Think about the last time you visited a historical place. Were you familiar with its history or were you looking at and hearing about the place for the first time in your life? Below is a picture of the Taj Mahal.
I am sure, even if you knew nothing about the historical significance of this monument, you could still appreciate the brilliant white structure of the monument, the beautiful calligraphy at its entrance, the symmetry of the minarets surrounding it and the gardens leading up to it.
Then you are told that this monument was built in the seventeenth century, a time when technology available to ease construction was practically non-existent. You are told that the marble used for its construction was brought in from a place nearly350 Km away from this site. Semi-precious stones and artisans were brought in from all parts of India, and from as far away as Afghanistan and Ceylon. You are told that it took 17 years to build this monument! You are told that, it is a monument of love, commissioned by the emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved queen, ‘Mumtaz Mahal’. You hear the rumour that this emperor ensured that his workers were never ever able to build something as beautiful as Taj Mahal.
How do you feel now about the Taj Mahal? Is it still something beautiful and aesthetically appealing? Is it still a symbol of pure and undying love, or that of pride and wasteful expenditure? Do you feel it is rather a symbol of toil, labour and unparalleled artistic endeavour?
It seems, the historical background of the age in which the Taj Mahal was built, adds another layer of meaning to this monument.
Let me bring you back to the present.
Now consider contemporary history, that is, history of the present moment. I now tell you, that pollution from the industries in areas surrounding the Taj Mahal, was decreasing the lustre of its marble. Tourists touching the marble were inadvertently damaging it. That there was a huge attempt to ensure that Taj Mahal remained one of the seven wonders of the world.
What is your opinion now? Do you still see this monument as a symbol of love, one that is slowly fading? Or do you see the monument as a symbol of love that is being strengthened and upheld by the people of its country? Do you feel contemporary history has added another layer of meaning?
Interestingly, I showed a picture of the famous painting ‘The Scream’ to some of my friends and asked them what they thought it meant. Here are some of their responses.
-“I think here a person is walking on the bridge during sunset and behind him a couple is seen walking…I think this person saw something unexpected and he is utterly shocked”.
-“On the bridge there is a female traveller who seems happy and there is a river flowing beneath and people are going around…all in all it represents a calm and smooth life along with the serenity of nature”.
-“A girl who is on a journey and is horrified/shocked because the river flowing beneath the bridge or the river of thoughts is taking her back to dark memories of the past and she is thus unable to see the light from the sky that is showing her the way forward”.
-“What kind of a painting is this?…This man has seen something and is scared…He has a ghoulish body….I think he is scared because he saw humans!”.
Do you see the extreme variation in what each of my friends thought the painting meant? It does not matter what the painter intended when he drew this painting (well actually it does)! Each of us will see the painting in our own unique way. Why?
Because we are individuals. We are unique. You have a history that I do not have. Perhaps, I have lived in a society unfamiliar to you. Perhaps the painter was raised in a country, where events we are unfamiliar with, inspired him! At the end of the day, each of us has something unique to contribute.
While the historical background of the age, biography of the author and contemporary events build up our understanding of Art and Literature, it is finally who we are that brings together everything else and creates a new meaning.
Every day we hear, read and talk about events political, historical and most importantly, personal. We do not interpret these events merely based on facts. Rather, the history of our country, the history of our family, where we live, the environment in our homes and society, the education we have had and most importantly who we believe we are, what we believe are our core values influence the way we interpret our lives. Like, Art and Literature, life is open to infinite interpretations.
As we change, the meaning of life too, changes for us. So stop being obsessed about justifying your meaning!
Think about life as reading a poem; a poem with a meaning that everyone can see but you cannot. Calmly read the poem. Think what you feel it means. Read about when it was written (what has happened in my life?) Think what you feel the poem means (what does the situation mean?). Read about the poet and think again (Have I made a conscious effort to understand the people in my life?) and think again. See what is happening around you and think how it is influencing your thinking.
My friend, just look within and think. You will arrive at a meaning and so will I! The breaking news is, both of us are right.
I hope you found this article valuable. Please don’t forget to like, share, follow and leave your comments below.
Have a nice day and happy thinking!
In obeisance to the divine in you,
-“World Heritage Monuments”. Archaeological Survey of India Agra Circle, http://www.asiagracircle.in/tajmahal.html. Accessed 18 May 2021.