Taj Mahal, the eternal symbol of love, was built by Shahjahan, among other monuments such as Red Fort and Jama Masjid of Delhi.

Undermining Taj is a part of the broader Hindutva project to rewrite Indian history, where the communal interpretation of history is being promoted and events are also being given a twist to suit the communal mindset

RAM PUNIYANI | Caravan Daily

Apart from the natural beauty with which India is bestowed with, it also has manmade marvels. And these are attracting not only Indians but people from the world over. One of such structures is the Taj Mahal built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It has been voted among the Seven Wonders of the World and is a UNESCO heritage site as well. Poet Guru Rabindranath described it emotionally by calling it a “drop of tear on the cheek”. It has been attracting tourists from all over the world and is undoubtedly the number 1 tourist attraction in India.

But all these facts are of no concern for the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh. Just weeks ago, on completion of six months in power, it brought out a brochure related to the tourism development, ‘Uttar Pradesh Paryatan – Apaar Sambhavanaayein’, which when translated in English will mean ‘Uttar Pradesh Tourism – Unlimited Possibilities’.  The booklet has focussed on tourist sites of UP and includes places like Gorakhmath Peeth, headed by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath himself, and has many other places from UP; religious tourism seems to be the focus of the booklet. What it bypasses is the most famous tourist attraction – Taj Mahal.

The definition of Indian culture by Indian nationalists like Gandhi is in total variance from what ruling Yogi-Hindutva ideology asserts. For them only elite Hindu culture is Indian culture.

Earlier after becoming CM, Yogi had asserted that the Taj Mahal was not part of Indian culture and that the practice of giving the replica of Taj to visiting dignitaries should be changed and they should be given Gita or Ramayana, which are symbols of Indian culture. The communal bias of Yogi and the UP administration, in turn, is quite visible in the matter of the Taj. When the issue was criticized from all the corners, the concerned ministers started saying that the Taj is a part of Indian heritage, but the booklet was mentioning only sites which needed promotion. They also asserted that separate funds have been allocated for the Taj Mahal and the plan for an international airport at Agra is also being mooted.

Multiple voices are coming forward from the BJP camp also; it was a Hindu temple; it is a monument of no consequence; it is reflective of India’s slavery etc. One of the BJP leaders, Sangit Som reflected the current change in strategy of the BJP about the monuments built by Muslim kings. Reacting to the Taj issue, he said, “Many people were sad that the Taj Mahal was removed from the tourism booklet of the state government. What history are we talking about? The history that the builder of the Taj Mahal had imprisoned his father? The history that the builder of the monument eliminated Hindus from UP and India? It is quite sad and unfortunate that such tyrants are still part of our history.”

Incidentally, the tourist traffic to the Taj has been declining over the last few years and there is an urgent need to promote the site as a tourist destination. The question is why the mention of the Taj has been left out in the first place? In the background of what Yogi has been saying about the Taj earlier, it does smack a discomfort with a structure which was built by a Mughal ruler, whom Hindutva-Yogi’s ideology regards as an invader. The definition of Indian culture by Indian nationalists like Gandhi is in total variance from what ruling Yogi-Hindutva ideology asserts. For them, only the elite Hindu culture is Indian culture.

It is not surprising that the RSS-Hindutva propaganda, so far, had been asserting that the Taj is a Hindu temple – of Shiva called Tejo Mahalay. This is contrary to the historical knowledge and the evidence available. Shahjahan’s Badshahnama makes it abundantly clear that the structure was built by Shahjahan. A European traveller Peter Mundy writes that emperor Shahjahan was in deep grief due to the death of his favourite wife and built an impressive mausoleum in her memory. A French jeweller Tavernier, who visited India at that time, corroborates this. The daily account books of Shahjahan do give the detailed record of the expenses incurred, like the money spent on marble and the wages for the workers etc. The only base of this misconception of it being a Shiv Temple (Tejo Mahalay) is the mention that the land was bought from Raja Jaisingh for some compensation. It is also to be noted that Jaisingh, to whom this Shiva temple is attributed to, was a Vaishnav and it is not possible that a Vaishnav king would build a Shaiv temple.

Undermining the Taj is also a part of the broader Hindutva project to re-write Indian history, where the communal interpretation of history is being promoted and events are also being given a twist to suit the communal mindset. The most horrific twist is to say that in the battle of Haldi Ghati between Akbar and Rana Pratap, it was Rana Pratap who won the battle. As such the battle was for power, not for religion. One knows both Akbar and Rana Pratap had associates who belonged to the ‘other’ religion. The affiliations were not along the religious lines.

It seems the Taj and other structures built during the rule of Muslim kings are a thorn in the communal thinking. So, the attempt, so far, has been to present it as a Hindu temple, now in the seats of power the communal forces want to undermine it, erase it from being a part of Indian culture and to undermine its place in the Indian culture. The multi-pronged Hindutva strategy aims to further marginalize the Muslim community by giving it a miss the way it did in the case of UP brochure. Will it be the turn of Delhi’s Red Fort, from where the prime ministers of the country have been giving the speech on the day of Independence?

In the light of criticism all around, some UP ministers have tried to save their face that the Taj is a part of Indian heritage, while the ones like Sangeet Som are more blunt and forthright. As such, all these places of historical and archaeological importance need not only to be protected but also promoted as a part of Indian syncretic culture.



Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.

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