Heaven on Earth
catalog # 3260
Published & Distributed by…
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Mystic Lands, a 13-part documentary series, takes the viewers on an
incomparable journey of discovery to some of the world’s most unique
spiritual places. From the cloud-shrouded majesty of Peru’s Machu
Picchu to the pagoda-studded plains of Myanmar’s Bagan, and from
the architectural grandeur of India’s Taj Mahal to the simplicity of a
rural Haitian village’s vodou hounfor (temple), Mystic Lands explores
the allure of these sacred spaces and vividly documents their contin-
ued powerful influence on the daily lives of countless believers. The
Mystic Lands series, in its artistic blending of the past and present,
details the legends, mysteries, history, and facts that surround these
great spirit lands of the world. Intended for grades 9-12, the series high-
lights the “living faith” embodied in the architecture, expressive arts,
contemporary spiritual practices, lifestyle, people, and cultures that
surround these spiritual sites today.
Through worldwide, on-location, live-action video, original illustra-
tions, maps, excerpts and translations of sacred writings and oral tra-
ditions, as well as interview footage, Mystic Lands acquaints the view-
ers with the world’s “sacred geography,” identifying the mystical sites,
temples, holy cities, places of pilgrimage, prophets, gods and beliefs
that have molded the world’s diverse spiritual traditions. Mystic Lands
is narrated by acclaimed actor Edward James Olmos and features origi-
nal music by international recording artist Chris Spheeris.
Programs in this series are ideal for use in multi-cultural studies. View-
ers will gain an appreciation for cultural diversity and become more
globally conscious through learning about religious differences, how
other societies relate to the natural world, and lifestyles totally differ-
ent than their own.
Titles in the series include:
Anasazi - The Ancient Ones
The mysteries of the Anasazi culture from America’s southwest desert
unfold through their myths and legends. Sunbaked ruins, broken pot-
tery sherds, elaborate road systems, ceremonial great houses and kivas
weave an amazing tale of the spiritual life of this great Native-Ameri-
Australia - Dreamtime
The legends, ceremonies, songs, dances, sacred beliefs, and aspects of
everyday life of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal Anangu and Tiwi
tribes are explored. These native people see the landscape as a living
embodiment of the myths and stories of their creation–an age of leg-
endary heroes called “the Dreamtime.”
Bali - Island Of A Thousand Temples
On the magical island paradise of Bali, religion and spirits blend them-
selves into all aspects of Balinese life. The Balinese spiritual beliefs are
richly expressed through their arts. Delicate weavings, intricate carv-
ings, vivid paintings and imaginative dances are an integral part of
Bhutan - Land Of The Thunder Dragon
In this secluded Himalayan Kingdom, Buddhism is not just a religion;
it is a way of life. From fluttering prayer flags to the rhythmic spin of
prayer wheels, worship to Lord Buddha permeates every aspect of life
Burma - Triumph Of The Spirit
Burma (Myanmar) is a devout Buddhist nation struggling to find its
way in today’s post-industrial world. This reclusive country, graced
by golden pagodas and teak temples, is considered one of the last magi-
cal destinations in the Orient. The spiritual life of Burma is explored
through its historic religious sites.
Egypt - Cycle Of Life
Rising from the windswept desert sands along the banks of the life-
giving Nile, the great pyramids of Egypt rise to the heavens–eternal
monuments in stone to the pharaohs’ quest for immortality. This pro-
gram delves into the complex culture of Ancient Egypt and its rich
Greece - Isle Of Revelation
From the majestic Athenian Acropolis to the cloud-shrouded top of
Mount Olympus, Greek ruins dot an epic landscape. Greece was once
home to a powerful pantheon of gods, but a new religion, a legacy of
the historic visits of the Christian disciples John and Paul, shattered
the old myths and still shapes the faith of Greece today.
Haiti - Dance Of The Spirit
Dispelling the myths and preconceptions that surround the practice of
Vodou, this provocative episode dramatically explores the truth and
beauty of mystical Haitian Vodou spirituality through fantastic dance
and fire ceremonies.
Jerusalem - Mosaic Of Faith
Claimed by three living religions, Jerusalem is perhaps the most spiri-
tually charged city in the world. The historic and mystic roots of Chris-
tianity, Islam, and Judaism unfold in an exploration of this ancient city
Maya - Messages In Stone
The mysterious cities of the Maya–Tikal, Chichen Itza, and Palenque–
are explored, focusing on the legends, history and facts derived from
the “rock records” left by the ancient Maya. Human sacrifice is ex-
plained through Maya religious beliefs.
Peru - Kingdom In The Clouds
Considered to be the most significant archaeological site on the South
American continent, Machu Picchu was built and then abandoned by
the Inca after only 100 years. The influence of the Inca spiritual beliefs
on their lifestyle, architecture and astronomical achievements will be
explored in the ruins of Machu Picchu and the spiritual centers of Peru’s
Sacred Valley, including Ollantaytambo and Pisac.
