Symbols of the world's religions



Eruch Jessawala

Avatar Meher Baba once said of Eruch Jessawala "Eruch is most reliable. If ever I personally like the company of anyone, it is that of Eruch." One of the many attributes that made Eruch such a wonderful companion was his masterful storytelling. Eruch's rare art of storytelling was enjoyed by many pilgrims visiting Mandali Hall who were hungry for all the details of Beloved Baba's life. This is a transcription of a recording, made in Mandali Hall in October 1977, from Meher Lahar's Archives. The story was told in response to a question from a pilgrim who was planning to visit the Taj Mahal.

You want to hear the story about who was responsible for building the Taj Mahal? We know history says that the Taj Mahal is dedicated to the memory of a very beautiful empress called Mumtaz Mahal. It was constructed by the emperor of the time, Shah Jahan. We know this much and that it is made out of all kinds of marble and the beauty is such you see that, well, you will see it when you go there. Now, of course, all the emeralds and precious stones that were laid there to depict the floral designs are all plucked out and instead just paint is there or common stones are there, you see. When there were upheavals in the nation they were plucked out.

The Taj Mahal was built in memory of a loved one. Do you know that? And it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is situated in Agra and you must also know that the one who had it built was the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beautiful wife called Mumtaz Mahal. How she died, the story is there, but this is the beginning of it. Do you want to hear the whole story of how it got built? How the Taj Mahal got built? Would you like to hear that? Baba was very pleased and touched with the story. I am not referring to the dates and all that because I am very poor on remembering dates. But how does the story go and what is its bearing on Baba? Why should we have anything to do with someone's love affair some centuries ago, you see?

Once it so happened that Meher Baba was in seclusion and very busy with his work. We were just keepers there, keeping watch and all that, and we just sat idle doing nothing. The only thing we had to do is to see that we didn't create noise or allow noise around and so forth and so on. And we would attend to his call whenever he would clap. We would go inside and attend to whatever he wanted. And so one day he was in Mahabaleshwar which had a little house where he wanted to do his seclusion work. There inside the house and inside one of the rooms he had prepared a hut of straw and he remained there in seclusion and I would attend to him. I would sit outside and whenever he would call I would come. One day Baba tells me, "I am so burdened by my work, can you tell me a good story that will relieve my burden?"

I began by asking Baba, "Would you like to hear the story of Taj Mahal?"

Baba says, "What is there in that? We have seen it many times."

I said, "But do you know why it was built?" You see he, being the Godman, knows everything but naturally he comes amongst us as a man, so we would relate to him as our Master and Lord, but also as a man, our friend and companion. So I said, "But do you know how it got built?"

He says, "No, but I know about the marble that was brought and all that. Why? What is the inner story?"

So I said, "I am going to tell you the inner story today." I don't remember the year I told Baba the story. Don't ask me about years. The years are all jumbled for me and it seems like it just happened yesterday. So I began the story like this:

So, Baba, there comes one day from Persia, a famous sculptor, by name he is known as Shirazji. Shirazji, means one who has come from Shiraz. And he is a great sculptor. He comes to India overland and he finds out that Shah Jahan, the emperor of the country, is very fond of art and that he respects artists. Shirazji was an artist and he had great skill in his fingers. So he says to the people of the country, "I hear that your Emperor is fond of art?"

"Sure" they say "He has had so many monuments built and so many things are there and he is very fond of painting, art, singing, music and all that."

Shirazji asks, "Is he fond of sculpture?"

"Yes" they say, "Everything that has to do with art. Well, have you got anything to show him?"

"I have," says Shirazji, "But how can I get an audience with him? How can I see him?"

They said, "Well, if you are a sculptor we can arrange that, we will go to the ministers and they will recommend your case."

So Shirazji approached some influential people and those influential people helped him contact the ministers directly and then the ministers got the news to the ears of the Emperor. Those were the days of forts and palaces and all that and at the time you may have heard that the women here in India were suppressed. But no, it was not so then, the suppression came later on with the great persecutions. It was for the protection of women that they were not to come out for activities like the men. That's how it all developed. But at the time that I am talking about women took direct part in all the court affairs and everything, but they were made to sit hidden behind the Emperor. The Empress was behind, but you see there were fine art works, partitions created, where the women could see from inside but from outside you couldn't see them.

So Empress Mumtaz was there at the court when this man, Shirazji, was presented before Shah Jahan. So Shah Jahan says, "Well I have heard that you have come from Persia?"

He says, "Yes, my lord".

"And what art have you to demonstrate?"

Shirazji answers, "I am a sculptor, a bond sculptor."

"Yes we know, we have many sculptors here in India. Is there anything special that you can do?"

So Shirazji says, "Give me the hand of any maiden and without seeing her face I will create the whole image of the lady."

"Just feeling the hand?"

Shirazji says, "Yes. Just the hand, let me feel the hand and I will create her whole image in stone. That is my art."

So Empress Mumtaz was seated behind and she was intrigued. She says to the Emperor, "We have never heard of such a thing. Give him a trial. Give him a trial!" So the Emperor is interested now.

