Once upon a time there lived an Arab woman named Arjumand Banu. We know very little about her, except that she lived in Agra, India, and was the Sultana of Shah Jehan, the greatest of the Mogul emperors. She must have been a good woman and a good wife, because, after eighteen years of married life, and within twelve months after his accession to the throne, in 1629, she died in giving birth to her fourteenth baby. And her husband loved her so much that he sheltered her grave with a mausoleum which, without question or reservation, is pronounced by all architects and critics to be the most beautiful building in the world - the most sublime and perfect work of human hands.

It is called the Taj Mahal, which means "The Crown of the Palaces," and is pronounced Taash Mahal, with the accent on the last syllable of the last word. Its architect is not definitely known, but the design is supposed to have been made by Ustad Isa, a Persian, who was assisted by Geronino Verroneo, an Italian, and Austin de Bordeaux, a Frenchman. They are credited with the mosaics and other decorations. Austin designed and made the famous peacock throne at Delhi. Governor La Fouche of that province, who has carefully restored the park that surrounds the building, and is keeping things up in a way that commands hearty commendation, has the original plans and specifications, which were discovered among the archives of the Moguls in Delhi after the mutiny of 1857. The records show also that the tomb cost more than $20,000,000 of American money, not including labor, for like those other famous sepulchers, the pyramids of Egypt, this wonderful structure was erected by forced labor, by unpaid workmen, who were drafted from their shops and farms by order of the Mogul for that purpose, and, according to the custom of the time, they were compelled to support themselves as well as their families during the period of their employment. Thousands of those poor, helpless creatures died of starvation and exhaustion; thousands perished of disease, and thousands more, including women and children, suffered untold distress and agony, all because one loving husband desired to do honor to the favorite among his many wives. The workmen were changed at intervals, 20,000 being constantly employed for twenty-two years upon this eulogy in marble. The descendants of some of the artists engaged upon its matchless decoration still live in Agra and enjoy a certain distinction because of their ancestry. Forty or fifty of them were employed by Governor La Fouche in making repairs and restorations in 1902, and a dozen or more are still at work. It is customary in that country for sons to follow the occupations of their fathers.

The road to the Taj Mahal from the City of Agra crosses the River Jumna, winds about among modern bungalows in which British officials and military officers reside, alternating with the ruins of ancient palaces, tombs, temples and shrines which are allowed to deface the landscape. Some of the fields are cultivated, and in December, when we were there, the business of the farmers seemed chiefly to be that of hoisting water from wells to irrigate their crops. They have a curious method. A team of oxen hoists the buckets with a long rope running over a pulley, and every time they make a trip along the well-worn pathway they dump a barrel or more of much needed moisture into a ditch that feeds the thirsty ground.

The roadway is well kept. It was made several centuries ago, and was put in perfect order in 1902 on account of the Imperial durbar at Delhi, which brought thousands of critical strangers to see the Taj Mahal, which really is the greatest sight in India, and is more famous than any other building, except perhaps Westminster Abbey and St. Peter's Cathedral at Rome. The road leads up to a superb gateway of red sandstone inlaid with inscriptions from the Koran in white marble, and surmounted by twenty-six small marble domes, Moorish kiosks, arches and pinnacles. This gateway is considered one of the finest architectural monuments in all India. Bayard Taylor pronounced it equal to the Taj itself.

