The gates of Somnath, twelve feet high, were beautiful pieces of carving. They once guarded the entrance to the temple of Krishna, in Goojerat; but in the tenth century they were carried off by Sultan Mahmoud, of Ghuzni, in Afghanistan. He captured Somnath, and destroyed all the idols. The Brahmins offered him immense bribes if he would spare the statue of Krishna; but he spurned the money, and destroyed the image with his own hands. He found that it was hollow, and filled with jewels of great value.
When the English conquered Afghanistan, Lord Ellenborough sent the gates to Agra; but some think they were not the gates of the temple, but of Mahmoud’s tomb, for they were made of a wood that does not grow in India, and they are not of Hindu workmanship. From the museum the party walked to the imperial palace of Akbar, still in an excellent state of preservation. Some of the apartments, especially the bath-room of the monarch, made the visitors think of the Arabian Nights.
The great black marble slab on which Akbar sat to administer justice was pointed out. When one of the Jat chiefs seated himself upon it, the story goes, it cracked, and blood flowed from the fracture. Lord Ellenborough tried the experiment, and the stone broke into two pieces. The Mosque of Pearls is a small building of white marble on a rose-colored platform. It is considered by experts the finest piece of architecture in the fortress. Nothing could be simpler, nothing grander. Bishop Heber visited it and wrote this of it:—
“This spotless sanctuary, showing such a pure spirit of adoration, made me, a Christian, feel humbled, when I considered that no architect of our religion had ever been able to produce anything equal to this temple of Allah.”
Following the Jumna, the carriages reached the Taj, the wonder and glory of all India. It was built by the Emperor Shah Jehan, as a mausoleum for the Empress Mumtazi Mahal. She was not only beautiful, but famous for mental endowments; and the emperor had so much love and admiration for her that he determined to erect to her memory the most beautiful monument that had ever been constructed by any prince. It was begun in 1630, and twenty thousand workmen were employed upon it for seventeen years. History says that one hundred and forty thousand cartloads of pink sandstone and marble were brought from the quarries of Rajputana; and every province of the empire furnished precious stones to adorn it. Its cost was from ten to fifteen millions of dollars.
The golden crescent of the Taj is two hundred and seventy feet above the level of the river. The magnificent temple is placed in the centre of a garden nine hundred and sixty feet long by three hundred and thirty in width, filled with avenues flanked with cypress-trees, and planted with flowers, on a terrace of sandstone. In the centre of this garden is a marble platform, two hundred and eighty-five feet on all sides, and fifteen feet high, which may be called the pedestal of the mosque. The principal entrance to the garden is more elaborate and beautiful than the fronts of many noted mosques, for it is adorned with towers crowned with cupolas.