This was my second trip to India and the seventh time I had visited the Taj Mahal. It is a never-tiring experience to be there. The majesty of the place staggers the imagination and the hushed atmosphere throughout the grounds makes the soul begin to glow deep within.
Inside the central dome rests the bodies of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, entombed over 300 years ago. There is always a man there informally standing guard who explains with great pride the inscriptions and magnificent floral inlay work in the marble of the tombs. Quite unexpectedly he bursts forth a vocal "call" every few minutes to demonstrate the remarkable acoustics emanating from the solid marble dome 60 feet in diameter and 80 feet high. (The album begins with this "call.") I later found out his pride stems from the fact that he is the fourteenth generation of the family that did all the inlay work of semi-precious stones that adorn the entire structure, and to this day any repair work to be done due to vandalism or neglect or natural causes is done by this man and his family.
From the first time I heard his voice in there I couldn't believe my ears. I never heard anything so beautiful. Each tone hung suspended in space for 28 seconds and the acoustics are so perfect that you couldn't tell when his voice stopped and the echo took over. Also the individual tone didn't spread as in other great halls, but remained pure and round to the very end.
This time I had brought my flute with the very faint hope that I might have a chance to play even one note in that remarkable chamber.
A friend named Larry Kurland, a freelance photographer from New York, and a 14-year·old Indian boy named Sankar were with me. I just met Sankar a month before in a small Himalayan town called Swargashram. I had just arrived for my second pilgrimage with my spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and as I stepped from the small ferry boat which had just taken me across the holy Ganges, a small voice said "carry your bags, Sahib? Are you going to Maharishi's ashram?" Ever since then he attached himself to me and we became good friends. He acted as interpreter and guide and saved me many a rupee when he felt that I was. being taken advantage of. He had never seen the Taj so I took him along that day. He was carrying my flute and Larry was shooting pictures all over the place, some of which you see on this album. He was deathly ill with dysentery that morning in New Delhi but seemed quite revived now probably due to a combination of the pills he was taking (which he said were very "groovy") and the overwhelming beauty of the Taj Mahal.
When we were inside one of the outer chambers leading off the central dome, Sankar handed me my flute and said "Play, Sahib. Here is Lord Krishna's flute." (Lord Krishna is a Hindu God who was an avatar that descended to the earth plane some 5000 years ago and is always pictured either playing or holding the flute. He used to lure the milkmaids, who he was very fond of, by the hundreds with his magic flute. Times haven't changed a bit!)
The central dome was too crowded with tourists to play in there so I sat on the floor in this antechamber and began to play. Even here with a rather low ceiling the sound was amazing as it bounced around and off of the solid marble walls. Some people came over and stood above me and Sankar, who was sitting beside me. They were smiling with joy at the sounds and were fascinated with my gold flute. A couple of Hindu monks came over and we talked for awhile. It was getting to be late afternoon and we had to get back to Delhi. The central dome was still too crowded so I packed my flute and the three of us started reluctantly towards the entrance. Our driver had been waiting just outside all afternoon. We entered the car and began the dusty, bumpy three-hour ride to the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi. The sounds of the flute were still ringing in my head.
A month later I was again in Agra. I was producing a movie and we were planning to shoot here for a few days. Besides the Taj, we were to film the Agra Fort, Akbar's Mausoleum and Fatehpur Sikri, the Ghost City. The first day, bright and early, we arrived at the Taj Mahal to prepare for our next day's shooting. How good it felt to be in that enchanted place again. I closed my eyes and felt a warm glow inside and thought "how lucky I am to be able to be here so many times." Sankar was with me. We had grown very close. I was paying him 10 rupees a day to interpret and do odd jobs for the crew (like get us a coke every five minutes, it was so hot! One day I drank 25 of those lousy things. If the heat doesn't get you, they will.)
We walked into the mausoleum. The familiarity I felt gave me a strange feeling, almost like being home. Weird. The same young man was guarding the tombs inside the circular marble screen which surrounds them. This alone is a marvel in itself, the height of a man and carved from a single block of stone which gives the appearance of being as delicate as lace. Every few minutes he gave that "call" which thrilled me so. His voice seemed to there forever in that great dome. I went up and started talking to him. He had that warm, beautiful openness that so many of the people over there have. I told him how much I liked his voice, that I was a musician and I sure would dig playing my flute in there. He said to meet him around 8:30 that night. Very few people are there then and I would have an hour to play before closing. They lock up at 9:30.