You pass under a noble arch one hundred and forty feet high and one hundred and ten feet wide, which is guarded by a group of Moslem priests and a squad of native soldiers who protect the property from vandals. Having passed this gateway you find yourself at the top of a flight of wide steps overlooking a great garden, which was originally laid out by the Mogul Shah Jehan and by Lord Curzon's orders was restored last year as nearly as possible to its original condition and appearance. About fifty acres are inclosed by a high wall of a design appropriate to its purpose. There are groups of cypress equal in size and beauty to any in India; groves of orange and lemon trees, palms and pomegranates, flowering plants and shrubs, through which winding walks of gravel have been laid. From the steps of the gateway to the tomb is a vista about a hundred feet wide paved with white and black marble with tessellated designs, inclosed with walls of cypress boughs. In the center are a series of tanks, or marble basins, fed from fountains, and goldfish swim about in the limpid water. This vista, of course, was intended to make the first view as impressive as possible, and it is safe to say that there is no other equal to it. At the other end of the marble-paved tunnel of trees, against a cloudless sky, rises the most symmetrical, the most perfect, perhaps the only faultless human structure in existence. At first one is inclined to be a little bewildered, a little dazed, as if the senses were paralyzed, and could not adjust themselves to this "poem in marble," or "vision in marble," or "dream in marble," as poets and artists have rhapsodized over it for four centuries.

No building has been more often described and sketched and painted and photographed. For three hundred and fifty years it has appeared as an illustration in the chapter on India in geographies, atlases and gazetteers; it is used as a model in architectural text-books, and of course is reproduced in every book that is written about India. It has been modeled in gold, silver, alabaster, wax and every other material that yields to the sculptor's will, yet no counterfeit can ever give a satisfactory idea of its loveliness, the purity of the material of which it is made, the perfection of its proportions, the richness of its decorations and the exquisite accuracy achieved by its builders. Some one has said that the Moguls designed like giants and finished like jewelers, and that epigram is emphasized in the Taj Mahal. Any portion of it, any feature, if taken individually, would be enough to immortalize the architect, for every part is equally perfect, equally chaste, equally beautiful.

I shall not attempt to describe it. You can find descriptions by great pens in many books. Sir Edwin Arnold has done it up both in prose and poetry, and sprawled all over the dictionary without conveying the faintest idea of its glories and loveliness. It cannot be described. One might as well attempt to describe a Beethoven symphony, for, if architecture be frozen music, as some poet has said, the Taj Mahal is the supremest and sublimest composition that human genius has produced. But, without using architectural terms, or gushing any more about it, I will give you a few plain facts.

The Taj Mahal stands, as I have already told you, at the bottom of a lovely garden surrounded by groves of cypress trees, on the bank of the River Jumna, opposite the great fortress of Agra, where, from the windows of his palace, the king could always see the snowwhite domes and minarets which cover the ashes of his Arab wife. Its base is a marble terrace 400 feet square, elevated eighteen feet above the level of the garden, with benches arranged around so that one can sit and look and look and look until its wonderful beauty soaks slowly into his consciousness; until the soul is saturated. Rising from the terrace eighteen feet is a marble pedestal or platform 313 feet square, each corner being marked with a marble minaret 137 feet high; so slender, so graceful, so delicate that you cannot conceive anything more so. Within their walls are winding staircases by which one can reach narrow balconies like those on lighthouses and look upon the Taj from different heights and study its details from the top as well as the bottom. The domes that crown these four minarets are exact miniatures of that which covers the tomb.

On the east and on the west sides of the terrace are mosques built after Byzantine designs of deep red sandstone, which accentuates the purity of the marble of which the tomb is made in a most effective manner. At any other place, with other surroundings, these mosques would be regarded worthy of prolonged study and unbounded admiration, but here they pass almost unnoticed. Like the trees of the gardens and the river that flows at the foot of the terrace, they are only an humble part of the frame which incloses the great picture. They are intended to serve a purpose, and they serve it well. In beauty they are surpassed only by the tomb itself.

One of the mosques has recently been put in perfect repair and the other is undergoing restoration, by order of Lord Curzon, who believes that the architectural and archaeological monuments of ancient India should be preserved and protected, and he is spending considerable government money for that purpose. This policy has been criticised by certain Christian missionaries, who, like the iconoclasts of old, would tear down heathen temples and desecrate heathen tombs. Many of the most beautiful examples of ancient Hindu architecture have already been destroyed by government authority, and the material of which they were built has been utilized in the construction of barracks and fortresses. You may not perhaps believe it, but there are still living in India men who call themselves servants of the Lord, who would erase every other monument that is in any way associated with pagan worship or traditions. They would destroy even the Taj Mahal itself, and then thank God for the opportunity of performing such a barbarous act in His service.

