The well-known Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple says that ‘history can be changed and rewritten on the solid building blocks of facts’, but the attempt to rewrite the history according to a political party’s convenience can be dangerous for the generation to come. The controversy rose around one of the seven wonders in the world, the Taj Mahal, has been stirred by Sangeet Som, an MLA of the Bharatiya Janta Party from Uttar Pradesh, whose speech ignited the debate of whether the Taj is a ‘blot’ on Indian culture or a symbol of love. The debate on the Taj later changed from culture to religion as the right-wing pushed the theory of Taj-Tejo Mahalaya, a narrative constructed back in the year 1966 in the books, ‘Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research’ and ‘True Story of The Taj’ written by Purushottam Nagesh Oak. Today, after five decades, a parallel narrative on the Taj Mahal, which was built in the 17th century, has suddenly become an apple of discord. The right wing is escalating Oak’s theory in order to gain political mileage and attention in the next elections.
PN Oak’s Theory
PN Oak in his book wrote that the Taj Mahal is not the Mumtaz Mahal’s (wife of Mughal emperor Shahjahan) mausoleum but a Hindu temple of lord Shiva known as ‘Tejo Mahalaya’. In his research PN Oak discovered that the tomb of Taj was actually gifted by the Maharaja of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh. He also claimed that no any historian of the Mughal era has confirmed the much-celebrated love story of the Mughal emperor Shahajahan and Mumtaz Mahal which marked the construction of one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing monuments in the world. PN oak also presented many other outrageous ideas through his books taking a jibe on some other historical monuments of India and the world as well, where he supported his ‘findings’ based on rhyming and rhetoric. He said that Jesus Christ formed Christianity after learning ‘Krishna-Neeti’, Argentina is named after the mighty Pandav archer, Arjun, as ‘ArjunTina’, a Shivalinga is situated inside Kabba, Islam is Ishalayam, the Westminster Abbey is a Hindu structure, Vatican City was a ‘Vaatika (the hermitage)’ and many other outrageous idea which he cited without any reference and evidences. It becomes very difficult to rely on the texts by the writer as he lacks lot of fundamental conviction to support his argument. The book embraces some more bizarre arguments like the basement of the Taj is filled with the Hindu temple structures as the monument is situated on the banks of the river Yamuna. Taking a cue from this notion, a petition was filed in the court to demolish the basement of the Taj Mahal and do a check, but the court declined it saying that the new theory lacks proper conviction and logic.
Historians say that history is written on the basis of findings, logic and evidences but PN oak expressed his shallow theories driven by his Hindu sentiments in his book without citing any solid reference or blocks of facts.
What does the ASI say?
In a response to the petition filed by six Indian lawyers in April 2015, claiming that the iconic Taj Mahal was in reality a Hindu temple, the Archeological Survey of India refuted the contention that the UNESCO world heritage is a Hindu temple. At that time, the lawyers demanded that followers of Shiva should be allowed to perform puja or prayers inside the Taj Mahal. (The day before yesterday a group of Hindu Yuva Vahini entered the premises of the Taj and recited Shiva Chalisa. Later on, the CISF personnel moved them out.) The ASI and the historians have time and again raised doubts over the PN Oak’s theories of Tejo Mahalaya.
Yogi Calls it ‘Gem of India’
Had it not been the speech made in a public gathering by Sangeet Som, the controversy on the Taj might not have stirred at this level. The MLA said that the Taj Mahal is a ‘blot on Indian culture’ and the ‘tyrants’ made this. The leader committed a historical blunder by saying that Shahjahan ‘captivated his father’, however the Mughal emperor was himself captured his son Aurangzeb. The controversial BJP leader’s statement encouraged many other right wingers to speak up against the Taj and support the theory of PN Oak’s Tejo Mahalaya.
Ironically, the historical monument has been eliminated recently from the Uttar Pradesh tourism booklet and the reactions on this issue are mixed within the party. On the one side, some party leaders and spokespersons of the BJP say that it is a blot on Indian culture and must be treated as Hindu temple, the other top brass visits the Taj and tries to broom out the controversy after the damage is done. Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi visited the historical monument with his entourage and launched a cleanliness drive in its premises. He referred the Taj Mahal as the ‘Gem of India’ and also called it an integral part of Indian culture. But his colleagues in the government are leaving no stone unturned to malign the white marbles of the Taj and coating it saffron. There is a clear difference in the versions on the Taj issue by the lower and higher deck of the party.
Is Taj another Babri?
Since the formation of the BJP government in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the saffron brigade is gradually inching towards the establishment of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The well-known spiritual guru and the founder of The Art of Living Sri Sri Ravishankar met the imams of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), and the Hindu religious leaders of Nirmohi Akhara in order to reach on a consensus on the construction of the Ramlala temple on the disputed lands of Ayodhya, taking a cue from the Allahabad High court for out of court settlement on the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir issue. He is trying to find an amicable solution as a mediator. He has also praised the UP CM Yogi that the former Mahant of the Gorakhnath temple is putting diligent efforts towards the establishment of the mandir at the disputed land. Now the fresh controversy on the Taj by the Lotus party seems to be another agenda in the similar lines of Ayodhya dispute. Does the saffron brigade attempt to drive the Hindu sentiments for the next Loksabha elections in 2019 by hitting one more Mandir-Masjid issue in the form of Taj-Tejo Mahalaya? This is a matter of debate which cannot be rejected sooner or later. There is an attempt to re’right’ the Indian history for some political benefits.
William Delrymple believes that neither of the political parties, BJP and Congress, has put efforts to preserve the pride of Indian historical monuments. In a talk show he said that Agra was so clean and beautiful that the travelers used to travel by boats from one place to another, enjoying the scenic beauty of the Mughal era, but due to lack of will and money, we are losing on the charm and pride of Indian historical heritage. Our grandchildren will be deprived as they will encounter complete different history in their textbooks.
(Views are personal.)