This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
So, every now and then, some crazy conspiracy theory is floated about the iconic Taj Mahal. Last week, the Allahabad High Court dismissed a petition filed by a BJP functionary who wanted 22 rooms in the Taj Mahal to be opened up to “see the truth.” This feeds into a long held conspiracy theory that the Taj Mahal is actually a Hindu temple and that the 22 rooms actually house the idols of Hindu Gods. Archeological Survey of India officials have maintained that there is nothing secret in those rooms. They’re just part of the structure and are not unique to the Taj Mahal but several Mughal-era mausoleums that were built at the time, including Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. In fact, the ASI has tweeted photos of the basement rooms as well, showing how they had restored the decaying lime plaster with ‘before and after’ pictures The ASI also said that all records scrutinized “have not pointed to the presence of any idols.” Officials say there are actually more than 100 rooms or cells in the Taj complex that the public does not have access to for safety reasons. Conservation work is regularly carried out here, such as the filling of cracks and re-plastering. Just a day before the High Court threw out this plea, BJP MP Diya Kumari claimed that the land on which the Taj Mahal is built actually belonged to her family, the Jaipur royal family and that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had occupied it. So what are all these claims about the Taj and what do historians have to say about it? Let’s take a closer look. Claim number one… the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.
Now, this is the most common story that’s been floating around your neighborhood WhatsApp group for years now. Hindu right-wing groups and revisionist writers claim that the Taj Mahal was actually a Hindu temple named the “Tejo Mahalaya”. Actually, much of this comes from a book written by a man named PN Oak. It’s called “Taj Mahal: The True Story.” Oak happens to be the founder of the Institute of Rewriting Indian History. Enough said. He claims that the Taj was built in the fourth century to serve as a palace and was completed in 1145 A.D. by one Raja Paramardi Dev. Hindutva groups claimed that Shah Jahan converted the “Tejo Mahalaya” to Taj Mahal in the 17th century, the way Mughal rulers destroyed Hindu temples and converted many of them into mosques. This is their claim. This claim, however, has been completely rejected – both by the government at the center as well as the Archeological Survey of India. In fact, it was the Modi government that told the Lok Sabha in November of 2015 that there was no evidence to suggest that the Taj Mahal used to be a temple. In 2017, the Archeological Survey of India also told an Agra Court that the Taj Mahal is a tomb and not a temple.
Then there’s claim number two that Shah Jahan occupied land belonging to the Jaipur royals. Now this is BJP MP Diya Kumari’s claim that the land on which the Taj Mahal stands actually belonged to her family, the Jaipur royals. She claimed that she had the documents to prove it and that the family did not get any compensation in return. Slamming the MP for half truths, historian Rana Safvi shared copies of ‘farmans’ or royal orders from Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh, on Twitter and wrote that four havelis in fact were given to Jai Singh in exchange for the land for the Taj Mahal. She shared copies of the ‘farmans’ from the book that was titled ‘Taj Mahal – The Illumined Tomb’, edited by WE Begley and ZA Desai. And she said that Raja Jai Singh was willing to donate the land for free actually, but four havelis were given in lieu of Raja Man Singh’s haveli by Shah Jahan. In an interview with Outlook magazine, historian Ira Mukhoty, author of the book, ‘Akbar: The Great Mughal’, echoed Safvi and pointed out that Mughals and Jaipur royals were close since Akbar married Harkha Bai of Amber. In another twist, Prince Yakub Habeebuddin Tucy, who claims to be the descendant of Mughals, challenge Diya Kumari’s claim. He talked about the practice of gifting land by the Rajputs to the Mughals calling Diya Kumari’s allegations of land grabbing “baseless.” He said that the Rajputs had made alliances with the Mughals starting in Akbar’s reign, and added that “14 out of my 27 grandmothers were Rajputs.” Then there’s claim number three… that Shah Jahan chopped off the hands of those who built the Taj Mahal. Now, this is an old urban myth that has been perpetuated time and again. The story goes that the emperor ordered his soldiers to cut off the hands of over 40,000 masons so that they could never replicate the wonder.
Historians, however, have completely debunked this myth. There was a story in the Times of India looking at the myths surrounding the Taj back in 2017, which noted that a vast settlement called the Taj Ganj still exists today. It was set up by emperor Shah Jahan to house the thousands of masons, artisans and other workers and their descendants who still live and work there. And the story pointed out that after finishing work on the Taj, Shah Jahan’s workers also built for him a whole new imperial city called Shahjahanabad in Delhi. So if he had actually chopped off everyone’s hands, he could not have built a new city so quickly, and it would have been near impossible for him to find so many people, so many replacements, actually, to work on another equally grand project in such a short time. This isn’t the first time that bizarre conspiracy theories about the Taj Mahal have come up, and it probably will not be the last. What should be a monument of pride for all Indians has also turned into a communal football for some which all of us have to push back against at all costs.