The year was 1631. The Mughal Empire of India was at the height of its glory. The emperor Shah Jahan was grief stricken at the passing of Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved (3rd) wife, who had recently died during the birth of their (14th) child. To honor the memory of his loving wife, Shah Jahan ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal. The Emperor insisted that no expense be spared. It took more than 20 years and the efforts of thousands of craftsmen, but when all was said and done, Shah Jahan had created one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The Taj Mahal is a recognized the world over for its beauty and grace. It is one of a kind, and a reminder that the Emperor must have indeed loved his wife very much.
Around the same time as the beginning of work on the Taj Mahal, a college was being set up in New England. The initial purpose of this college was to train clergy for the newly discovered America. In 1638, a young minister named John Harvard left this budding college half his estate and his entire library . That small college went on to become Harvard University.
Some might say that there is no need to compare the Taj Mahal and Harvard University. They are both special. I agree. I would even go so far as to say that the Taj Mahal is unmatched in its beauty. But that is precisely my point. While the Taj Mahal is an excellent reminder of past glory, it is entirely useless to our present or future. It attests to the might and grandeur of a once powerful dynasty, but it is nothing more than a symbol of a long lost past.
Harvard University, on the other hand, is alive and well. What started as an act of generosity has become one of the oldest and most prestigious institutes of higher learning in the world. The university has more than 20,000 students, and it produces more than 500 PhD’s every year. Students from Harvard go on to assume positions of leadership and responsibility all over the world.Many Presidents, Prime Ministers, Justices and Nobel Prize winners can trace their roots to Harvard. 375 years after the selfless will of a common man, this university continues to be the cradle from which new generations of global leaders emerge.
I have not visited the Taj Mahal, and I am sure that if I ever do, I will walk away from it completely overwhelmed by it’s beauty and grace. I will admire it for it’s sheer size and majesty. But I will walk away nevertheless, and the Taj Mahal, for all of its grace, will remain but a monument to a glorious past.
I wish Shah Jahan had built a university to honor his wife.