Debate rages as legal case points to evidence that Taj Mahal was once a Hindu temple
The origins of the famous ancient landmark in India, the Taj Mahal, are under some dispute, casting controversy over the long-held history, and pitting religions against each other. A lawsuit claims the white marble tomb, a pinnacle of Muslim art in India, was originally a sacred Hindu temple.
As reported by The Telegraph , a controversial legal case brought early this year makes the claim that the Taj Mahal is actually part of an ancient Hindu temple palace of Lord Shiva, known as the Tejo Mahalaya, which was usurped and converted into a mausoleum for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, a Muslim.
This is contrary to the widely-held belief that the architectural masterpiece was completed by Shah Jahan in 1653 as a gift and resting place for his most favorite of three wives, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth in 1631.
Fifth Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan (Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan) on horseback ( Public Domain )
The Case for a Hindu Heritage
The lawsuit, submitted to the court in Agra, a city in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state where the monument is located, calls for the ownership of the Taj Mahal to be transferred to Hindus for worship. More controversially, it also seeks to block Muslim religious activity at the monument (Friday prayers are offered at a mosque attached to the Taj Mahal), and the seventeenth-century graves removed, notes The Telegraph.
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The Indian culture minister, Dr. Mahesh Sharma was questioned about the case in parliament this week, and said that “the government has not found any evidence which can suggest that Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple of Shiva.”
The mausoleum is currently managed by the Archaeological Survey of India . Dr. Bhuvan Vikrama of the Archaeological Survey says, “What the culture minister has said will be the government’s official stand on it, but the court has yet to decide.”
The Stunning and Unique Taj Mahal
The beautiful and unique architecture of the Taj Mahal in India has traditionally been enhanced by the endearing love story of its construction— Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, was heartbroken following the death of his wife, so he called for the most skilled craftsmen from across Asia and Europe to build the white mausoleum.
Artistic depiction of Mumtaz Mahal. ( Public Domain )
The BBC describes the “supernatural” quality of the architecture, writing:
“Its stunning architectural beauty is beyond description, particularly at dawn and at sunset when it seems to glow in the light. On a foggy morning, it looks as though the Taj is suspended in mid-air when viewed from across the Jamuna river.
This is, of course, an illusion. The Taj stands on a raised square platform with its four corners truncated, forming an unequal octagon. The architectural design uses the interlocking arabesque concept, in which each element stands on its own and perfectly integrates with the main structure. It uses the principles of self-replicating geometry and a symmetry of architectural elements.
The colors and atmosphere of the gardens and the Taj itself constantly change throughout the day. Under moonlight the marble glows.”
Flowers carved in marble. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
While the monument is beautiful, the tomb construction is said to have eventually bankrupted the Mughal state.
Evidence for an Ancient Hindu Temple
The legends of the mausoleum origins, that it was built over two decades (1632 to 1653 AD) by 20,000 artisans, are taught to schoolchildren and presented to visitors.
However, Indian writer and historian P.N. Oak (1917 - 2007) provided evidence that suggests the Taj Mahal was built as a Hindu temple, predating the Mughal emperor.
Oak indicated in his book “ Taj Mahal: The True Story ” that the name of Shah Jahan’s wife who died in childbirth was never ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ but ‘Mumtaz-ul-Zamani’ and Oak claimed the name ‘Mahal’ has never been used for a building in any Muslim country. The name Taj Mahal, he claims, is a corrupt version of Tejo Mahalaya (Shiva’s Palace).
He also referred to the fact that there is not a single royal chronicle from Shah Jahan’s era that corroborates the so-called love story. In addition, European visitors to the area who left writings on the events of the time make no mention of such a major construction.
Rooms within the monument have been sealed since its construction that, if opened, may reveal more confirming evidence.
The pinnacle of the Taj Mahal, described by some as a finial of the Mughal Empire (combining a crescent and a spear pendant with the word Allah), but described by others as depicting the Hindu horizontal crescent, coconut, bent mango leaves, and supporting Kalash (water pot), all exclusive Hindu motifs. ( Public Domain )
Religious Conflict and Tourism Dollars
For many, the debate has raised the specter of cultural appropriation and religious intolerance on both sides. As it stands, only Muslims are currently allowed to worship at the site, and the Hindu claim urging the court to declare the Taj Mahal solely a Hindu temple, restricting it from Muslims, has inflamed tensions.
Tourism officials have warned that the monument is a symbol of national pride, and a major tourist attraction, and that raising controversy around the site would negatively affect tourism by damaging the reputation and credibility of the Taj Mahal.
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The tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan in the lower level of the Taj Mahal. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The legal case has been brought to the court by six lawyers, including “Hari Shankar Jain, who claims to be a sympathizer of the RSS, a Hindu nationalist organization” writes The Telegraph. The news site also dismisses Oak’s claims as “outlandish,” “discredited,” and “bizarre.”
Oak claimed that within the many sealed rooms of the Taj Mahal, there are statues of Shiva and other Hindu artifacts. One way to validate or discredit the research would be to open up the sealed rooms for international experts to investigate.
However, there have been no reported moves to open any sealed chambers which might shed light on the origins of the ancient monument and put to rest hostilities.
Perhaps future research will acknowledge a shared heritage, allowing for appreciation of Indo-Islamic architecture, and a multi-faith worship.
Taj Mahal through the fog. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Archaeological research this year revealed that the monument gardens and interior structures align with the rising and setting sun during the summer and winter solstices. Researchers believe that this may have had symbolic meaning as well as practical purpose.
The Taj Mahal, described by UNESCO as a “jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage,” attracts about three million visitors a year.
Featured Image: The beautiful monument, Taj Mahal. (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )
By: Liz Leafloor