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Are Indians truly proud of the Taj Mahal?

It is an instantly recognisable symbol of India.

When film-makers want to indicate they are shooting in London, they use Big Ben. In Paris, it is the Eiffel Tower. In Rome, it is the Colosseum.


And when they want a symbol of India, it is always the Taj Mahal.


Of course, the Taj is more than just a monument that symbolises India. It is also one of the wonders of the medieval world, an architectural marvel of extraordinary beauty.


   It was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan as a mausoleum to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, an elaborate tribute to their great love story. More recently, it has become a symbol of the search and the loss of love. When Prince Charles first came here, he was looking for a bride and posed enthusiastically on a bench in front of the Taj. But by the time he returned to India with his wife Diana, he had already found and lost love. Charles and Diana were no longer on speaking terms. So Diana went to Agra alone, posed forlornly on the same bench and photographers sent that picture all around the world.


   You would think that India would be truly proud of the Taj Mahal. And yes, the vast majority of Indians are. But an influential section sees it only as a monument to oppression.


   It began when the state government of Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj is located, released a guide to tourist attractions in the state and pointedly left out the Taj.


   This could have been an oversight. But chatter on social media soon revealed the real agenda.


   Uttar Pradesh, like the federal government in Delhi, is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath is known for his hardline political Hinduism. The Yogi’s supporters put it about that his government saw no need to honour a structure constructed by Muslim invaders when there were lots of other lovely places built by Hindus in Uttar Pradesh.


  "Even five years ago, most Indians would have scoffed in disbelief if they had been told that the Taj would be disowned by leading politicians in India."

   A BJP legislator, Sangeet Som, explained why the Taj deserved no state funds. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had wanted to destroy Hindus, he said, adding, “It is unfortunate if we have such people in our history. I can guarantee that history will be changed. The Uttar Pradesh government is trying to bring history back to the right track.”


   Som is a controversial figure who has previously battled charges of inciting sectarian hatred, but he continues to be a legislator in the ruling party. And his remarks, as bizarre and offensive as they may sound, were welcomed by a substantial section of the hard core Hindu votebank that the BJP has tapped into.


   In a sense, Som was only restating the Hindu rightwing’s agenda: India is a Hindu country and Muslims (including the Moghuls) were invaders who oppressed Hindus. Now that Hindu nationalists are in charge, it is time to show Muslims their place in the new order.


   Som’s view, at least, was not as extreme as that of the late PN Oak, a popular ‘historian’ highly regarded in Hindu political circles, who claimed that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu palace that the evil Moghals had converted into a place of their own. Oak suggested that the sealed basement of the structure contains Hindu artefacts. Though Oak died in 1997, his views still surface, most recently in petitions before the law courts that ask for inquiries into the Taj’s so-called Hindu origins.


   As international attention was focussed on the controversy, the government began to backtrack. The BJP distanced itself from Som’s comments (but did not censure him) and Yogi Adityanath said that the Taj had been built with the blood and sweat of Indians. (This comment is open to interpretation. It is often suggested that Hindus were forced to toil away at building the Taj by the Mughal Emperor.)


   Finally, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened. Without mentioning Som or the Taj, he said: “Nations cannot develop if they don’t take pride in their history or culture. If they don’t, they are sure to lose their identity.” Once again, these remarks were open to interpretation. Modi said all this while dedicating an institute of Ayurveda (ancient Indian medicine). So did he mean India’s ayurvedic heritage? Or did he mean the Taj?


   Even five years ago, most Indians would have scoffed in disbelief if they had been told that the Taj would be disowned by leading politicians in India. That nobody is laughing now tells us something about how much and how quickly India is changing.




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  • Roman 27 Nov 2017

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  • Rao 26 Oct 2017

    Well, This is an another case of symbolism becoming more important than "Development" for the ruling elite. But that said, there needs to be archeological fact finding about monuments like the Taj Mahal & Humayun's tomb. The *real* facts needs to be released & not politicians viewpoints from various parties, for & against.

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