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THE TAJ MAHAL.
The finest architectural monument of the fortress is the Motee Musjid, or Pearl Mosque. Its three domes of white marble and gilded spires rise above a lofty sandstone platform. A triple row of Saracenic arches divides the corridor beneath the dome into three aisles. “The Motee Musjid,” says Bayard Taylor, “can be compared to no other edifice I have ever seen. Wbile its architecture is the purest Saracenic, which some suppose cannot exist without ornament, it has the severe simplicity of Doric art. It has, in fact, nothing which can properly be called ornament. It is a sanctuary so pure and stainless, revealing so exalted a spirit of worship, that I felt humbled as a Christian to think that our noble religion has never inspired its architects to surpass this temple to God and Mohammed.” It was built by Shah Jehan in 1656, as a private chapel for the ladies of the harem, and was doubtless intended to crown the whole citadel. But the general effect has been considerably spoilt by the erection, on a level with the Pearl Mosque, of the two immense British barracks.
But Akbar's fort, with all its attractions and curiosities, only a few of which we have briefly noticed, is rivalled by the wondrous Taj Mahal. A level strand leads from the foot to the vast quadrangle of red sandstone that encloses the marvellous edifice. On passing through a stupendous portal the Taj is revealed in its fascinating beauty—marking (as a recent writer says) “ an epoch in a man's life.” From a spacious terrace of white marble, with a tall minaret at each corner, rises the splendid mausoleum to a height of 275 feetthe loftiest edifice on the plains of India : “more like a vision of beauty than a reality; a dream in solid, palpable, and permanent marble ; a thought, an idea, a conception of tenderness; a sigh, as it were, of eternal devotion and heroic love, caught and imbued with such immortality as the world can give.”
Mumtáz-i-Mahal, or Exalted of the Palace, was playing at cards one day with her husband, the Emperor Shah Jehan, when she asked him what he would do if he survived her. The emperor fondly promised to build her a tomb that should hand down her name through all the ages, and be the admiration of the world. The empress died two hours after giving birth to a daughter, on July 18th, 1631. Whilst dying, she reminded the emperor of the promised tomb. According to Tavernier, 20,000 workmen laboured for twenty-two years on the edifice. It consists of a central mausoleum, whose octagonal base is 186 feet in diameter, surmounted by a great dome and pointed spire, crowned by a crescent. Of the two wings, one is a splendid mosque, the other an imitation mosque, to preserve the harmony of the edifice. But no mere description can give an idea of the complexity and intricacy with which the whole design is worked out. The interior is a marvel of decorative workmanship; the pure white marble walls are relieved with coloured marble wreaths and scrolls, and there is a lavish display of richly-fretted stone-work, and rare inlaid-work of agate and jasper and other precious stones, flooded with the soft light that mellows through a double screen of pierced marble.
pierced marble. Beneath the dome are the tombs of the emperor and his wife, enclosed in a marble trellis-work. Shah Jehan intended to have built a second Taj on the other side of the Jumna, and to have united the two with a bridge of fairy-like beauty ; but his schemes were cut short by his dethronement by his son Aurungzebe, and his subsequent imprisonment in the palace at Agra.
Dr. Russell records how a lady said of the Taj, “I cannot criticise, but I can tell west, its site being occupied by the Custom House. The present fortress was constructed by Clive, and was commenced soon after the battle of Plassy—that is to say, in 1757—and completed in 1773 at a cost of two millions sterling. It is octagonal in form ; five of
; the sides which are towards the land are regular, and three which front the river have their lines varied according to local circumstances. It requires for defence over 600 pieces of cannon and an army of 10,000 men; its principal batteries are towards the river, from which side only an attack is to be apprehended; it contains accommodation for 15,000 persons ;
and it is the most regularly constructed fortress in India. It was here that for two years the ex-King of Oude was imprisoned after the rebellion of 1857.
On the northern side of the Maidan stands Government House, the residence of the Governor-General of India. It was erected by the Marquis of Wellesley, designed by Mr. Wyatt, and cost £150,000. It occupies a fine site, and has an imposing elevation and approaches. A flight of thirty steps from the carriage-drive leads up
A to the noble portico; thence the vestibule leads to a magnificent ball, divided into centre and aisles by two rows each of twelve massive columns. The walls of this magnificent room and the pillars are covered with layers of the peculiar Indian cement called chunam, which, when well polished, is whiter than the finest marble; the ceilings are richly decorated; the floors are of marble; and the general effect is particularly grand and striking, especially on great state occasions, and probably never before nor since was it seen to greater advantage than on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales. Government House is, without doubt, the finest building in Calcutta, but opinion is much divided as to the good taste in which it is built and adorned. One writer, who knows India well, speaks of it as a “ large, rambling edifice, adorned inside with some bad pictures, having a marble hall which looks as if intended for a dancing academy, and famous chiefly for the inconvenience of its arrangements.” To the majority of people the most interesting thing in Government House is the famous Council Room, adorned with portraits of Hastings and other Indian heroes--a room in
a which the “ welfare or fate of millions of souls has often hung in the balance.”
Close by Government House there are other remarkably handsome public buildings, forming fine architectural masses as seen from the Maidan. Amongst them are the Law Courts, with towers and fretted roof, the Bengal Club House, the Post Office, with a noble dome, and the Town Hall.
Along the shore of the river, from the Maidan northward, stretches for almost three miles the busy thoroughfare known as the Strand—a fashionable resort at certain hours of the day, but where all sorts and conditions of men and women mingle in the motley concourse. “Every inhabitant of the city, rich or poor,” says an American writer, describing his experiences of India, "seemed to have rigged up some kind of a turnout, and taken his place with his fellows. Some of the groups we passed on the road were very picturesque, and sometimes irresistibly comic: the coachmen in their native costumes, their long beards streaming in the wind; the ladies in their gay dresses, only outshone by the picturesque attire of some native prince dashing along at full speed, accompanied by fleet-footed syces. These syces, or Mussulman grooms, accompany every carriage, and, it is said, will often surpass the horses they accompany in endurance. The natives vie with the Europeans in displaying neat turn-outs, some of the Baboos, or