Taj Mahal: Don’t downgrade history – Ravi Shankar

Taj Mahal

Ravi Shankar EttethIndia’s genius is that it outlives its conquerors, and appropriates alien influences by Indianising them. – Ravi Shankar

Monuments are the eternal ambassadors of history. They evoke reverence by defying interpretation as empirical proof of the past. They are built, not to destroy a culture, but to enrich the imagination of future generations. Which is why, the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world and the crown of India’s tourist ecosystem, should not be seen as a symbol of religious conquest. The Taj is not Babri Masjid or the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta.

The Babri Masjid was not a monument. It was a symbol of brutal conquest, constructed to denigrate a domestic faith. The mosque that has invaded the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, is an ugly token of Muslim imperial arrogance. The hundreds of mosques that have been built over the razed precincts of temples remind us of an old shame. But the Taj is not a symbol of conquest. It’s just a heartbreakingly exquisite piece of architecture, embroidered with romance. It would be very short-sighted and regressive to treat it as a Muslim monument. It belongs not just to India, but to all of mankind.

Cultural cleansing is a speciality of Islamic aggression, starting with the library of Alexandria. In 2001, the world was horrified when the Taliban blew up the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas because they were “unIslamic”. As illiterate tribal chieftains, civil war riffraff of the Middle East and rabid preachers cut a violent swathe through fallen, failed nations their first victim was history. The Taliban destroyed everything that they deemed unacceptable to the Sunni Wahhabi version of Islam—Sufi shrines, Shia mosques and churches. IS set up the Kata’ib Taswiyya (settlement battalions) to destroy monuments. It turned Mosul into a graveyard of an Age—tombs of prophets Daniel, Jonah and Jirjis were blown up. Churches dating back to the 16th century were dynamited. Even inscriptions hailing Allah and the Prophet were destroyed.

But we are not them. We are a confident modern nation that has just rediscovered its heritage. India’s genius is that it outlives its conquerors, and appropriates alien influences by Indianising them. In food, language, classical music and architecture India has demolished the values of conquerors by diluting their essence with its own cultural power. Hence, Tansen’s ragas, Persian pilafs, mulligatawny and Urdu are now uniquely Indian.

Having said that, the Taj is not the only jewel in India’s crown. Myriad temples and palaces have fallen into neglect. Their lofty architecture and magnificent planning do not find space in the agenda of the bureaucracy. Cities that are home to such monuments are pockmarks of urban neglect. The filthy home of the Taj Mahal, Agra itself comes 47/73 in the Swachh Survekshan programme rankings.

In spite of being the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi, where one of the holiest of Shiva temples in India is situated, was rated among the country’s 10 dirtiest cities by the government in 2016. The Hampi ruins are defaced by graffiti and filth, making a mockery of the glory of a great Hindu empire. Monuments under the protection of ASI are routinely encroached upon by squatters and the political land mafia. There is so much to be done before undoing anything. Let’s start with the basics. – The New Indian Express, 15 October 2017

» Ravi Shankar is a columnist for The New Indian Express in New Delhi. 

Gyanvapi Mosque Varanasi

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10 Responses

  1. Taj Mahal & Mosque
    Ban namaz at Taj Mahal or allow Shiva prayers too, demands RSS’ history wing – India Today – Anand Patel – New Delhi, October 27, 2017

    The history wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Akhil Bhartiya Itihaas Sankalan Samiti, has demanded that Friday prayers at Taj Mahal should be banned.

    RSS affiliate body’s National Organisation Secretary Dr Balmukund Pandey in an exclusive conversation with India Today TV said, “Taj is a national heritage. Why allow Muslims to use it as a religious site? Permission to perform namaz at Agra’s Taj Mahal should be withdrawn.”

    Adding more fuel to the fire, Dr Pandey also demanded that if namaz is allowed then permission to perform Shiva prayers be also granted to the Hindus.

    Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays to facilitate the prayers.

    Just a couple of days ago, members of a right wing organisation, Hindu Yuva Vahini, were forcibly taken away by security personnel for attempting to recite ‘Shiv Chalisaa’ (Hymn to Lord Shiva) inside Taj premises. The workers were demanding rights to perform prayers claiming Taj was a Shiva temple before it was converted into a mausoleum.

    “There is ample evidence that Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple constructed by a Hindu King, Taj is not a symbol of love, Emperor Shahjahan married within four months of his queen Mumtaz Mahal’s demise,” claims Dr Pandey. “We are collecting evidence and will soon detail every aspect of it,” he added.

    “Our organisation is compiling a list all such monuments which were demolished by the Muslim rulers to construct mausoleums or other buildings,” he further added.

    Akhil Bhartiya Itihaas Sankalan Samiti is the history wing of RSS with stated objective of writing, or rewriting Indian history from a national perspective.