He says, "How many days will you take to do that?"

So Shirazji says, "My lord, it all depends upon the type of stone and the arrangements that are made for me and the peace and quietude that I may have around me and all that. These are the factors. But it won't take much time. It will take, say, half a year or so." So the Empress says to give him the opportunity and that she will make all the arrangements for some women to put their hand out.

So the Emperor says, "All right we will give you a trial. We want to see the work of art that you can create."

Shirazji says, "My lord, if you feel pleased with my work, will you favor me with one thing?"

"Yes, what can I do?" the Emperor says.

So Shirazji says, "The hand of the lady that I select to create her image in stone would belong to me." This means she would be given in marriage.

Naturally the Emperor turned to the Empress because the women's world is under the control of the Empress. So she says, "Go ahead I will make arrangements, everything will be as he says. Give him the promise."

So the Emperor says, "All right, I accept as the reward that you will have the hand of the maiden you select."

The Empress had many maidens who waited upon her in the palace. So a big curtain was set up and a stage was set there and each one was made to stand behind the curtain and each one put out their hand. So Shirazji feels the hand and he just drops it, and he feels another one and drops it, eventually he selects one hand. He holds it and puts a bangle on it as a sign that this is the one he selects. It means he has to create her image; her total likeness must be carved in stone. So there you are; before the Emperor, the Empress, and the courtiers the selection is made and nobody has seen her face. Then there is a big hubbub behind the screen and the Empress says, "What's happened?" She goes behind the curtain and discovers that the hand was not the hand of a commoner. What had happened is that the Empress had passed orders that all her handmaidens had to present their hands but among them was a girl that she had brought up, her name was Rianna, and she was the daughter of a Hindu commander-in-chief. This commander had fought many battles and won wars for the Emperor and he was mortally wounded on the battlefield. At that time, Shah Jahan was there and the commander had asked him, "My lord, will you do one thing? Rianna will be alone, because her mother has died, will you please accept her as your daughter?" So the Emperor had given a promise that she would be his daughter, and that is how she was raised in the palace. This means the hand Shirazji had selected was of the Princess. How could this have happened? Well, the girl was young at the time and she thought that for the sake of fun she would stick out her hand and she expected to be rejected and then the fun would be finished off. But she was caught and the sign of the bangle was there.

Now the Emperor was promise bound so a good room was arranged and a block of marble was given and all else that was needed and Shirazji started his work. And here, they thought that now how can this ordinary man from some place in Persia come and create an image exactly like the lady? It is not possible. There will be some sort of flaw that we can point out that, well, she is not like that and then it will be finished.

So the Emperor said to his Empress, "Don't worry about all this. Let us see what happens."

Months passed by and the Empress arranged that as Rianna was a youngster, a young lady growing up, she was kept away from the sight of men, especially from Shirazji. He should not know what she looks like or he might create her likeness. You see, it was like that. So with all the secrecy and all the precautions taken, here poor Shirazji is working in his room day and night, creating the image out of having held a lady's hand. And not just the hand, you see, the entire figure must come out. Finally the day comes when Shirazji reports to the ministers that he is ready for the Emperor and the Empress to have a view of his work. It is unveiled and lo and behold! Rianna stood there just for God to breathe life into her. That's all. It was as if Rianna was there, created in marble.

So, I am relating this to Baba, you see. So then Baba says, "What happened then? Did he give her in marriage?"

I said, "Just wait, that is part of the whole story, it is coming out, unfolding."

So what happened is that they are in a fix, they can't deny that this is a work of real art, that this is a perfect image of Rianna. Nobody can deny that. All said wonderful, bravo! It is something unheard of, unseen before. Shirazji says, "Now, my lord, if you are very pleased, you will fulfill my desire to have the maiden's hand."

Now, it is the turn of the Emperor, so he beseeches Shirazji saying, "Do you know what has transpired? You may have heard the hubbub at the time when you selected the hand. Did you notice something? That the Empress was ruffled and she had to go and see? What had happened was that unfortunately the hand of my daughter was the hand that you had selected and you being a commoner, it will be very difficult for me to part with her. Would you like to have any beautiful maiden in my kingdom that you select? I will send you out, right royally, in my kingdom to select any commoner and I will see that you will get your maiden."

Shirazji replied, "I am not concerned with anyone else. I am concerned with the hand of the maiden I have selected. If you cannot do it, then don't worry, I can go back. I don't mind."

But the Emperor could not allow that to happen because when Shirazji went back to Persia he would say that what type of an emperor of that great country is he who can't keep his word. You see what a fix the Emperor was in. He couldn't do anything!

Now it so happened at that time that the Empress Mumtaz Mahal was pregnant. She was now in bed, about to deliver a child. So, the Emperor knew this would upset her and he said to Shirazji, "No, I won't allow you to go without a maiden, but I beseech you, forgo the hand of Rianna, and take somebody else."

Again Shirazji says, "I don't insist that you should give me Rianna, if you can't fulfill your word, then you can't. I will be very happy to go back. It doesn't matter to me."