It was a very warm evening when Earl Barton (from California), John Archer (from England), Sankar (from Rishikesh) and I arrived once again at the Taj. I was not lucky enough to have a full moon, which is supposed to be the most magical I time to be there. But there was enough moonlight mixed with that hot air to give a feeling of suspension and a unique charm of its own. I was filled with excitement and anticipation as I mounted the stairs two at a time to the marble platform upon which the Taj rests. We entered the arched entrance. No tourists! How still and silent and soft and eternal! Some incense was burning and a lone candle placed on the tomb of Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal), for whom this priceless wonder of the world had been erected, flickered away, casting fantastic shadows through the marble-laced screen onto the circular walls Shah Jahan in his adjacent tomb seemed to be mysteriously watching over everything. I approached my friend, the guard, from behind and when he turned the smile on my face just froze and turned into disbelief. This wasn't my friend but someone else! John Archer, not knowing this, to set up his recording equipment. I said "Namaste" with my hands together in polite Indian fashion. He nodded. I opened my flute case. "what are you doing?" he asked. I said, "I'd like to play my flute in here." "You can't do that." "Why not?" "Because this is a tomb," he replied. "But you sing in here, don't you?" I said. "I sing to God," he answered very emphatically. "Well I play my flute to God," I said, just as emphatically, and to take it out of the case and put it together. I was bluffing and wondering how far I'd get. John Archer was almost all set up, and I sat down right in the middle of the tombs and played one note. I was using alto flute and the low C just flew out and filled the entire room and hung there. I couldn't believe it. It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life. The guard stood there transfixed. I played a few more notes. HE' didn't say anything. I motioned to John, who had his monitoring headsets on, to "roll it." I just began playing whatever came into my head. I'd let the notes hang there. I could play whole chords and they came back sounding like a chorus of angels. Then I'd play my next phrase on top of that. There was a whole orchestra invisibly suspended in the obscurity of the dome. After a few minutes I stopped. The guard seemed to really enjoy it. He was smiling now and I beckoned to him to give his "call." He did, and I signaled to John to keep the tapes rolling.
By now it was 9:30. He said it was closing time and he had to make his rounds. As he started to leave he turned around saying "but you stay." We were all so happy.
Earl and Sankar were sitting a little to the side and in back of me slapping mosquitos. I began to play again. After a minute I opened my eyes and looked at my arms holding the flute. They were covered with the biggest mosquitos I ever saw. I just closed my eyes again and continued playing. You know, I didn't get one bite all night. A funny thing happened though. Listening to the playbacks later that night in my hotel room I heard this mosquito go Bzzzzst! right in the middle of an improvisation. It cracked me up. The little cat wanted to get into the act arc! here he is immortalized! The only mosquito who "made it." You can hear him on the track "Agra," about 42 seconds into it.
One other time there was an explosion of fireworks in the distance celebrating a wedding, and although it was at least a half-mile away, sounds like it was right in the place. That happens on "Mumtaz Mahar, about 1 minute 45 seconds from the beginning.
The whole place was completely deserted. The guard came back in a little while with two more men. One of them was my "friend" who apologized for being late. He had brought with him a close friend who was a very good singer.
I said to the man, "I'll play and you sing." I played a short phrase and then stopped and motioned to him to do the same thing. He caught on right away and we made up a beautiful duet which had so much empathy that I felt like calling it "Unity." He spoke very little English and I spoke very little Hindi, yet we created this music together not knowing each other at all. Music really is that universal language which unites the spirits of mankind.
It was around 11:00 P.M. All the tape was used up and we were all a little tired. After packing up we walked slowly down the stairs and into the garden. As we walked along the alabaster pool towards the entrance my mind flashed to a childhood hero of mine. His name was Richard Halliburton and he wrote a book called "The Royal Road To Romance" back in the mid 1920's. He was a kid with great burning desires for adventure and to do "anything once." He walked out of an economics class in college one day and never went back. Instead, he followed his dreams and went all over the world doing and seeing as much as he could and getting any kind of odd job to sustain him. This book is his autobiography. During one of his adventures he stayed all night inside the Taj Mahal, escaping the guards when they closed down, and went for a dip in this same alabaster pool was walking beside now.
I couldn't help but feel that right then, some 45 years later, I had done something even more special!
- PAUL HORN