    Dialogue to resolve conflict

    Meanwhile the imam at the heritage sight said that Shiva prayers should not be performed there adding that peace can happen through dialogue.

    “The mosque is built next to Taj Mahal and namaz is performed there. Shiv Chalisa should not be recited near the grave. The entire controversy is uncalled for and can be solved through dialogue,” said Ali.

    • There is no evidence that the Taj Mahal building itself was a Shiva temple. From the record, it appears to have been the palace of Raja Man Singh which was either rebuilt as the Taj or demolished and the Taj built over the original foundations.

      The crafts men who built the Taj were mostly Hindu. They may have used Hindu motifs and designs in the construction, as these were natural and known to them. Because some motifs in the building can be interpreted as Hindu motifs, does not make the building a Hindu temple.

      (Many old churches in Europe have elaborate swastika decorations on them. In fact Hitler took his swastika symbol from a swastika motif in an Austrian Catholic church he attended as a boy. These churches are certainly not Hindu buildings. Though the swastika may have Hindu origins, it is a universal symbol found in many non-Hindu cultures.)

      There may have been a temple or temples in the palace grounds which were removed when the Taj and its two out buildings—a mosque and guest house—were built. But this has not been established.

      The Taj Mahal is now a Muslim queen’s grave site. It is a polluted, unclean place for a Hindu to visit. Certainly the Shiva Chalisa should not be recited there!

      How incredibly stupid can our self-styled Hindu historians and activists get!

  2. The Taj Mahal controversy – Deccan Chronicle – Oct 22, 2017

    Dr K. K. Muhammed, Former Regional Director (North), Archaeological Survey of India, writes

    The Taj Mahal has got every record, for the construction, the land grant and even for the marble. The land belonged to Raja Jai Singh, who happens to be Shah Jahan’s cousin. Shah Jahan’s mother was from the royal family of Marwar. Taj Mahal is the climax of every Mughal architectural inheritance.

    I have worked behind the revival of more than 100 temples and have a good idea about Shiva, Ganapathy and Vishnu. But I have not heard of Tejo Mahalaya, which is supposedly a Shiva temple.

    I have seen the insides of Taj Mahal, there are just a lot of empty rooms inside it, which were constructed to elevate the height of the structure. This is an unnecessary controversy.

    Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, Founder of Heritageshaala, writes

    It is doubtful that Taj Mahal is Tejo Mahalya since anyone who has any knowledge of Vaastu Shastra can tell that a double dome structure cannot be associated with ancient temple architecture. Besides, the land on which the Taj Mahal stands belonged to Raja Jai Singh. He sold the land to the Mughals for a handsome price. Had it been an important temple, he would have never attempted this blasphemy. Its resemblance to the description in the Quran also proves the theory otherwise.

    It is a pity to see that we are fighting over the authorship of a structure which contributes majorly towards India’s tourism income. Such debates not only disturb the communal harmony of the nation, but also affect the overall fabric of society.

    • True, the present building was never a temple. But the property was not paid for handsomely, as Dr Swamy has observed. And whatever other buildings existed on the property when it was acquired by Shah Jahan has not been established.

      It would be very interesting to know what the Quran has to say about the Taj Mahal—if anything!

      The problem is that the ASI has not been open and straight about the building of the mausoleum, leading many to believe they are hiding something.

      Hiding the history of a nation affects communal harmony and the social fabric, not studying it and making it freely available to its rightful inheritors.

  3. Swamy: Taj Mahal sits on stolen property – Times of India – New Delhi – Oct 20, 2017

    NEW DELHI: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy on Wednesday said he has access to documents that suggest the property where Taj Mahal was built was stolen by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan from kings of Jaipur.

    “There is evidence on record that Shah Jahan forced the Raja-Maharajas of Jaipur to sell the land on which Taj Mahal is standing, and he gave them a compensation of forty villages, which is nothing compared to the property’s value,” Swamy told reporters.

    He added he will release the copies of the evidence to the media soon.

    “The documents also suggest that there was a temple on the property. But it is still not clear whether Taj Mahal was built after the demolition of a temple,” asserted Swamy.

    He further said that the BJP has no intention of demolishing Taj Mahal, but only want three temples out of thousands demolished under the Muslim rule. “We want only three, which are Ayodhya’s Ram, Krishna’s Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi. These three, once they are restored, we won’t be concerned about the remaining forty thousand,” said Swamy

  4. It is the right of every Indian, for that matter, every human being, to know the truthful history. Nothing is more important than that. Do we wish the young generation go on learning history filled with lies? The Archeological Dept of the Indian Government should under-take the task of telling the people what the Taj Complex is, instead of propagating false information .

