The Allahabad High Court has rejected a petition seeking the opening of the Taj Mahal’s closed rooms. The petition was prompted not by archaeological interests but, as more usual these days, by Hindutva interests. They wanted to see if the shuttered chambers were home to Hindu idols and scriptures. There have been enthusiasts who believed that the immortal memorial was originally Tejo Mahal, a Shiva temple, until the Mughals came and violated everything.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum also had closed secret chambers. No one dared to open the doors because of fear. The belief was that huge serpents guarded the treasures there. Law finally prevailed and the doors of one vault were opened. There were no snakes, but there were tons of gold, sacks full of diamonds, gold coins and jewellery. The treasure was valued at Rs 1 lakh crore.
Majestic as the Padmanabhaswamy temple is, it is no match of course to the Taj Mahal. The legends attached to the Taj are enough to make it one of a kind. Poets and historians have immortalised it as an emblem of Shah Jahan’s love for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. That moving legend prompted Rabindranath Tagore to describe the Taj as a teardrop on the cheek of time.
That vision is touching and heart-warming. Imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan would sit in his room in Agra Fort and look at the Taj, his heart re-living his time with Mumtaz. When his eyesight became weak with old age, he could not see the Taj properly and he fell ill because of that. His daughters came to his rescue and installed a special mirror in the room which helped him see the Taj by reflection. These are stories that elevate love to a sublime level. They also show how human were some of the all-powerful emperors of history.
The Taj developed its mysteries like the Padmanabhaswamy temple did. The cenotaphs honouring Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are enclosed in an eight-sided chamber, ornamented with an inlay of semi-precious stones and a marble lattice screen. These, alas, are just for show. The real memorabilia are in a quiet room below at the garden level.
We should not forget that the funding that came from the Emperor’s Royal Treasury was spent mostly on the stones and workers’ wages. The materials used to build the Taj Mahal were procured from all over India and Asia. Some 1,000 elephants were used to carry the building materials.
Let’s give credit to the sense of history the old rulers of India nurtured. They built monuments for the glorification of the country they ruled. Rather different from today’s rulers who like to put their personal stamp on whatever they do. Remember a whole new Parliament House is being constructed because, as our Prime Minister explained it, ‘‘if the old Parliament House gave direction to the post-Independence era, the new building would become a witness to the creation of atmanirbhar Bharat.’’ Got it? Very simple.
Our yesterdays were historically rich. The rulers who mattered then had a sense of history and of aesthetics. And they put the nation first. Today, it has become necessary for our courts and our judges to keep that sense of history alive.
This was the essence of the message that came from the Allahabad High Court. The petitioner was the BJP’s youth wing leader in Ayodhya. He wanted the court to help open the Taj Mahal’s 22 closed rooms to ‘‘ascertain the presence of Hindu deities’ idols.’’The court chastised the petitioner. Referring to his ‘‘right to information’’ plea, the court said: ‘‘Go and research. Do MA. Do PhD. If any institution disallows you to research on such a subject, then come to us.” The judges said pointblank: ‘‘Please don’t make a mockery of the PIL system.”
It is interesting to note that the debate over the Taj Mahal’s closed rooms reflected the Hindutva spirit while the Padmanabhaswamy temple controversy was entirely historical and scholastic. Indeed, the temple often faces problems in day to day management. A recent announcement said that ‘‘Rs 2 crore has been sanctioned by the state government as a loan’’ which the temple had to return in a year’s time.
When Hindutva issues take over, other things become immaterial. The urge to show that the Taj Mahal’s heritage is Hindutva-based and that the Mughals trampled on that heritage is the sum and substance of current debate on the Taj. It will help nobody.