An enduring monument of haunting beauty, the Taj Mahal seems a symbol of stability itself. The familiar view of the glowing marble mausoleum from the gateway entrance offers the very picture of permanence. And yet this extraordinary edifice presents a shifting image to observers across time and cultures. The meaning of the Taj Mahal, the perceptions and responses it prompts, ideas about the building and the history that shape them: these form the subject of Giles Tillotson’s book. More than a richly illustrated history—though it is that as well—this book is an eloquent meditation on the place of the Taj Mahal in the cultural imagination of India and the wider world.
Since its completion in 1648, the mausoleum commissioned by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, has come to symbolize many things: the undying love of a man for his wife, the perfection of Mughal architecture, the ideal synthesis of various strands of subcontinental aesthetics, even an icon of modern India itself. Exploring different perspectives brought to the magnificent structure—by a Mughal court poet, an English Romantic traveler, a colonial administrator, an architectural historian, or a contemporary Bollywood filmmaker—this book is an incomparable guide through the varied and changing ideas inspired by the Taj Mahal, from its construction to our day. In Tillotson’s expert hands, the story of a seventeenth-century structure in the city of Agra reveals itself as a story about our own place and time.
For all its fame, remarkably little has been written on the Taj Majal, and Giles Tillotson’s slim and balanced book is, without question, the best short introduction yet produced… [A] much-needed and eminently readable book that is likely to remain a standard work for many years to come.
Giles Tillotson’s sprightly account of [the Taj Mahal’s] structure and history, the stories that have accumulated around it and the impression it has made on tourists down the centuries is a welcome addition to [Harvard’s] Wonders of the World series… Witty and authoritative, this book achieves the remarkable feat of making us look again at a building we might otherwise think altogether too familiar.
[A]ccessible and enjoyable… Tillotson airs the many myths and legends [of the Taj Mahal] with relish; then slays most of them with facts and reason, and a generous helping of illustrations.
This wry, brisk book is a delightful and fascinating excavation of the Taj Mahal’s many layers of meanings. Giles Tillotson deploys his formidable knowledge of India’s artistic and cultural history to create a kaleidoscopic interpretation of the Taj. He unravels the fables and myths incited by this sublime creation, and yet succeeds in keeping its unworldly aura intact.
- 208 pages
- 4-1/2 x 7-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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