    • This is an extract from the series of brilliant articles by Shantanu Bhagwat which appeared in the Times of India in 2014 called “The Making of the Taj Mahal”.

      The Taj & Badshahnama: Is this the smoking gun?

      In the earlier parts of this series on Taj Mahal, we noted how accounts of its construction are few, sketchy and generally unreliable. We also noted how the magnificent edifice had extensive leaks when it was in its last phases of “construction”. This led me to wonder, does the Taj Mahal predate Mahal’s death? Is it an extant structure that was modified by Shah Jahan?

      The smoking gun — in a manner of speaking — in this case comes from Badshahnama, the most complete & comprehensive account of the reign of Shah Jahan.

      The Persian text of these accounts was published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1867. Extracts from the text, translated in English, were published in 1877 in History of India as Told by its Own Historians.

      Strangely, these extracts (all of 168) pages have only a fleeting reference to the passing away of Mumtaz Mahal. Even more strangely, they make no mention at all of either the Taj Mahal or any massive construction at Agra.* Unfortunately, the full text of the Badshahnama has still not been translated in English. So we have no means to conclusively say (as yet) whether these records of the court and the reign of Shah Jahan mention the construction and other details of Taj Mahal or not.

      But we do have references to this text in other books. One such book is Agra—Historical and Descriptive by Syed Muhammad Latif, published in 1896.

      Latif’s book is notable not because of its reference to the Badshahnama, but for a seemingly casual sentence that nevertheless is remarkable in contradicting everything we are told about the structure. On page 105 of the book, Latif, referring to Badshahnama, writes, “The site selected for the mausoleum was to the south of the City. It was originally a palace of Raja Man Singh, but it was the property of his grandson, Raja Jai Singh.”

      Read that again. Slowly. “The site selected for the mausoleum was … originally a palace of Raja Man Singh.” This is odd, to say the least, and raises a number of difficult questions.

      If this extract from the Badshahnama is true, what happened to the palace? Was it demolished? Or was it re-designed and converted into the marvel we see today? Or is the palace itself what we call the Taj today?

      But before anything else, we need to establish the credibility of this sentence – particularly since it appears to turn the entire story about this “labour of love” on its head.

      Does it appear in any other accounts? Is it referred by any other writer? Or writers?

      Our next exhibit in this curious tale – which alludes to this very same fact – is a most unlikely source, published almost a 100 years after Latif’s book. It is a 1982 booklet on Taj Mahal titled Taj Museum. On page 4 of this slim volume, we find this sentence, “The site selected for the burial was an extremely pleasant and lofty land situated to the south of the city on which, till then stood the mansion (manzil) of Raja Man Singh and which was, at that time, in possession of the latter’s grandson, Raja Jai Singh.”

      Guess who published this booklet? The Archaeological Survey of India!

      The reference in Badshahnama would have probably gone unnoticed – until at least such time as the full translation of the text was not done – had it not been for the work of P N Oak, who published a book in 1968 titled, Taj Mahal was a Rajput Palace. In that book, he reproduced two pages from the Badshahnama, along with the translation. In those two pages, he identified the sentence, “Raja Mansingh’s palace, at that time owned by Raja Jaisingh (grandson of Raja Mansingh) was selected for burial of Arjumand Banu Begum alias Mumtaz-ul-Zamani.”

      Unfortunately P N Oak’s work was discredited soon after it was published, largely due to some of his hypothesis that appeared to be far-fetched and in the realm of fantasy. The source of the translation – or the translation itself – was never challenged, to the best of my knowledge.

      Critics usually counter this by pointing to the fact that there is a mention of a “foundation was laid” towards the end of the extract, although no further details of the work, labour and costs related to this “foundation” are available.

      There is at least one more account which mentions the “manzil” of Raja Jai Singh. It is a book titled, Jehangir’s India by W H Moreland, published in 1925. Although the title mentions Jehangir, the book has little to do with Jehangir. It is actually a translation of a Dutch trading officer’s account of the times. It is “primarily a commercial document, but, fortunately for posterity, Pelsaert included in it a detailed account of the social and administrative environment (of the time).”

      Pelsaert was posted to India in 1620. “He reached Surat in December … and was forthwith sent to Agra, where he remained until the end of 1627”. Moreland tells us that “There can be no question that he had an accurate ear (and) … that he had mastered the language of the country.”

      In his description of Agra, Pelsaert wrote, “The breadth of the city is by no means so great as the length, because everyone has tried to be close to the river bank, and consequently the water-front is occupied by the costly palaces of all the famous lords, which make it appear very gay and magnificent. … I will record the chief of these palaces in order.”