"No!" exclaims the Emperor, "You shouldn't go back empty handed."

Now, what happened is, the Emperor is perturbed and he leaves the work of the court and he goes out in solitude for retreat to find a solution, but there is no solution. He is confined to deep contemplation about what he should do about this matter. If he were to allow this man to go back empty handed, his reputation as the emperor of his country is spoiled. If he gives Rianna, it is not proper, because he is oath bound to the commander, you know. He had accepted her as his daughter, and if he gave her to Shirazji it would seem he had taken her as an ordinary woman, you see. It would appear that he had protected her, but not as his own daughter. You follow? So that is the fix he is in. The Empress herself comes into the picture now for the first time, thinking that her husband Shah Jahan is worried and all that, so she makes herself bold and invites Shirazji into her private quarters. And she now, on behalf of the Emperor and the whole kingdom, implores and says, "Shirazji, we appreciate your art. We are wonder struck, there is no doubt about it. You are worthy of anything, but do you realize the situation?" She tells him the whole story of how Rianna had come into the palace, what had happened, how they are oath bound to protect her and to treat her as royalty.

Shirazji says, "My mother, do not feel worried about it." He addresses her as the mother and says, "Don't worry about it. I will accept Rianna as my sister and go back without her."

"No" she implores, "You can't go back without having any woman; you should have a woman and then go back."

"No, how can I?" Shirazji says, "Because I am also duty bound by the certain code of my life. I wanted the hand of the person I have created. I am not asking for anything that was not agreed upon."

In short, the Empress also failed and it so happened as history records that she died in her pregnancy and the Emperor lost his peace of mind. He was brought back to the kingdom to rule over the subjects of this vast country but he had lost his peace of mind. He does not know what to do, he is so distracted. The Empress has died and he loved her more than anyone. You know, Mumtaz Mahal was one of the most beautiful empresses. So what happened is that now he loved this woman and he has lost her and he is about to lose Rianna too, whom he loves as his daughter. He is in a greater fix now. All the more he is worried and he has now become raving mad. He doesn't know what to do. How to pay any attention to his court work?

Then the ministers come to the rescue, you see. They of course express their condolences in the usual worldly way and all that. The Emperor tells them that he wants something created as an everlasting memory to the great beauty of his beloved. So the ministers say, "Sire, why don't you use the services of this man, this great sculptor who can create an image without seeing it? Will he not be able to create something befitting the beauty of Mumtaz Mahal?" The Emperor says that's a good idea. They advise him that he has to give Rianna's hand to fulfill his word. The ministers point out that if Shirazji were to create something, although the Emperor would have to part with Rianna eventually, a delay would be there, so why not take the service of Shirazji and then give Rianna? Now the king thinks that the whole world is lost to him so what is there? So he agrees to this little transaction that, if Shirazji were to please him in his work of art to create a monument befitting the great beauty of his beloved, then in return he can have Rianna. But for the sake of Rianna and for the sake of this whole situation, Shirazji need not tarry long in this country and he needs only to create a model which the Emperor approves. He can go away with Rianna if the model is passed. So here now the whole real thing comes out.

Shirazji says, "Of course, am I not a human being? Do I not realize your feelings?" He realized that because of the situation the Empress lost her health and died, the Emperor has become so disabled, and all that. So he tries to help the situation. He says, "Yes, I will try to create a model which will please you."

So day in and day out this fellow works on small models of a Taj Mahal. Everyday he can create new ones. But, the Emperor says, "No, it doesn't befit my Mumtaz. No, it is rejected."

It goes on for over a year. Four hundred models like that were rejected. People did not know what to do now. How is it possible? Then a minister who was far advanced in age says that none can create a befitting monument to the beauty of the heart unless and until one is sorely hurt or wounded like the Emperor himself. So what is to be done? Kill Rianna and he will create the model! You follow how the Taj Mahal came into being?

So, what happened is nobody had the heart to kill that beautiful girl, you see. So somehow or other the ministers persuaded the Emperor to say that Rianna is dead. But how could he say it? So the old minister says, "You want a model for your beloved. Without his heart being wounded like yours he won't be able to create it. He has fallen in love with that image of Rianna. So when he comes to know that she is dead then you will accept the next model he creates. I am sure you will appreciate it and you will think that it is befitting."

So preparations were made for the ruse. News circulated in the palace and it came to the ears of Shirazji that Rianna had caught a cold. Her flu was worse. She was running a fever. She had started coughing blood. She was running a high temperature. This is reported and that is reported, and then the final report that she was dead!

"Oh, she is dead?' bewails Shirazji. Yes, they report to him, she is dead. Preparations are made for her funeral and all that.

Meanwhile Shirazji begins working on the next model. This first model he made after he heard that Rianna had died touched the heart of the Emperor and it became the model for the Taj Mahal you see today.

Of course, Shirazji was then told that Rianna was not dead, they married, and everything ended happily for him.

This is the story that I told Baba that day when he needed a respite from his work. Baba was very pleased and touched with the story.

Now there will be some beauty in your seeing the Taj Mahal, won't there?

2005 © Meherana, Inc.


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