Taj Mahal: A monument caught in the eye of a communal storm

Source : SIFY
Last Updated: Mon, Oct 16, 2017 17:46 hrs

New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Sangeet Som on Monday said the Taj Mahal was built by traitors and should get no place in history. He called the Mughal-era monument a “blot on Indian culture”.

“Many were sad when the Taj Mahal was removed from historical places,” Som said at a rally. “What history?”

The BJP leader went on to incorrectly claim that the "creator of Taj Mahal had imprisoned his father”. However, it was Shah Jahan, the builder of the Unesco World Heritage site, who had been imprisoned by his son Aurangazeb. Shah Jahan had claimed the throne only after his father Jahangir’s death.

“He [Shah Jahan] wanted to wipe out Hindus,” Som claimed. “If these people are part of our history, then it is very sad, and we will change this history.”

Although this seems an egregious thing to say, this was not the first attack on the world heritage site.

A 32-page booklet, called ‘Uttar Pradesh Paryatan-Apaar Sambhavanaayein’ translated as ‘Uttar Pradesh Tourism – Unlimited Possibilities’, recently released by the UP Ministry of Tourism failed to mention the UNESCO World Heritage Site at all, instead giving prominence to sites of significance to the Hindu religion, reported Firstpost.

Chief Minister Adityananth stated that ‘Taj Mahal doesn’t reflect the Indian culture’ and he also claimed gifting replicas of the Taj to foreign visitors is “not a part of Indian culture”. “The Ramayana and The Geeta represent Indian culture not the Taj Mahal”, the Chief Minister stated in June this year according to a Firstpost report.

Then again, in 2014, then UP BJP chief Lakshmikant Bajpayee suggested that the Taj Mahal was originally part of a Hindu temple. The case at the Agra court came up once again for hearing on August 24.

In April 2015, the Agra district court had admitted a suit filed by six lawyers which claimed that the Taj Mahal is a Shiva temple (Tejo Mahalaya) and Hindu devotees should be allowed access inside the premises. The court also reprimanded him for bringing the petition, saying he had a “bee in his bonnet” about the Taj.

Among the first to raise a controversy over the Taj was a little-known Indian author called PN Oak, a self-proclaimed historian with a penchant for Hindu-centric historical revisionism.

In his book, Taj Mahal: The True Story, Oak claimed the monument was originally a Shiva temple and a Rajput palace named Tejo Mahalaya, which was seized by Shah Jahan and turned into a tomb.

Oak's  book stated that Shiva temple was built by a Rajput King and it was later adopted by Shahjahan.

In 2000, SC dismissed Oak’s petition that a declaration be issued that a Hindu king had built the Taj Mahal, reported the Times of India. Rejecting the archaeological body’s stand, the local court had directed it to file its reply.

However far-reaching this theory was, it wasn't the only one.

As this Scroll article points out, 'A century ago, well before the Tejo Mahalaya theory was postulated, many western observers had another theory about the Taj Mahal. Like many modern proponents of Tejo Mahalaya, this theory also claimed the Mughals “incapable” of such splendid architecture.'

'This 19th century theory credited the architecture of the Taj Mahal not to a Hindu temple or the palace of a Hindu king, but to an altogether more foreign source: an Italian architect or a French jeweller or, even, both.'

Writing of Father Sebastien Manrique, a Portuguese missionary sent to the Far East, the article states that 'Manrique writes about the Taj Mahal that was then undergoing construction: “The architect of these works was a Venetian, by name Geronimo Veroneo, who had come to this part in a Portuguese ship and died in the City of Laor [Lahore] just before I reached it.'