Jan 15

THE MAGIC OF PLACE (Visiting the Taj Mahal)


Places have a power that can be revealed depending on how we show up.  What is required is the suspension of our usual ways of making sense of things.  Rather than the grasping at information there is this invitation to allow things to come to you.


I’ve been reflecting on what should be my initial offering for the New Year.  As I mulled this over I kept being nudged by a recollection of a visit I had to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India back in 1981.  I had already been wandering the subcontinent of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka for the better part of seven months.  By the time I reached Agra the heat of the pre-monsoon season was upon me.  I had already visited this monument to love several months earlier and felt the need to pay it one more visit.


The Taj is an awesome architectural wonder.  For the visitor it can provide an endless series of delights both in its monumental scope and its intimate details.  When I first encountered it, I was not as appreciative of this.


On my first visit, I passed through the gates into the gardens that surrounded this mausoleum on a hot dusty afternoon and there it was, almost like an apparition floating in the air, enveloped in the haze of the afternoon sun.  It seemed more like an over embellished wedding cake with its white icing.  Pretty yes, but not as earth shattering as I had expected.


Perhaps I had been traveling too long at this point and had seen too many monuments, temples and forts to be overly impressed.  And there were the ever-present crowds of tourists and pilgrims of which I had been growing tired of as well.  I had been hoping for a beautiful setting to encourage quiet and solitude.  So, at first, I was frustrated about my prospects.


Fortunately for me I had the luxury of time and I had been working on being more patient and allowing what was before me to ripen in its possibilities.  I positioned myself in a corner of the gardens and was able to shift gears and drop the agenda of what I wanted to achieve, just allowing the atmosphere of the place to wash over me.  From this vantage point I watched the parade of women in their varied colored saris, parasols in hand and gloriously mustached men in their pajamas with deftly wrapped turbans on their heads.  As the late afternoon light cast shadows of the ornamental trees and bushes across the lawns I would drift into a reverie as I watched the rippled reflection of fragmented images of the Taj in the geometrically laid out pools of water.


The more I let go and let myself relax into the mood of the place it began to subtly reveal more of itself.  Like a shy lover who tentatively offers herself when feeling secure in the reception of her admirer’s undivided attention, the Taj began to share its treasures. 


In the embrace of this atmosphere I felt an abiding calm pervading everything; the way people moved, how they talked and more.  Proceeding inside only amplified this mood. The huge dome beckoned all to be reverent and to engage in whispers if there was a need to comment.  And in this hushed interior space there was a pull to look deeper, not only inwardly but also at what was close at hand. 


What lay before me for inspection was the extraordinarily crafted inlay of precious stones (lapis lazuli, garnet, etc.).  All were shaped and woven into a tapestry of swirling vines, leaves and flowers that had such an organic feel to it that that they seemed to want to leap beyond the marble they were embedded in.  The artistry was truly amazing.


I could go on describing the many marvels that were revealed to me.  My intent here, however, is not to give a careful cataloguing of this splendid monument.  This was only the first of several visits I had to experience this place.  Since this initial encounter I was able to see the Taj in the early dawn when it wasn’t even open to the public. At other times I managed to steal moments to chant inside the great dome and be bathed in a sonic sea from which emerged ephemeral architectural delights that lingered for extended periods before slipping into the quiet1.  


The more time I spent in this place the more was revealed and seeped into my very soul.  I was in love with this place that was conceived of as a monument to love.  And yet none of this prepared me for what happened when I had a chance to visit on the night of a full moon.


Before sharing my experience I should mention how privileged this opportunity was for me.  I had my encounter with the Taj back in 1980 and 1981.  Then there was no security or long lines to enter.  Nor were there time limits to restrict how you could experience the place.  Also entrance fees were minimal.  This has all changed in the service of preserving this World Heritage Site (first designated as such in 1983).  In fact there was a time when this magnificent work was all but lost to the world.  By the 19th century it had fallen into disrepair and had even been vandalized by British troops during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.  It was eventually restored to its splendor in 1908.  Today it has become such a major attraction that, like many such designated places on this planet, it is in jeopardy of being “loved to death”.  Also the encroachment of industrial enterprise is taking its toll environmentally degrading the atmosphere and affecting the stability of the ground the Taj is built upon2.


Thus my encounters with the Taj were during a time that few may have in the future.  In retrospect I was given a special gift.  As already described I had already feasted on a smorgasbord of delights.  Returning for the full moon expanded on these. 

 India - Taj Mahal Moonlight

Upon entering the front gates, the moon was behind me reflecting its light onto the Taj Mahal before me.  In the moonlight the white marble would begin to glow, at first in a non-distinct way.  With extended viewing it became brilliant.  And yet there remained this quiet, peaceful feeling pervading it. 


It was in this glow that I had proceeded once again to spend time inside the domed chamber where I sang for the better part of 20 minutes, strangely, only in the company of the singular attendant on duty.  He indulged me in this since, I am sure, he sensed my sincerity of how I was aligning myself to this sacred space.  I was transported and felt in the grips of something much bigger. I bowed in gratitude to the attendant before leaving who returned my acknowledgement with a wink.


At this point it was near midnight and the grounds keepers began to sweep everyone out.  As I proceeded to leave I was able to manage a moment to face the Taj one more time at the juncture where the water channels converged.  There was placed there a raised marble bench where one could sit.  As I looked towards the Taj this last time I was acutely aware of how the moon’s light had formed perfectly symmetrical shadows.  Then I looked to the top of the dome where there was crowned a finial shaped in a crescent moon. Following my gaze further up into the heavens the crescent moon seem to point to the North Star.


I was so taken by how integrated and whole the design was of this and how it seemed totally aligned with the Cosmos I blurted out, “God, what more can you give me?”  Just as I finished uttering this statement a shooting star arched right over the dome. 


This shook me to my foundations.  Did that really happen?  It never entered my mind that this was mere chance.  To this very day I believe God or whatever you refer to as that which is the Holy of Holies spoke to me.  It is in such moments that our limited view of the world is cracked open and something much bigger is allowed to shine through.


So with the commencement of this New Year I wish for each of you to find ways to immerse yourself in places you find special, giving it more than enough time to reflect its gifts back to you.  Please don’t wait to journey to some far off place far from home.  Any place that feels good, that makes you feel at peace, can set the occasion to be with Spirit.  Perhaps in such a way God may speak to you, or at the very least, awaken a question about how we are connected to the Whole.



  1. (To get a sense of this aurally check out Paul Horn “Inside”, https://play.spotify.com/album/5CI3eqdKUPVR2nB32qGgUP).
  2. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal).