Published: 17th May 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Decoding the controversies and myths surrounding Taj Mahal
Controversies surrounding Taj Mahal resulted in a petition which was filed in the Allahabad High Court. Though the petition was dismissed, the issue is a longstanding one. Here's why
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has released pictures of twenty-two rooms under Taj Mahal. The pictures were posted on ASI's website amid controversies surrounding the beautiful monument.
Known as a symbol of love and designated among the seven wonders of the world, yet, nothing has been able to save Taj Mahal's image which has been mired in disputes. Also, the myths surrounding Taj Mahal make it all the more mysterious. So, let’s get down to it, piece by piece, and satisfy the curiosity regarding the wonder in white marble.
Why has ASI released the photos only now?
The pictures were released because the rooms were being renovated by ASI. And it has been stated that a fund of Rs 6 lakh has been spent on them.
ASI has shown the before and after pictures of the rooms to bring out the restoration work. ASI Chief RK Patel stated that the pictures are a part of ASI’s January 2022 newsletter and were open for all to view. The pictures come in the wake of a recent controversy, which took the issue straight to the Allahabad High Court, and ASI was simply trying to ease the tensions.
What is the controversy?
Earlier in May, a petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court, seeking that the underground rooms of Taj Mahal should be opened and scrutinised. The petition was filed as a PIL (Public Interest Litigation). It was alleged that the rooms could possibly contain Hindu idols and scriptures, so the petition demanded that they be opened and a fact-finding inquiry into the history of the Taj Mahal be initiated. The Allahabad High Court, however, dismissed the petition on May 12, chiding petitioner Dr Rajneesh Kumar, a BJP leader from Allahabad and a member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
The court stated, "Where is this right to get a study done?" while hearing the petition. The court also asked the counsel of the petitioner to not mock the PIL system. After this, the ASI Chief commented that the rooms are not always locked and are unlocked for restoration work from time to time. He also added that ASI had never found any evidence of Hindu idols or any such articles in the rooms.
Are there also issues regarding the land on which the mausoleum lies?
Yes. Recently, BJP MP Diya Kumari had alleged that the land on which Taj Mahal was built originally belonged to the Jai Singh, who was a Rajput ruler and King of Jaipur, and it was acquired by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Diya Kumari belongs to the royal family of Jaipur.
"Compensation was given in lieu of the land but how much was it, whether it was accepted or not, I cannot say this because I have not studied the records which are there in our 'pothikhana' (archive). But the land belonged to our family and Shah Jahan had acquired it," she was quoted saying in a report by PTI. Her words came after the petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court. She supported the petition and also wanted the rooms to be opened.
What are the other controversies that surround Taj Mahal?
On May 5, a Hindu seer had sparked a row that he was not allowed to enter Taj Mahal because he was wearing saffron clothes. The seer alleged that Taj Mahal was a Hindu Shiva temple earlier, called Tejo Mahalaya.
However, this claim is not new. It is rooted in PN Oak’s book, Taj Mahal: The True Story. Oak, who is also the Founder of the Institute for Rewriting Indian History, had claimed that the mausoleum was built by a Hindu king, Raja Paramardi Dev, and it dates back to a time much earlier than when Shah Jahan built it. A version of this theory also states that the temple was destroyed and the mausoleum was built over it. Other versions also exist, which say that the temple still exists as a basement to the mausoleum.
According to yet another theory, Taj Mahal was built as a Shiva temple by a king and it was transferred to Shan Jahan. Pictures of the deed were shared on social media but their authenticity remains highly questionable. Singh, in his petition, had alleged that the said Shiva temple had been passed down through generations of the royal family and Shah Jahan had annexed it from Jai Singh in 1632. The name Taj Mahal too, it has been claimed by Oak, is a mispronunciation of the name Tejo Mahalaya by the Mughals. It had been alleged earlier that the words 'Taj' and 'Mahal' are Sanskrit words, and do not have Urdu origins.
Are there more?
Not controversies per se, but like most other Mughal architectures, the Taj Mahal has many myths surrounding it. One of the most famous is the rumour that Shah Jahan chopped off the hands of the craftsmen who built the structure. A version of this rumour is that he had also gouged out the eyes of the workers. It was done so that they would not be able to build anything like Taj Mahal again, and it would remain peerless in beauty and craftsmanship.
Another rumour says that Shah Jahan was planning another black Taj Mahal on the other side of the river bank where he intended to be buried himself. But he was taken a prisoner by his own son and the plan for a second Taj Mahal remained unfulfilled, because of which, he was buried beside his wife. That is the reason why his cenotaph lies askew.
Though the Taj Mahal has been described multiple times as a fusion of Indian, Persian and Mughal architectural styles, it has been claimed that it is actually the creation of an Italian architect. Geronimo Veroneo, who was believed to have lived in Agra for several years.
What has the government said about these controversies?
As to the claim that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva Temple, the Modi government stated that there was no evidence found to support the theory. The ASI Chief had confirmed the fact.
And the other myths and claims have also been refuted because no evidence has been found till date. The claim that Italian Geronimo built the structure is also abstract. It has been described in the contemporary sources that he was only an excellent jeweller who was in Agra at the time when Taj Mahal was built.
The people of Agra are also unhappy with these surrounding controversies, as they believe that such claims will tarnish the beauty of the monument and affect tourism.