The controversy surrounding Taj Mahal in recent time injected by narrow political wave receives its sustenance less from history and more from propaganda.
Taj Mahal need not take the pain to explain its birth and existence. For centuries, the historical monument has been an architect of grandeur and pride, love and sacrifice not only for the people of India but also for the entire world. From presidents, prime ministers, princes, paupers to business tycoons, every segment of society from all around the globe is witness to its charm and thus has existed its history in full light of human knowledge and experience.
History as testimony to Taj Mahal
Archeological Survey of India explains: ‘Taj Mahal, the pinnacle of Mughal architecture, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), grandson of Akbar the great, in the memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum, entitled ‘Mumtaz Mahal’… The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of both Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan.”
Encyclopedia Britannica records: ‘The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahān (reigned 1628–58) to immortalize his wife Mumtāz Maḥal (“Chosen One of the Palace”). The name Taj Mahal is a derivation of her name. ‘
It continues: ‘The plans for the complex have been attributed to various architects of the period…The five principal elements of the complex—main gateway, garden, mosque. Jawab (literally “answer”; a building mirroring the mosque), and mausoleum (including its four minarets)—were conceived and designed as a unified entity according to the tenets of Mughal building practice, which allowed no subsequent addition or alteration.’
Across breath of world history, Taj Mahal occupies a place of prominence. After a visit to the Taj Mahal, British humorist and artist Edward Lear remarked: ‘Henceforth, let the inhabitants of the world be divided into two classes—them as has seen the Taj Mahal; and them as hasn’t.’
‘The Taj Mahal stands as a testament to one of history’s most enduring love stories, Shah Jahan, ruler of the Mughal Empire in India built it as a memorial and tomb for his beloved wife.’ (The Taj Mahal by Lesley A. DuTemple, Lerner Publications Company, Washington, USA)
Undeniably, history acknowledges Taj Mahal for what it symbolizes for. The Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem, Shah Jahan, still resonates: ‘Still, one solitary tear would hang on the cheek of time, in the form of this white and gleaming Taj Mahal’ while Rudyard Kipling describes it as ‘the Ivory Gate through which all good dreams come’.
Taj Mahal as victim of propaganda
There was a time in history when the external threat to Taj Mahal was protected by a thick layering of bamboo scaffolds over the dome during World War-II. But how could the Wonder of World be protected from the onslaught of its own custodians who turn hostile?
Sangeet Som, a BJP legislator from UP, fueled controversy after Taj Mahal was removed from the list of historical places in the UP tourism booklet. He reviled the holy Monument at a rally in Meerut when he said: ‘What history are we talking about? The man who built Taj Mahal imprisoned his father. He wanted to massacre Hindus. If this is history, then it is very unfortunate and we will change this history, I guarantee you”. He described Taj Mahal as a “blot on Indian culture”.
He is not the one to ride on the wave of hatred and animosity perpetuated by a particular political camp.
Vinay Katiyar, a BJP MP from Kanpur, alleged: ‘“It was Tejo Mahal, Lord Shiva’s temple, where Shahjahan buried his wife and turned it into a mausoleum,”.
Another BJP leader Subramanian Swamy accused that Taj Mahal was built on a stolen property. He said: ‘There is evidence on record that Shah Jahan forced the Raja-Maharajas of Jaipur to sell this land on which Taj Mahal presently is standing, and he gave them a compensation of forty villages, which is nothing compared to the value of the property’. He further asserted: ‘The documents also suggest that there was a temple on the property. But it is still not clear whether Taj Mahal was built after the demolition of a temple.’
Fuelling the controversy are the writings of a fringe historian, PN Oak, whose works were dismissed for decades but are enjoying new prominence among some right-wing hardliners.
Oak claimed that much of the world was once ruled by an ancient Hindu empire, that the English language is a dialect of Sanskrit, and that Westminster Abbey is, in reality, a temple to the deity Shiva.
The Taj too, he argued, was originally a Shiva temple built by the maharajah of Jaipur, and initially named the “Tejo Mahalaya”.
His theory has been cited by several BJP legislators to cast doubt on the provenance of the monument. (Hardline Hindu nationalists campaign against Taj Mahal, The Guardian, 30 October, 2017)
History vs Propaganda
While history is about scientific research and inquiry, propaganda is about manipulating and influencing the opinion of groups to support a particular belief. History proceeds by the interpretation of evidence and is for human self-knowledge, Propaganda is to distort the truth and suppress the counter-argument.
What we come across every day from some irresponsible legislators of BJP about Taj Mahal constitute a mode of propaganda which emphasizes virtues of one idea or group while discrediting the other without an opportunity of healthy debate in the light of authenticated records of history.
Taj Mahal is not the only ‘issue’ to be in storm of controversy. Time and again, Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi, Haramzade (illegitimate) speech by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti…many such issues have previously been raked up to a calculated goal.
It appears as if we live in an age of propaganda. It seems as if India lacks genuine ‘issues’ to talk about. One is reminded of what Pratkanis and Aronson explain: “Every day we are bombarded with one persuasive communication after another. These appeals persuade not through the give-and-take of argument and debate but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions. For better or worse, ours is an age of propaganda.” (Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, rev. ed. Owl Books, 2002)
One of the fundamental lessons to derive from the study of history is not to repeat the mistakes committed in the past. Those who seek to impose an absolutist and all-encompassing ideology hold the defeatist perspective of history.
India is a complex civilization. The evolution of ‘India’ as a nation is the result of a series of successive efforts done by individuals in the past. Ancient India produced advances in philosophy, mathematics and astronomy while Mughal India had immense contributions to the field of art, architecture and administration. To recognize this and to take pride in this heritage of human advance is not to acknowledge the cruelty and oppression of the past endeavor.
Yes, some Muslim rulers plundered and ravaged the land, yet others stayed put and governed the land and its people, adding to the richness of collective human experience and achievement.
The success of democracy in India depends not on the propaganda but on the ‘quality’ of politics being practiced. Cal Thomas aptly sums up: “One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician’s objective. Election and power are”.
Let ‘inclusive Indianness’ be the core value of our politics, rejecting atavistic sectarianism. Let the mind of future India be shaped not by emotive issues but by the quality of debate and dissent allowed. Instead of flexing unnecessary muscle over ‘history’ of Taj, let our politicians be concerned about contemporary ‘issues’ such as poverty, education, health and employment. That will be truly a great service to the nation and its people.