Saturday, October 17, 2009

Was Taj a mahal? -- by Narasimha Murthy


By Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore.

One of the great attractions in Indian architecture is the marble marvel, popularly known as the Taj Mahal. It was built by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his beloved wife Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal (unique to the Palace). Most visitors to this country are bound to visit this grand monument.

We Mysoreans can take pride that the Maharaja's Palace had attracted more number of visitors than the Taj did. That is a different story. Thus Taj Mahal has been admired universally since its construction in about 1631 AD.


P.N. Oak, a nationalist historian, has made a special study of the Taj Mahal and has come out with a new thesis that it was originally a Siva temple called Tejomahalaya. He has collected a mass of information from this point of view and has published a book titled Taj Mahal: The True Story. It is not our intention here to speak for or against this view. Our main aim is to bring this view to the general readers who can take decision on their own.

Nowhere in any Muslim country a tomb is referred to as a Mahal. Several Europeans and Muslim writers refer to it as Taj-e-Mahal because it was previously famous as Tej-o-Mahalaya. As it was a temple, Shahjahan and Aurangazeb have avoided the use of the name and refer it as a holy tomb or grave.

The original inhabitors of Agra were the Jats whose tutelary deity was Agresvara and they had built a temple for Agresvara linga at this place. The folk tales prevalent in the area state that Shahjahan requested king Jaisingh of Jaipur to give his Palace along with temple for building the proposed tomb for his wife. But the people of Jaipur requested the king not to accept the proposal of Shahjahan. Hence, Jaisingh refused and Shahjahan became furious and ordered his army to take over the Palace including the temple.

The Mughal army looted the Palace and took away gold, silver and precious stones. He converted the entire area into a sprawling garden and built a tomb as it is seen today. This is evidenced by a foreign visitor by name Albert Mandelso who visited Agra in 1638 (7 years after the death of Mumtaz Mahal) who makes no mention of the Taj Mahal which is purported to have been under construction from 1631 to 1653 AD.

Sanskrit record

A sanskrit inscription usually referred to as Batesvara inscription (now in Lucknow museum) describes the Siva temple which had a fine crystal linga. It further states that this white marble temple was so fine and beautiful that Siva refused to go back to Mount Kailasa and wanted to settle here at Agra itself. This inscription is dated 1155 AD, centuries before the construction of the Taj. It is said that Shahjahan got this stone inscription removed from the area of Taj.

In one of the early reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (1874) there is a reference to a black stone pillar with its base and capital at the garden of the Taj which obviously belonged to a Hindu temple. An Englishman by name Thomas Twinning visited Agra in November 1794. He has recorded as follows:

"I arrived at high walls which enclose Taj Mahal and its cir-cumcenter buildings. I got out and mounted a flight of steps leading to a beautiful portal which formed the centre of this side of the court of elephants as the area was called."

All these structures have been removed now. Obviously what this visitor referred to was the Palace area where there was an elephant stable (as we have in Hampi now). It is said that a piece of wooden doorway of the Taj was subjected to Carbon-14 dating at an American Laboratory which showed that the wood belonged to 12th century. This also testifies to the fact that there was a Palace or tem-ple before the construction of the Taj.

Hindu style

The great art historian E.B. Havel, who has made extensive research on Indian architecture, has pointed out that the ground plan of the Taj is similar to Hindu style of Chaturmukha and is similar to Chandi Sevu temple in Java. In the precinct of the Taj was found a building generally referred to as Nagarkhana or drum-house which suits well either to a temple or a Palace but not to a solemn tomb.

Peter Mundy, who visited this place in 1632 (just one year after the death of Mumtaz Mahal), records that he saw gem-studded gold railings which obviously should have been a part of the Palace (not a tomb under construction) which the Moghul army is stated to have looted then.

The contemporary royal records do not give precise information about the construction. Wild guesses are being made with regard to the expenditure which ranges from 4 to 91 million rupees. The period of construction also ranges from 10 to 22 years. Even the architects of Taj are not known precisely. They are variously mentioned as Persian or Turkish Essa Effendy or Frenchman Mehendis or Italian Geronimo Veronco. Thus there is a great confusion regarding the architects.

The garden around Taj is described to have consisted of trees and plants sacred to the Hindus including the Bilvapatra. A chance digging at the area revealed the existence of more than 20 rooms of Hindu-type and fountains below the present level of the Taj. Some of these evidences point out the existence of a Palace and a temple at the area where Taj stands today.

This in anyway does not take away the splendour of Taj Mahal which is universally admired. Perhaps some more research and evidences are needed to accept the thesis of the historian PN Oak,

Related posts;-

Taj Mahal was the palace of Raja Mansingh!

Taj Mahal was built with ancient Indian engineering

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