Taj Mahal - Heaven On Earth
Located in Agra, India, the Taj Mahal is a complex of gardens, mosques,
and minarets constructed as a tribute to Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz
Mahal, after her death. In his grief, Shah Jahan vowed to build the
most beautiful tomb that ever existed. The spiritual motivations be-
hind the building of the Taj Mahal and the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri
Varanasi - City Of Light
Located on the banks of India’s great river Ganges, Varanasi is consid-
ered by Hindus to be the holiest place on earth. The eternal city of
Varanasi has been a center of enlightenment and civilization for more
than 2,000 years. The spiritual and cultural aspects of the Hindu faith
continue to define this sacred city. Rituals and beliefs surrounding death
by cremation and the end of the cycle of reincarnation are explored.
Each program in the Mystic Lands series includes one video, the aver-
age length is approximately 25 minutes; a Teacher's Guide with lesson
plans, suggested student activities, Internet listings, and script; and
a set of reproducible blackline masters for classroom use.
It is suggested that you preview the video and review this teacher's
guide before involving your students in the lesson activities. In this
way you will become familiar with the materials and be better pre-
pared to adapt them to the needs of your students. You may find it
necessary to make some changes, deletions or additions to fit the spe-
cific needs of your class. We encourage you to do so, for only by tailor-
ing this program to your students will they obtain the maximum ben-
efits afforded by the materials.
It is also suggested that the video presentation take place before the
entire group under your supervision. The lesson activities grow out of
the content of the video; therefore, the presentation should be a com-
mon experience for all students.
TAJ MAHAL - Heaven On Earth
from the Mystic Lands Series
Viewing Time: 25 Minutes
Grade Level: 9-12
BACKGROUND AND DESCRIPTION
OF THE PROGRAM
The Taj Mahal was described by Rudyard Kipling in the 1890s as “the
embodiment of all things pure, all things holy, and all things unhappy.”
It has also been called “the most extravagant monument to love.” Lo-
cated in Agra, India, the Taj Mahal, which translates to mean “Crown
of the Region,” is the world’s most famous Mughal monument. Now
considered a national symbol of India, the Taj Mahal stands as an ex-
quisite memorial to love, to faith, to vision. For many, the Taj Mahal
transcends the boundaries of time, place, space and speaks a universal
language of the mystical, the sacred, the divine.
The Taj Mahal is an otherworldly complex of gardens, canals, mosques,
and minarets that has become an “international symbol of love, purity
of design, and architectural perfection.” Mughal ruler, Shah Jahan,
erected the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and, many
believe, to honor his belief in Islam. There are many stories concerning
the how’s and why’s of the Taj Mahal’s creation. While some of the
tales are no doubt accurate, many are probably based more on legend
Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen of the Palace) was the second wife, constant
companion, and quasi-advisor of Shah Jahan. Following their marriage
in 1612, she bore him thirteen children. Mumtaz was a strong, chari-
table woman known for her kindness and incredible beauty. Mumtaz
developed a reputation for her “civilizing” influence on the Mughal
court. She became famous for her work with the poor and needy.
Mumtaz took a special interest in widows and orphans.
When Mumtaz died in 1629 while giving birth to their fourteenth child,
Shah Jahan was so overcome with grief that he locked himself in his
room for eight days stating, “the empire has no sweetness, life itself
has no relish for me now.” According to legend, when he reemerged
his black hair had turned white. He decided to express his grief through
his passion for architecture and vowed to build the most beautiful tomb
that ever existed.
The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 after 22 years of construction.
More than 20,000 artisans from as far away as France, Italy, and Turkey
were involved in completing the ornate mausoleum. The Taj was con-
structed of brick encased in white marble brought from Makran in
Rajasthan. Hundreds of elephants were used to transport the marble
Merchants from exotic places such as Baghdad and Tibet came to Agra
bringing precious stones to decorate the Taj. Lapis lazuli, coral, agate,
and turquoise were inlaid into the marble in beautiful patterns. When
the tomb was finally completed, more than 2000 men were deployed
to stand guard. Holy men were brought in to offer prayers.
When Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, his four sons plotted for his throne.
One son, Aurangzeb, killed his three brothers and then deposed his
father. Shah Jahan was confined to a room in the Red Fort. From this
vantage point across the Yamuna River, Shah Jahan had a clear view of
the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan died, still as his son’s prisoner, eight years
later. It has been written that his last wish was to be carried to a win-
dow where “dimly looking across the water at the glowing whiteness
and glittering of the melody in marble, he fell into a deep and endless
sleep.” Aurangzeb buried his father in the Taj Mahal alongside Mumtaz
Under Aurangzeb, the Mughal empire fell into a slow decline. During
this time the Taj was badly neglected. It was pillaged by local Marathas
and Jat forces. The gardens became weed choked. Drunken soldiers
wandered the grounds. Souvenir hunters chiseled marble pieces from
the exterior. It wasn’t until 1803, when the British established their pres-
ence in Agra, that the Taj was restored and once again properly main-
tained. Today, the Taj Mahal is under assault again. This time environ-
mental pollution is the culprit.
