Most views of the Taj Mahal are from inside the complex – looking down the long rectangular, reflective pool towards the magnificent 17th century mausoleum to Mumtaz, wife of Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. This is the most obvious, symmetrical and, perhaps, from a certain perspective, the most pleasing way to view the Taj Mahal. Yet, as a colossal monument which far outdoes in size and scale anything in its immediate vicinity, it is visible from a considerable distance and can be seen towering above the comparatively low-rise city of Agra, beside which it sits.
The first shot presented here shows the Taj Mahal from the town of Agra – more specifically, from the roof of my hotel. I only came to appreciate this shot on closer study – the cascading diagonals of the buildings and walls in the mid and foreground create zig-zagging vectors which lead the eye down from the top to the bottom – or, perhaps the other way if you’re so inclined. The Taj Mahal itself, sitting atop these utilitarian concrete boxes, is like the crown of the image – even if something of a distant phantom through the heavy smog. It has strong connotations of the stratification of Indian society – at the bottom, the poor, the quotidian, exemplified by the shabby buildings and single, solitary figure – and at the top – unimaginable decadence and wealth, like a hazy dream of heaven.
What is not often shown is that the Taj Mahal actually sits on a river – the Yamuna – which lies immediately behind the mausoleum itself. The presence of the river and the wide, open space it creates with its flat, shallow banks, allows beautiful views of the Taj Mahal, especially from the nearby Agra Fort. I’ve included two other views, both taken from Agra Fort, to show this different side to the Taj Mahal. As a backdrop, it creates a very powerful effect, and, when simply viewed as a riverside monument – it loses the protection of its orderly gardens and is forced into juxtaposition with natural asymmetry. Fortunately, however, the building is so organic in its soft curving, bosom-like domes and its thrusting phalluses, as to find a harmonious balance with nature. In a nutshell, whichever way you look at the Taj Mahal, it works.