Midway between the two red mosques rises a majestic pile of pure white marble 186 feet square, with the corners cut off. It measures eighty feet from its pedestal to its roof, and is surmounted by a dome also eighty feet high, measuring from the roof, and fifty-eight feet in diameter. Upon the summit of the dome is a spire of gilded copper twenty-eight feet high, making the entire structure 224 feet from the turf of the garden to the tip of the spire. All of the domes are shaped like inverted turnips after the Byzantine style. Four small ones surround the central dome, exact duplicates and one-eighth of its size, and they are arranged upon arches upon the flat roof of the building. From each of the eight angles of the roof springs a delicate spire or pinnacle, an exact duplicate of the great minarets in the corners, each sixteen feet high, and they are so slender that they look like alabaster pencils glistening in the sunshine. The same duplication is carried out through the entire building. The harmony is complete. Every tower, every dome, every arch, is exactly like every other tower, dome and arch, differing only in dimensions.

The building is entered on the north and south sides through enormous pointed arches of perfect proportions reaching above the roof and at each corner of the frames that inclose them is another minaret, a miniature of the rest. Each of the six faces of the remainder of the octagon is pierced by two similar arches, one above the other, opening upon galleries which serve to break the force of the sun, to moderate the heat and to subdue the light. They form a sort of colonnade around the building above and below, and are separated from the rotunda by screens of perforated alabaster, as exquisite and delicate in design and execution as Brussels point lace. The slabs of alabaster, 12 by 8 feet in size, are pierced with filigree work finely finished as if they were intended to be worn as jewels upon the crown of an empress. I am told that there is no stone work to compare with this anywhere else on earth. Hence it was not in Athens, nor in Rome, but in northern India that the chisel of the sculptor attained its most perfect precision and achieved its greatest triumphs. All of the light that reaches the interior is filtered through this trellis work.

The rotunda is unbroken, fifty-eight feet in diameter and one hundred and sixty feet from the floor to the apex of the dome. Like every other part of the building, it is of the purest white marble, inlaid with mosaics of precious stones. The walls, the pillars, the wainscoting and the entire exterior as well as the interior of the building are the same. You have doubtless seen brooches, earrings, sleeve-buttons and other ornaments of Florentine mosaic, with floral and other designs worked out with different colored stones inlaid on black or white marble. You can buy paper weights of that sort, and table tops which represent months of labor and the most exact workmanship. They are very expensive because of the skill and the time required to execute them. Well, upon the walls of the tomb of the Princess Arjamand are about two acres of surface covered with such mosaics as fine and as perfect as if each setting were a jewel intended for a queen to wear - turquoise, coral, garnet, carnelian, jasper, malachite, agate, lapis lazuli, onyx, nacre, bloodstone, tourmaline, sardonyx and a dozen other precious stones of different colors. The guide book says that twenty-eight different varieties of stone, many of them unknown to modern times, are inlaid in the walls of marble.

The most beautiful of these embellishments are inscriptions, chiefly passages from the Koran and tributes of praise to "The Exalted One of the Palace" who lies buried there, worked out in Arabic and Persian characters, which are the most artistic of any language, and lend themselves gracefully to decorative purposes. The ninety-nine names of God, which pious Mussulmans love to inscribe, appear in several places. Over the archway of the entrance is an inscription in Persian characters which reads like a paraphrase of the beatitudes:

"Only the Pure in Heart can Enter the Garden of God."

This arch was once inclosed by silver doors, which were carried off by the Persians when they invaded India and sacked the palaces of Agra in 1739.

There is no wood or metal in this building; not a nail or a screw or a bolt of any sort. It is entirely of marble, mortised and fastened with cement.

The acoustic properties of the rotunda are remarkable and a sound uttered by a human voice will creep around its curves repeating and repeating itself like the vibrations of the gongs of Burmese temples, until it is lost in a whisper at the apex of the dome. I should like to hear a violin there or a hymn softly sung by some great artist.

