On May 12, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by BJP youth media in-charge Rajnesh Singh. The bench of Justices DK Upadhyay and Subhash Vidyarthi reprimanded the petitioner by saying: “Tomorrow you will come and ask us to go to chambers of honourable judges? Please, don't make a mockery of the PIL system.” The PIL was a plea for the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to investigate the 22 closed chambers of the Taj Mahal to check for the presence of idols of Hindu deities, ascertaining whether the iconic mausoleum was a temple or not.
In 2014, bringing up the same issue, BJP Leader Lakshmikant Bajpayee had said that Tejo Mahalay had existed before the Taj Mahal, as Tejo Mahalay was destroyed and upon which Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan. Again in 2015, the then Union Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma, replying to a question in Parliament, had said that the government has not found any evidence of the Taj Mahal being a temple. This controversy had also come up in 2017 when BJP leader Vinay Katiyer also gave similar claims. All these claims and the recent plea by Rajnesh Singh also have Oak’s theories as to their base.
This theory of the Taj Mahal being a Shiva Temple is a persistent one, popping up a couple of times in recent years. The theories began in 1989 when a revisionist historian Purushottam Nagesh Oak published his book, “Taj Mahal: The True Story” where he claimed that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple built in 1155 AD and that the name is a corrupted form of the Sanskrit Tejo Mahalaya. It was, according to Oak, built by Hindu ruler Jai Singh I and was later captured by Shah Jahan and turned into a tomb. P. N Oak also had petitioned the Supreme Court to declare that the Taj Mahal was built by a Hindu King, however, it was quashed.
Pointing towards the nomenclature of the mausoleum, Oak had claimed that “‘Mahal’ could not be Muslim, because there isn’t any building known as “Mahal” in any Muslim country around the world, while also indicating the places where Mumtaz Mahal is referred to as Mumtaz-ul-Zamani, hence concluding that Taj Mahal was taken from its ‘original’ name Tejo Mahalaya. Also, declaring that no court paper of Mughal bares the term Taj Mahal but that the Hindu treatise of architecture, Viswa-karma Vastushastra, has mentions of ‘Tej Linga’ which must be the shivling in ‘Tejo Mahalay’. He further claims that the spot where Mumtaz’s cenotaph is located was the very spot where the Hindu Tej Ling was also located. Another assertion that Oak makes is that the Shah Jahan sealed the room where the Hindu deities' idols were hidden. He also makes his doubts about the architecture of the Taj Mahal, supposing that it was inspired and has features from temples.
The Counters to P. N. Oak’s claims are readily present on the UNESCO and ASI’s Agra Circle sites. Both confirm that the Taj Mahal was built by the fifth Mughal Emperor of India Shah Jahan in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was named in honour of her entitled “Mumtaz Mahal” which later was probably corrupted to be called Taj Mahal. Mumtaz-ul-Zamani means "Lady of the Age" which is the title given to Mumtaz Mahal by her husband, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. UNESCO has also said, “the existence of several historical and Quranic inscriptions in Arabic script has facilitated setting the chronology of Taj Mahal”. The Mughal architecture of the Taj Mahal is renowned and its style is said to have been inspired by other Mughal buildings like Jama Masjid (Delhi) or Itmad-Ud-Daula’s Tomb (Agra).
Coming to the PIL and the secrecy of Taj Mahal’s 22 closed rooms, demands are made to open them and see whether there is any evidence of Hindu idols in them. To clear up the controversy, ASI has released the photos of the 22 sealed rooms which were not always sealed. ASI officials also opened these photos for viewing by the public and said that the rooms were not always closed and no idols were ever found in them.
Recently, BJP Lok Sabha MP of Rajasthan, Diya Kumar has claimed that the palace of the Jaipur royal family stood on the land where the Taj Mahal stands currently. She added that the plot had belonged to her family and she has documentary evidence for this. But for the most part, this statement is true, the royal family of Jaipur did own the land but Emperor Shah Jahan had exchanged the Taj Mahal land with four Havelis with Jai Singh, the then Maharaja of Jaipur. This also has primary and secondary evidence such as the firman available in the Jaipur Museum as well as much documentation of the firman in other books.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and the winner of the New 7 Wonders of World (2000-07), the Taj Mahal is the symbol of Love in India. Rabindranath Tagore describes the famed mausoleum as a teardrop on the cheek of time, a testament to the grief and power of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. This wonder of the world legendary in itself does not lack any myths surrounding it, many of which have been debunked by historians yet the myths persist, one of which is the question of the Hindu temple’s presence. Though P. N Oak passed away in 2007, his theory is still alive and well, making headlines as people further try to prove his case
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