      “After passing the Fort, there is the Nakhas, a great market, where in the morning horses, camels, oxen, tents, cotton goods, and many other things are sold. Beyond it lie the houses of some great lords, such as Mirza Abdulla, son of Khan Azam (3000 horse); Aga Nur, provost of the King’s army (3000 horse); Jahan Khan (2000 horse); Mirza Khurram son of Khan Azam (2000 horse); Mahabat Khan (8000 horse); Khan Alam (5000 horse); Raja Bet Singh 1 (3000 horse); the late Raja Man Singh (5000 horse); Raja Madho Singh (2000 horse).”

      We know that several of these palaces (which were also noticed by other travellers e.g. Bernier, the French doctor who stayed at Aurangzeb’s court between 1658-1665) survived well into the 19th century although most were in ruins by then.

      Pelsaert had already left India by the time of Mumtaz Mahal’s death. So we cannot say for certain – at least based on this evidence – that the palace of Raja Man Singh which Palsaert mentioned, is what we know today as the “Taj Mahal.”

      But there are now enough reasons to doubt the credibility of the claim that Shah Jahan started the construction of this magnificent piece of architecture.

      The list of these reasons is now getting longer. And the inconvenient facts keep accumulating.

      For instance, the mention of an extant palace (manzil) on the same site where the Taj stands today. The implausible pace of construction, the lack of eye-witness accounts, the lack of details in Badshahnama, the wide discrepancy in contemporary accounts by foreign travellers. The damning mention of extensive leaks in the structure which puzzled the ‘master-builders’ etc., etc.

      How does one reconcile these inconvenient pieces of evidence with the “history” that we read? Are these reasons not enough to warrant a deeper investigation, a fresh look at the whole “history” of this monument?

      In the final part of this series, we will examine additional evidence and features of this building which suggest that the edifice may have been originally designed for purposes other than to serve as a mausoleum. Stay tuned. – (The Times of India, 19 July 2014)

      * Note that the monument was not called “Taj Mahal” during medieval times but the extracts have no mention of any of its alternative names — Rauza-e-Mumtaz Mahal, Rauza-i-Munauwara, Rauza-i- Muqqadas or Imarat-i-Rauza-i-Mutahhara — either.

      Read the full article HERE

  5. Taj Mahal not a symbol of worship, most Mughals ‘aiyaash’: UP Shia Waqf Board chairman – Times of India – New Delhi – Oct 17, 2017

    NEW DELHI: The chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board on Tuesday jumped into the controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal, saying that the monument cannot be a symbol of “worship.” He also alleged that “most Mughals were ‘aiyaash'” or ‘dissolute.’

    “The Taj Mahal can be a symbol of love but not of worship. Apart from one or two, most Mughals were ‘aiyaash’. Muslims don’t consider them idols,” chairman Syed Waseem Rizvi told ANI.

    Rizvi also addressed the criticism surrounding the state government’s proposal to build a 100 metre statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya, saying that he did not “understand why there is an issue.”

    “No one opposed when Mayawati built her own statues. I don’t understand why there is an issue over building the Ram statue,” he said.

    He added that the construction of the statue would be “a good step as Ayodhya is centre of Hindu heritage.”

    The controversy around the Taj has only heated up in the past few weeks.

    On Monday, BJP MLA Sangeet Som questioned why people like Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, “who tried to wipe out Hindus”, are considered part of India’s culture and history, and threatened to “change that history”.

    “Many were sad when the Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places. What kind of history? What place’s history? Whose history? The history that the man who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? The history that he wanted to wipe out the Hindus from all of Uttar Pradesh and India?” Som had asked.

    Som’s comments had come under strong criticism from various quarters, including from AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, who had demanded to know if PM Modi will “stop hoisting Tiranga” from the Red Fort, since it was also built by “traitors.”

    A spokeswoman for Samajwadi Party had said that the Taj must not be dragged into any controversies.

    A day after Som’s comments, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath unequivocally said the monument was Indian.

    “It does not matter who built it (Taj Mahal) and for what reason; it was built by blood and sweat of Indian labourers,” he said.

    Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik said that it was not “correct” to drag the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world, into controversies.

  6. The Taj Mahal is a vastly over-rated building. Except for Sir Edwin Arnold’s romantic poem, nobody would have thought to remember it. Its true builder is disputed, as is the reason for its building. But the fact remains that it is today a huge money spinner for the Indian government, so let it be. It is going to fall down in a hundred years anyway, as the soft marble of the building is fast being eaten away by Agra’s acidic air pollution (already it has turned a dirty yellow). And lastly, it is hardly a place a Hindu would want to visit, being the mausoleum containing the graves of two Muslim royals, Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.

    • though brief , it is an excellent & total description regarding the facts of that building !
      the last line is an eye-opener for those foolish Hindus who visit such places .

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