The Taj Mahal: Enduring Monument to Love
by Jayadvaita Swami
In more than twenty-five years of coming to India, I’d never seen the Taj Mahal—never had a desire to or a reason to. But when my mother came on her first-ever trip to India, how could she go back home to America and say she hadn’t seen the Taj Mahal?
So I brought her.
And I confess to being pleased with her when she found the Taj “rather a disappointment.” At first view, it was “breathtaking,” she said. But the closer you get, the less impressive it looks. Though it majestically fills a picture postcard, really the place is fairly small. Inside, the marble work is neat—the delicately carved screens, the intricately inlaid flowers—but what it comes down to, played out with splendid precision, are the same Mogul motifs repeating themselves throughout the chamber again and again. And once you’ve seen it you’ve seen it.
What then to say of this “enduring monument to love”?
It was perfect. Love had found the perfect symbol: perfectly hype, perfectly disappointing.
That’s love for you. The whole world is blowing trumpets about it. Poets are praising it, minstrels singing of it, psychologists getting deep about it, boys and girls dreaming of it. Billboards selling it, industries built on it, kings and queens and streetsweepers hot in its pursuit.
And finally what is it? A letdown.
That’s the great secret of love. Either you can’t get it, or you get it and it falls short of your hopes, or it turns into a nightmare. Or, like Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj, just when you think you’ve got it you lose it.
Folks, it’s a sham, a counterfeit, a hoax. It’s not the real thing.
It’s false because the whole enterprise depends on a contraption devised of blood, bones, guts, hair, and other such rubbish, pasted together and made to look good by an overwhelming spell of illusion. Put two such bodies together, throw in a few spicy hormones, and there you’ve got it—love.
So the Taj was perfect. Gardens, carvings, lamplight, jewels. And at the center of it all? Two dead bodies.
Because the Taj—that ideal symbol of love—is finally a tomb. And the love for which it stands, if that love endures at all, ends always in death.
If you want anything better, you have to love what lasts, not what rots and perishes. What lasts is the atma, the soul, the spark of life that makes a body that’s living different from one that’s dead. And by “soul” I don’t mean merely some metaphor for some flash in the eyes, some stirring in the mind, a little bit of spring in the step. I mean the life force behind all this, the power the machinery runs on. That spark of life is the actual self.
You may love that living force perceived within someone else, or you may direct your love to that force within yourself. But your touch with the life force within someone else is bound by death. The body gets in the way. And how deep can you go in a love affair in which the only one you love is your self and your self is the only one who loves you?
So real love means the eternal love between the small self and the Supreme Self, the spark of life and the source of all life, between a small vessel of love and the great reservoir of love, between you and the Personality of Godhead, Krishna.
To reawaken that love, beyond the tomb of the Taj, is the purpose of Back to Godhead.