|An Open Letter to Dr Romila Thapar|
Dr Romila Thapar
Most of us grew up and were educated to believe that the Taj Mahal was a ground-up de novo construction by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan. We – and the whole world – are told that it is his monument to his great love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Couples from the world over come to be photographed before this monument – it is all so romantic, especially in the moonlight.
That there is another view in regard to whether Shahjahan really had this bill-and-coo relationship with Mumtaz Mahal, and that in fact he womanized, committed adultery and incest (KS Lal, “The Mughal Harem”, New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1988) may, of course, be dismissed as a Hindu bias since it is expressed by one who is often cited by pulp historians.
More serious was a claim made by one PN Oak that the Taj Mahal was a pre-existing Hindu structure. We all learnt to scoff at PN Oak – without needing to read him – because our history books taught us differently. We might have continued to scoff, had the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board recently not decided to lay claim to the property. Not to be left behind, the UP Shia Wakf Board put in its claim, and the Anjuman-e-Mohommedia followed suit. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board supports the Sunni claim, as does the secular Samajwadi Party’s government in Uttar Pradesh (with its minister Mohd Azam Khan wanting to become the trustee of the monument – The Pioneer, Mar 17 & 21, 2005), and our secular national government rightly sees “nothing objectionable” in the claim being made (“Whose Taj Mahal?”, editorial, The Pioneer, Mar 23, 2005).
At this point, allow me to establish my secular credentials by denouncing the Hindu claims to Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura as grossly objectionable.
I still haven’t read PN Oak’s claim – the book is not readily available. According to the BBC, “Fearing political backlash, Indira Gandhi’s government tried to have Oak’s book withdrawn from the bookstores, and threatened the Indian publisher of the first edition with dire consequences” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A5220), but you can for yourself see his main arguments athttp://www.esamskriti.com/html/new_inside.asp?cat_name=why&cid=389&sid=64 which also asks “why did the illustrious House of Tatas, in 1905, name Mumbai’s first world class hotel, Taj Mahal. You cannot attract guests by naming your hotel after a mausoleum. Friends and foes could not give me an answer till someone told me that Taj Mahal meant Crown Residence. Yeah, that was a good name to give a hotel.”
In view of the Muslim claim – and its secular and government support – to the Taj Mahal as wakf property, a clear explication of the historical position by our professional historians becomes essential.
Three inter-related issues raise fundamental questions about the historical authenticity of what we’ve been taught about the Taj Mahal:
The BBC states that “the only way to really validate or discredit Oak’s research is to open the sealed rooms of the Taj Mahal, and allow international experts to investigate.”
However, why should we want “international experts” when we have a Dr Thapar. I’m sure patriotic Hindusthanis will settle for these rooms being opened before three Supreme Court judges and you (as representing the professional historian community) with a videographic panchnama being made in all your presence of the interior architecture of these rooms and all their contents. And as Subhash Kak (no kin) suggests, “Radiocarbon and thermoluminescence tests can help establish the dates of the buildings in the complex.” However, since Subhash Kak is a pulp historian, perhaps we may dismiss his suggestion as a Hindu bias.
There is a larger point. You know that we were all taught the Aryan Invasion Theory, and it is professional historians led by you who’ve clarified the unlikelihhood of an invasion. You know we’ve all been taught to acknowledge Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru as being responsible for the British leaving India, but it seems that Netaji played a more significant role (Anuj Dhar, “Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery”, New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2005 – however, in fairness, Dhar may not be a professional historian). Now the UP Sunni Wakf Board raises a demand that brings up again evidence apparently sufficiently strong to seriously question whether the so-called Taj Mahal, whatever the original building may have been, was in fact built by Shahjahan.
None of this evidence is new, but I’ve not been able to find anywhere that it has been properly and professionally rebutted. In the absence of such rebuttal, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the danger allowing it to pass unchallenged will pose to our secular polity.
May I, therefore, as a concerned citizen, request you, as the country’s most senior professional historian, kindly to make a public statement to settle this controversy, as well as lead a petition to our President to have all rooms in the Taj Mahal opened before you and three Supreme Court judges to settle, once and for all, the truth about this national treasure.
I look forward to receiving through the Kluge Center (that’ll have my email address) at least an acknowledgement from you.