In this program, shot on location in India, the love story and religious
devotion that inspired the creation of the Taj Mahal will be highlighted.
This program also explores the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, built by
Akbar, the third of the Mughal rulers and Shah Jahan’s grandfather.
Fatehpur Sikri was just one of many efforts attempted by Akbar to
spiritually unite the people of India. Today, the Taj Mahal stands as an
exquisite, sacred reminder of the incredible vision, architectural skills,
and spiritual devotion of the Mughals.
The overall goals of this program are to…
• Explore the spiritual motivations behind the construction of the city
of Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal, as well as the symbolism inherent
in the architectural details of the Taj Mahal.
• Explore the spiritual diversity of India as reflected in the architec-
tural achievements of Mughal emperors Akbar and Shah Jahan.
USES OF THE PROGRAM
This program can be used in a variety of ways and in different courses
of study. The lesson activities focus on the following:
A thematic approach is suggested, but not required, in order to achieve
the student objectives and thereby accomplish the program goals.
After viewing Taj Mahal - Heaven on Earth and participating in the
lesson activities, the viewers should be able to…
• Discuss the legend surrounding the creation of Fatehpur Sikri, and
explain how the city’s architecture reflects Akbar’s commitment to re-
• Discuss why the creators of the Taj Mahal considered it heaven on
earth, and explain the spiritual symbolism of the garden design.
• Explain why the Taj Mahal could be considered a symbolic repre-
sentation of India’s diverse spirituality.
• Discuss the changes initiated by Akbar to reduce religious intoler-
ance and promote unity in his empire.
• Explain why many believe that the creation of the Taj Mahal reflects
more than the love of Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.
INTRODUCING THE VIDEO/BLACKLINE MASTERS
• Map Activity: On a large wall map point out India. If possible lo-
cate and point out the state of Uttar Pradesh which is situated in the
northern part of India and shares a border with Nepal. The cities of
Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are located slightly south and east of the city
of New Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. New Delhi is the capital of
• Before viewing the video, ask a few leading questions. For example:
-What do you already know about the Taj Mahal? Where is it lo-
cated? Why was it built? Why is it famous?
-What do you know about India’s Mughal Emperors, their place in
the history of India, and/or the achievements in the arts, literature,
and architecture during their reigns?
-Can you think of any examples from other cultures where archi-
tecture has been used to reflect spiritual beliefs?
-What do you know about India’s diverse spiritual traditions, cus-
toms and practices?
Although the majority of Indians (80%) are practicing Hindus, there
is probably more spiritual diversity in India than anywhere else in
the world. All the world’s major religions are represented in India, as well
as many sects. Jainism, a very old religion peculiar to India, is still prac-
ticed, as is Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s most ancient religions. These
faiths exist side by side in India – centuries old traditions, rituals, devo-
tions, and prayers reflecting the philosophies, beliefs, and deep spirituality
of India’s faithful.
• Distribute Blackline Master 1, Vocabulary Guide. This will help ac-
quaint viewers with some of the unusual terminology used in the vid-
eotape presentation. It is suggested that this list be duplicated and dis-
tributed before viewing the program.
• Distribute Blackline Master 2, Viewer’s Guide. It is recommended
that you duplicate and distribute this before viewing the program. Some
questions may require additional reading. Have viewers answer the
questions either while watching the video or shortly after the video
presentation. You may want to divide the group into smaller units,
assign each group certain questions, and share answers with the entire
• Present the video. The viewing time is 25 minutes.
• Blackline Master 3, Word Match, will test students on their com-
prehension of the terms presented in the video and on Blackline Mas-
• Blackline Master 4, Quiz. This quiz may be taken immediately fol-
lowing the video or at a later date after viewers have participated in
other follow-up activities. The quiz is a brief check on what the view-
ers have retained from this lesson.
Immediately after viewing the video, ask for questions and comments
about the content of the video.
Use Blackline Master 2, Viewer’s Guide questions as a basis for a dis-
cussion of the information presented in the video. If the discussion
leads to details that were not covered in the video, you may want to
have the students or groups of students research the subject and report
back to the class. An answer key for the Viewer’s Guide is provided,
beginning on page 13 of this teacher’s guide. Some additional sug-
gested discussion questions are…
1. What are some of the different religious traditions that are prac-
ticed in India today?
Answers will vary. India has been described as “a veritable kaleidoscope of
religions.” Some of the many different religions represented in India are Hin-
duism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Judaism.
2. What are some examples of Akbar’s religious nature and “eclectic
Answers will vary. According to legend, as a child Akbar spoke with angels.
As a young man, Akbar meditated alone in the desert. And as an emperor, he
prayed regularly at the tombs of Muslim saints. He relocated his capital and
built the city of Fatehpur Sikri in tribute for the fulfillment of the prophecy of
the mystic saint, Sheikh Salim. The use of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim ar-
chitectural elements in the city of Fatehpur Sikri is one example of his reli-
gious tolerance. Although he prayed at Fatehpur Sikri’s mosque, he faced, not