Taj Mahal is inarguably regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world, and some Western historians have claimed that its architectural exquisiteness has never been surpassed. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful monument built by the Mughals, however, the statement has now caught a debating spree recently. But still, its stunning architectural beauty is beyond suitable depiction, particularly at dawn and sunset.
It was, arguably, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, a sumptuous tribute to their great love story. But sadly, it has now become a point of debate between the two religious sects- Hindus and Muslims.
A smallish storm was recently kicked up in India when the government of Uttar Pradesh made attempts to sideline the monument’s prominence by not including it in its official tourism brochure. But such actions, condemnable as they are, pale before much more radical and older projects that seek to question the Taj’s origins. There are fringe authors who would tell you that rather than being a mausoleum holding the bodies of a Muslim empress and her husband, the Taj Mahal is actually a Hindu “temple palace”, and they claim its name to be ‘Tejo Mahalaya’
There is a slight need to repeat the official history of the monument here. The fact that it was built in the city of Agra in the 17th century under the orders of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum to his deceased favorite wife Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal) is well-known and it is easy to stumble upon. Cast a few glances on the Taj Mahal and you are sure to see the touches of Islamic art. To be sure, hardly anybody in India questions this and the monument is vastly popular among not only Indian but foreign tourists as well. Thus, I stress the fact that I will mostly speak of “fringe” elements here whose views should not be generalized.
Prominent among these was Purushottam Nagesh Oak, a prolific author who left a string of books in Hindi as his legacy. The Agra Red Fort was a Hindu Palace, The Fatehpur Sikri is a Hindu City, The Lucknow Imambaras Are Hindu Temples – these are just some of Oak’s work. The direction is clear: name a prominent building commissioned by Muslim rulers of northern India and Oak would tell you it was originally a work of Hindu architecture. But Oak did not stop there; in another text he claimed that even the Kaaba in Mecca was a Hindu temple. Among his works, Oak became perhaps best known for the two books he wrote on the Taj Mahal and – it’s no surprise by now – in both of them the writer claimed that this work of Islamic architecture was a Hindu temple. The latter of these books — Tajmahal mandir bhavan hai (“The Taj Mahal is a temple building”) — has been living on my bookshelf for years. The recent endeavors of Hindu nationalists seem a good (or rather, bad) occasion to dust off Oak’s publication and throw some of his juiciest thoughts and quotes into the ring.
This leads me to a final conclusion. The Taj Mahal is everything the Hindu nationalists do not want it to be. It is Islamic architecture and it is Indian at the same time. It is India’s most famous building and its international trademark, easily overshadowing any single Hindu temple when it comes to India’s global image. It is not built on the ruins of a Hindu temple or using materials from a Hindu temple (contrary to some other buildings) so you can’t “Hinduize” its past. It is a major tourist attraction but it has religious purposes as well, so you can’t “secularize” it either, by wiping out the religious accents. It was built under the Mughal dynasty, which is one of the most hated by Hindu nationalists, but in this case, it has no connection to wars, persecutions, or forceful conversions. Try all you can, but you can’t make a symbol of violence out of it (beyond forced labor, at most). It is a symbol of love between two Muslims, while the Hindu nationalists would like to portray the Mughal rulers as lustful, disloyal, and brutal to women. And, despite maintenance issues, it is rather enduring – it’s no ruin which can be left to its final decay, after which the memory of a building can be forgotten or completely remolded.
Finally, I’d say that there are a few things left in the country which are yet to be polluted by the negative politics and subjective religionism, there must be a halt put at such controversies and vexing the origin of a monument as great as Taj Mahal, is nothing but an effective way of polluting the religious harmony and secularist model.