompanied her husband even to the battlefields. When Shah Jahan had to go to suppress a rebellion of Khan-E Jahan Lodi at Burhandpur, Mumtaz was pregnant with their 14th child. The travel of 12 hundred kilometers took three months in the camel carriage. The baby girl Guhar Ara Begum was delivered prematurely, and Mumtaz Mahal fell seriously ill and died. It is said that at the time of death, Mumtaz Mahal expressed her last wish to Emperor Shah Jahan that he will build a beautiful and incomparable monument over her grave, a replica of heaven on earth where he could always be with her spiritually. This timeless wonder of marble was more than just art and architecture – it was a great eulogy to sublime love.

The Taj Mahal was designed by Ustad Isa Afandi of Turkey. The main building material, the white marble of top quality, was brought from Makrana. The construction work started in December 1631 A.D. and it came to a finish in 1648. It took 22 years to build and some 20,000 laborers worked on it.

(Part III – “Palace on Wheels”)

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