Eye of the Beholder

“This is beautiful.”  “What are we here for?” “What is God?” These are among the oldest questions and statements known to humans.

Maybe the urge to capture and hold on to beauty started with the observation of nature and a sense of awe for what we can’t create ourselves like flowers, sunsets, and birds. Humans attempted to copy nature in various media and techniques until likenesses were perfected over thousands of year and lifetimes. Anonymous marble sculptors carved patterns of flowers in stone inside the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan’s tribute to his deceased wife, and these works can easily be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the entire place.

Other artisans followed the sculptors to create inlaid stylized flowers with colored marble dust pressed into impressions in the stone. I stopped to capture and hold this 2′ x 3′ segment with a photograph, to honor bits of traditional beauty rendered almost insignificant under the soaring, logic-defying scale of the “7th Wonder of the World.” I imagined the hundreds or thousands of skilled artists working at the same time on scaffolding to complete the Taj Mahal in only 20 years.

Centuries passed, dynasties fell, the world shrank, and we got tired of definitions of beauty. When artists were no longer bound by kings and religious leaders to work within the conformity of accepted loveliness, the realm of beauty broke open to the essence within the flowers and sunsets, interpretations of being human. I can see it in dark depictions of discontent, and still feel thrilled by frilly 17th Century stone decoration.

There has been talk of closing the Taj Mahal interior to tourists because of the increasing damage from carbon dioxide in the air, that is, millions of people exhaling over many years of touring the tomb. The closing has not happened to date, and I hope it never does.