Explained: The Persistent Theory That The Taj Mahal Was A Hindu Temple Called ‘Tejo Mahalaya’
Allahabad High Court, Thursday May 12 rejected a petition filed by BJP leader Rajneesh Singh calling for an investigative committee to establish ‘the true story of the Taj Mahal’, and for over 20 sealed ‘halls’ to be opened to search for the possible presence of idols of Hindu gods at the premises of the monument.
A day earlier, Diya Kumari, a BJP MP from Rajsamand and a member of the former Jaipur royal family, said that the land on which the Taj stands belonged to her ancestors, and “if there is any need for documents or whatever it is, we will provide the documents if the court orders it”.
Over the years, several BJP leaders have repeated and amplified unhistorical claims that the Taj is actually a Hindu temple that was built long before the reign of Shah Jahan. In 2017, Vinay Katiyar, then a member of the BJP Rajya Sabha, claimed the monument was actually a Shiva temple named ‘Tejo Mahalaya’, which was ‘originally’ built by a Hindu ruler.
The claim of “Tejo Mahalaya” was first made by a historian named PN Oak in a book written in 1989. He made strenuous efforts to establish his idea, and even petitioned the Supreme Court, who reportedly said in 2000 that he had a “bee in his hat”.
The Taj Mahal
Considered one of the wonders of the world and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a global symbol of India and one of the most recognized monuments in the world. It was built between 1632 and 1648 on the orders of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
The Taj incorporates features of Indo-Islamic and Timurid architecture, and is often seen as a natural progression of Mughal architecture from older monuments such as Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi.
The huge white marble mausoleum is set in a garden that is part of a larger complex built along a series of geometric grids enclosed in walls measuring 305 meters by 549 meters. The complex was completed in 1653 after the construction of structures such as a mosque, a guest house, the main gate and the outer courtyard.
The breathtakingly beautiful monument is the burial place of Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan himself was later buried there. Although recognized as an immortal symbol of love, historians have argued that it may have been more a monument to Shah Jahan’s ambition than his love for Mumtaz, and a statement of the power and glory of the Mughal Empire. “…The Taj Mahal was built with posterity in mind,” wrote art historian Ebba Koch.
The exterior of the mausoleum is adorned with calligraphy of Quranic verses, which are inlaid on rectangular panels. There are minarets at the four corners of the platform on which the mausoleum stands.
To the south of the tomb is the garden divided into quadrants by waterways which, according to Islamic and Indian art historian Catherine Asher, resemble the streams of paradise mentioned in the Quran. According to Asher, the garden was modeled after the ancient Persian concept of the Garden of Paradise, adopted by the Mughals.
The “Tejo Mahalaya” Theory
PN Oak, the writer and founder of the Institute for Rewriting Indian History, believed that the monuments attributed to Muslim rulers were actually of Hindu origin. In 1976 he wrote a book titled “The Imambaras of Lucknow are Hindu Palaces” and another titled “The Red Fort of Delhi is a Hindu Lalkot”. In 1996 he published ‘Islamic Havoc in Indian History’.
However, it was Oak’s 1989 book, “Taj Mahal: The True Story,” that continues to shape current controversies surrounding the Taj Mahal. Oak argued that the Taj of Shah Jahan was actually a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva which was “possibly built in the 4th century to serve as a palace” by a certain Raja Paramardi Dev.
According to Oak, not only was the Taj built centuries before the arrival of the Mughals, “Our research has firmly established that the term Taj Mahal is a popular mispronunciation of the ancient Hindu name Tejomahalaya.”
He speculated that “Tejo Mahalaya” was destroyed and looted during Muhammad Ghori’s invasion of India in the late 12th century, and that after the defeat of Humayun (mid-16th century), it passed into the hands of the royal family of Jaipur and was managed by Jai Singh I, who was a senior Mughal mansabdar and the Raja of Amber.
According to Oak, the temple was later taken over by Shah Jahan, who turned it into a tomb and renamed it Taj Mahal.
Oak asked the Supreme Court “to restore the truth and the cultural heritage of our country,” but made no progress. A 2000 PTI report indicates that the court dismissed the petition as “ill-conceived”. “Someone has a bee in their hood, hence this petition,” said a divisional bench consisting of Justices SP Bharucha and Ruma Pal, according to the PTI report.
But the Oak theory survived
Long before Allahabad High Court petitioner Rajneesh Singh, Oak had demanded the opening of the Taj’s ‘sealed chambers’. “I have a feeling that very decisive evidence is hidden in these sealed chambers. They may contain Sanskrit inscriptions, Hindu idols, scriptures and coins laying bare the pre-Shahjahan history of this building,” he wrote.
Singh’s application to the High Court repeated Oak’s theory, according to a report by legal portal Live Law. “It is there in many history books that in 1212 AD, Raja Paramardi Dev built the Tejo Mahalaya temple palace (now Taj Mahal). The temple was later inherited by Raja Maan Singh, then Maharaja of Jaipur. After him the property was owned and managed by Raja Jai Singh but was annexed by Shah Jahan (in 1632) and later it was converted into a memorial for Shah Jahan’s wife,” the report said. Live Law citing the petition.
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A similar petition was filed in a district court in Agra in 2015. The petitioners claimed that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple and therefore the government should allow Hindus to perform “darshan” and “ aarti” in the temple.
Although Oak’s Hindu temple theory has no historical basis, some historians have said that the land on which the Taj stands was indeed originally under the control of the royal family of Jaipur. This piece of land near the Yamuna, across the river from Agra Fort which was used (and expanded) by Akbar (and by other dynasties before the Mughals), was requisitioned from Jai Singh, who was duly compensated by Shah Jahan.