Taj Mahal Notes


Some time in 1985 or 1986 I drove my Bajaj 150 scooter down from New Delhi where I was studying intensive Hindi for a year, to Agra to see the famous Taj. I guess I missed the train, but didn't mind, since I had a scooter and the roads were all 25mph roads anyway. Oh a smoky long butt-sore trip that was, camel-drawn carts and domineering trucks, a Thums-Up cola for refreshment on the way. I was tired by the end. Would it be worth it? After arrival and dinner it was dark; the Taj was closed. But it was a full moon night, so I scootered over to the neighborhood, found a tree to climb, and hoist myself up to a point above, overlooking the locked garden gate, and had a good long look at the Taj Mahal by the light of the full moon.

You know, I am a peasant when it comes to art, nothing excites me, beauty to me is whimsy and humor, but I was doing my duty to go see the famous landmark on my year in India. My expectations were low.

I wasn't ready for what I saw. It was a magical scene. Everything was floating in the air, nothing was real, everything was perfect, it was a dreamscape. It couldn't actually be, but there it was.

I didn't quite cry, but I was locked, amazed, and held by it. Wow.

After a time, I went back to the hotel to sleep, and came again the next day to pay the entrance fee and see it in the sun, to see it in each reflecting pool, to circumambulate the base and the hall and the interior. to walk the cool and empty rooms. Even in the sun, it was still magical.

So yes it was actually, really worth it, worth the long scooter ride, yes actually worth a trip around the world. I didn't think anything could be, but it was, for me.

How can a physical object be magical?

Why is the Taj Mahal so incredibly beautiful?

May I say? Forgive me if this makes profane something ineffable. I do encourage you: Go, yourself, some day.

Meanwhile, here:

These planarity indicators define, occupy, and visually suggest an infinitely drawn-back space into which they all extend, each parallel with and below or above the others.

Yes, the planes are parallel, horizontal, but not coincident. The minaret tips' plane is above the others, etc.

The perspective lines from the viewer's view, drawn, for example, upside-down on the back wall of a pinhole camera, would seem to extend into infinity in our visual projection of space, but on paper, or the film of a camera, they cross inside the central archway.

Therefore the point of an infinite, or at least far, distance, within the implied plane, is visually hidden behind, or perhaps discovered within that archway.

That's the trick!

The archway has a back wall, over a door, which is under what I'll call a belly band of white, the upper edge of which seems coplanar with the inner second floor level.

In a certain photograph that I examined for this purpose, I saw that the perspective lines of the minaret tips cross the doorway centerline at the top of the white belly band, so it seems that the white belly band is identifiable as at a certain great (but not infinite) distance.

The chhaatri tip plane perspective lines cross the centerline at the bottom of the white belly band, so it seems that the thickness of the belly band is visually identifiable as the height difference between the minaret tips and the chhaatri tips.

Generally speaking the whole picture, considered as an optical illusion, suggests that there exist a large, tending toward infinite, space within the main-front-door archway, and that you can see it extending expansively backward yet within the front archway recess. The viewer projects a larger space than is compatible with the physical space, into that space. This projected space is vast and deep, it is what you would see if looking at a vast and deep cube a mile away.

Perhaps the mile away refers to the other mausoleum, planned for Shah Jahan himself, across the river, as if you see within the doorway of the Taj itself the entirety of the other mausoleum, and perhaps the plan was to make this one also implicitly seen within the doorway of the one across the river.

Whatever the distance, and even with my reference perspective lines crossing, in different photographs, at different elevations, the idea is that optical hints from the perspective lines of the project imply that the interior of the doorway recess can be seen through an optical illusion as itself a much vaster space. This would explain a certain magical perception experienced while viewing the Taj. To summarize, the minaret tips and rings defining implicit planes into infinity, matching a high horizon line inside the central arch backplane, perspectivally, at not quite infinite distance. The chattri tips, lower, define a second implicit plane matched by the front door archway backing’s belly band. The minaret rings show the viewer the parallel plane of the base upper surface above the sight line of the viewer, implying an invisible but empty plain. The impression is that within the arch one sees a near infinite, certainly much larger, interior world, an optical illusion to imply the interior space is larger than the whole project.

Yes it is like magic.

Perhaps these principles could be used to design not just a grand public work but even a mere modern house porch or even a doorway, visually beckoning the viewer into a greater world within.

Please someone try this, and send me a photo! I'll post it, and you'll get the credit as an architectural genius.

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Created June 4, 2023