In the center of the rotunda Shah Jehan and his beloved wife are supposed to lie side by side in marble caskets, inlaid with rich gems and embellished by infinite skill with lacelike tracery. But their bodies are actually buried in the basement, and, the guides assert, in coffins of solid gold. She for whom this tomb was built occupies the center. Her lord and lover, because he was a man and an emperor, was entitled to a larger sarcophagus, a span loftier and a span longer. Both of the cenotaphs are embellished with inlaid and carved Arabic inscriptions. Upon his, in Persian characters, are written these words:

"His Majesty, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Shadow of Allah, whose Court is now in Heaven; Saith Jesus, on whom be peace, This World is a Bridge; Pass thou over it, Build not upon it! It lasteth but an Hour; Devote its Minutes to thy Prayers; for the Rest is Unseen and Unknown!"

No other person has such a tomb as this; nor pope, nor potentate, nor emperor. Nowhere else have human pride and wealth and genius struggled so successfully against the forgetfulness of man. The Princess Arjamand has little place in history, but a devoted, loving husband has rescued her name from oblivion, and has immortalized her by making her dust the tenant of the most majestic and beautiful of all human monuments.

Everybody admits that the Taj Mahal is the noblest tribute of affection and the most perfect triumph of the architectural art in existence, and the beautiful edifices in the fort at Agra, which we also owe to Shah Jehan, the greatest of the Moguls, have already been mentioned but I am conscious that my words are weak. It is not possible to describe them accurately. No pen can do them justice. The next best work in India, a group of buildings second only to those in Agra, and in many respects their equal, are credited to Akbar the Great, grandfather of Shah Jehan. He reigned from 1556 to 1605. They may be found at Fattehpur-Sikir (the City of Victory), twenty-two miles from Agra on the Delhi road, occupying a rocky ridge, surrounded by a stone wall with battlements and towers. The emperor intended these palaces to be his summer residence, and was followed there by many of the rich nobles of the court, who built mansions and villas of corresponding size and splendor to gratify him and their own vanity - but all its magnificence was wasted, strange to say. The city was built and abandoned within fifty years. Perhaps Akbar became tired of it, but the records tell us that it was impossible to secure a water supply sufficient for the requirements of the population and that the location was exceedingly unhealthy because of malaria. Therefore the king and the court, the officials of the government, with the clerks and servants, the military garrison and the merchants who supplied their wants, all packed up and moved away, most of them going back to Agra, where they came from, leaving the glorious marble palaces without tenants and allowing them to crumble and decay.

Abandoned cities and citadels are not unusual in India. I have already told you of one near Jeypore where even a larger population were compelled to desert their homes and business houses for similar reasons - the lack of a sufficient water supply, and there are several others in different parts of India. Some of them are in a fair state of preservation, others are almost razed to the ground, and their walls have been used as quarries for building stone in the erection of other cities. But nowhere can be found so grand, so costly and so extensive a group of empty and useless palaces as at Fattehpur-Sikri.

The origin of the town, according to tradition, is quite interesting. When Akbar was returning from one of his military campaigns he camped at the foot of the hill and learned that a wise and holy Brahmin named Shekh Selim Chishli, who resided in a cave among the rocks, exercised powerful influence among the Hindu deities. Akbar was a Mohammedan, but of liberal mind, and had not the slightest compunction about consulting with a clergyman of another denomination. This was the more natural because his favorite wife was a Hindu princess, daughter of the Maharaja of Jeypore, and she was extremely anxious to have a child. She had given birth to twins some years previous, but to her deep grief and that of the emperor, they had died in infancy.

The holy man on the hill at Fattehpur was believed to have tremendous influence with those deities who control the coming of babies into this great world; hence the emperor and his sultana visited Shekh Selim in his rock retreat to solicit his interposition for the birth of a son. Now, the hermit had a son only 6 months old, who, the evening after the visit of the emperor, noticed that his father's face wore a dejected expression. Having never learned the use of his tongue, being but a few months old, this precocious child naturally caused great astonishment when, by a miracle, he sat up in his cradle and in language that an adult would use inquired the cause of anxiety. The old man answered:

"It is written in the stars, oh, my son, that the emperor will never have an heir unless some other man will sacrifice for him the life of his own heir, and surely in this wicked and selfish world no one is capable of such generosity and patriotism."

"If you will permit me, oh, my father," answered the baby, "I will die in order that his majesty may be consoled."

The hermit explained that for such an act he could acquire unlimited merit among the gods, whereupon the obliging infant straightened its tiny limbs and expired. Some months after the sultana gave birth to a boy, who afterward became the Emperor Jehanghir.

Akbar, of course, was gratified and to show his appreciation of the services of the hermit decided to make the rocky ridge his summer capital. He summoned to his aid all the architects and artists and contractors in India, and a hundred thousand mechanics, stone cutters, masons and decorators were kept busy for two scores of years erecting the palaces, tombs and temples that now testify with mute eloquence to the genius of the architects and builders of those days. It is shown by the records that this enterprise cost the taxpayers of India a hundred millions of dollars, and that did not include the wages of the workmen, because most of them were paid nothing. In those days almost everything in the way of government public works was carried on by forced labor. The king paid no wages. The material was expensive. Very little wood was used. The buildings are almost entirely of pure white marble and red sandstone. They had neither doors nor windows, but only open arches which were hung with curtains to secure privacy, and light was admitted to the interior through screens of marble, perforated in beautiful designs. The entrance to the citadel is gained through a gigantic gateway, one of the noblest portals ever erected. It was intended as a triumphal arch to celebrate the victory of Akbar over the Afghans, and to commemorate the conquest of Khandesh, and this is recorded in exquisite Persian characters upon its frontal and sides. Compared with it the arches of Titus and Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris are clumsy piles of masonry. There is nothing to be compared with it anywhere in Europe, and the only structure in India that resembles it in any way may be found among the ruins in the neighborhood of Delhi.

Through this majestic portal you enter a quadrangle about six hundred feet square, inclosed by a lofty cloister which Bishop Heber pronounced the finest that was ever erected. He declared that there was no other quadrangle to be compared to it in size or proportions or beauty. In the center of this wonderful inclosure is a building that resembles a miniature temple. It is not large, and its low roof and far projecting eaves give it the appearance of a tropical bungalow. It is built of the purest marble. No other material was used in its construction. There is not a nail or a screw or an ounce of metal of any kind in its walls, and very little cement or mortar was used. Each piece of stone fits the others so perfectly that there was no need of bolts or anything to hold it in place. It stands upon a pedestal four feet high and is crowned with a low white dome of polished metal. The walls of this wonderful building are pillars of marble inclosing panels of the same material sawed in very thin slabs and perforated in exquisite geometrical patterns. No two panels are alike; there is no duplication of design on the pillars; every column is different; every capital and every base is unique. We are told that it was customary in the days of the Moguls to assign a section of a building to an artist and allow him to exercise his skill and genius without restriction, of course within certain limits. Notwithstanding this diversity of design, the tomb of Shekh Selim, of which I have attempted to give you an idea, is an ideal of perfect harmony, and every stroke of the chisel was as precise as if the artist had been engraving a cameo. It was erected by Akbar and his Queen, Luquina, as a token of gratitude to the old monk who brought them an heir to their throne, but, unfortunately this heir was an ungrateful chap and treated his father and mother very badly.

Another tomb of equal beauty but smaller dimensions, is also a tribute of respect and affection. Under this marble roof lies all that remains of that extraordinary baby who gave his life to gratify the king.

Surrounding the quadrangle are the apartments of the emperor, the residences of his wives and the offices in which he conducted official business. They are all built of marble of design and beauty similar to those within the walls of the fort at Agra. One of them, known as the Hall of Records, is now used for the accommodation of visitors because there is no hotel and very little demand for one. The only people who ever go to Fattehpur Sikri are tourists, and they take their own bedding and spread it on the marble floor. It is a long journey, twenty-six miles by carriage, and it is not possible to make it and return on the same day.

The Imperial Hall of Audience, where Akbar was accustomed to sit in his robes of state each day to receive the petitions and administer justice to his subjects, is a splendid pavilion of red sandstone with fifty-six columns covered with elaborate carving in the Hindu style. Here he received ambassadors from all parts of the earth because the glory of his court and the liberality of his policy gave him universal reputation. Here Jesuit missionaries gave him the seeds of the tobacco plant which they brought from America, and within a few miles from this place was grown the first tobacco ever produced in India. The hookah, the big tobacco pipe, with a long tube and a bowl of perfumed water for the smoke to pass through, is said to have been invented at Fattehpur Sikri by one of Akbar's engineers.

Connected by a marble corridor with the palace, and also with the Hall of Public Audience, is a smaller pavilion, where, according to the custom of the times, the emperor was in the habit of receiving and conferring with his ministers and other officials of his government, with ambassadors and with strangers who sought his presence from curiosity or business reasons. This diwani-khas, or privy chamber, is pointed out as the place where the emperor held his celebrated religious controversies. We are told that for several years Jesuit missionaries were invited there and encouraged to explain the dogmas and doctrines of their faith to the nobles and the learned pundits of the Indian Empire, often in the presence of the Mogul, who took part in the discussions.

When his majesty was tired of business and wanted relaxation he ordered his servants to remove the silken rug and cushions upon which he sat to a little marble portico on the other side of the palace, where the pavement of the court was laid in alternate squares of black and white marble. This was known as the imperial puchisi board, and we are told that his majesty played a game resembling chess with beautiful slave girls dressed in costume to represent the men upon the board. Here he sat for hours with his antagonists, and was so proud of his skill that expert puchisi players from all parts of the empire were summoned to play with him.

At the other end of the inclosure is a large building known as the mint, where the first rupees were coined. They were cubes of gold, covered with artistic designs and with Persian inscriptions reading "God is great. Mighty is His Glory." The largest coin was called a "henseh" and was worth about $1,000 in our money. And there were several other denominations, in the forms of cubes, and they bore similar pious inscriptions.

The residences of the women of the court and the ministers and other high officials were of corresponding splendor and beauty. There is nothing on our side of the world or in Europe to compare with them in beauty of design, costliness of material and lavishness of decoration. The grandest palaces of the European capitals are coarse and clumsy beside them, and the new library at Washington, which we consider a model of architectural perfection, can be compared to these gems of Hindu architects as cotton duck to Brussels lace.

The palaces, temples and tombs in northern India are unequaled examples of the architectural and decorative arts. Nothing more beautiful or more costly has ever been built by human hands than the residences and the sepulchers of the Moguls, while their audience chambers, their baths and pavilions are not surpassed, and are not even equaled in any of the imperial capitals of Europe. The oriental artists and architects of the Mohammedan dynasties lavished money upon their homes and tombs in the most generous manner, and the refinement of their taste was equal to their extravagance. And where do you suppose they obtained all the money for these buildings, which cost millions upon millions of dollars? The architectural remains of Akbar and Shah Jehan, the two most splendid of the Moguls, represent an expenditure of several hundred millions, even though the labor of construction was unpaid, and where did they get the funds to pay for them? Lieutenant Governor La Touche, who has been collecting the records of the Mogul dynasty and having them carefully examined, discovers that their revenues average about $100,000,000 a year for a hundred years or more. In 1664 the land taxes amounted to L26,743,000, in 1665 they amounted to L24,056,000, while in 1697, during the reign of the Mogul Aurangzeb, they reached their highest figure, which was L38,719,000. With these funds they were required to keep up their palaces, pay their officials, maintain their armies and provide for the luxurious tastes of their courtiers.