Lucknow: In the summer of 1632, the body of Arjumand Banu Begum, beloved wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, began its final journey, according to a Mughal chronicler, “to the abode of the Caliphate, Akbarabad, escorted by the branch of the tree of sovereignty and caliphate, Prince Sultan Shah Shuja ‘Bahadur, the ‘Umdat ul-Mulk Wazir Khan, and the veiled lady possessing the virtues of Rabi’a, Satti Khanam, who had attained the high rank of first lady of honor of this recipient of divine pleasure in paradise.
Exactly how the Empress’s body was buried in what we now call the Taj Mahal has become the subject of bitter controversy, with powerful figures claiming the monument was once a Hindu temple.
On Thursday, the Allahabad High Court – hearing a petition from Rajneesh Singh, Media Officer of the Ayodhya Unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party – did not seem inclined devote his time to the question. “These debates are for living rooms, not for a court,” said judges DK Upadhyaya and Subhash Vidyarthi.
In response to Singh’s request that the sealed rooms of the Taj complex be opened for inspection, the judges joked, “Tomorrow you will come and ask us to go to the chambers of the honorable judges of this tribunal!”
MP for Lok Sabha from Rajsamand constituency in Rajasthan, Diya Kumari – a member of the former royal family of Jaipur – had weighed in on the issue Wednesday, claiming that the land on which the Taj stands belonged to his ancestors. “I heard that there was no compensation at that time. But at the time, there was no law to appeal. It was definitely the land of the royal family.
“We will provide the documents if the court orders it,” Diya Kumari said.
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What the Mughal Documents Say
Fortunately, no court order is needed to view the documents. Facsimiles of the Mughal concerned farmersor commands, compiled by historian WE Begley, and translated by Ziyauddin Desai, have been available since 1989. The documents tell us that the MP is partly right: the land on which the Taj stands belonged to her ancestor, Raja Jai Singh I of Amber. But the same documents also indicate that Jai Singh received more than generous compensation for the haveli he abandoned and played a key role in providing the marble with which the Taj was built.
The procession carrying the body of Arjumand Banu was a state occasion. Shah Jahan, the Mughal historian ‘Abd al-Hamid Lahori, ordered that “every day plentiful food and innumerable pieces of silver and gold should be given to the needy and destitute.”
Jai Singh, wrote another historian, Muhammad Amin Qazwini, “as a token of his sincerity and devotion, donated the said land and considered it the source of happiness”. “However, His Majesty, in return for this, granted the Raja a high house which belonged to the domain of the crown.”
A farmer published 28 December 1633, records the exact compensation made “in exchange for the haveli belonging to Raja Jai Singh, which this Pillar of the State (‘Umdat al-Mulk), for the sake of the Illuminated Tomb, willingly and voluntarily given as a gift.”
“The havelis detailed in the addendum, together with their appurtenances, which belong to the august property of the crown, were offered to this pride of peers and vassal of the monarch of Islam, Raja Jai Singh, and are hereby surrendered and transferred to its property,” he records.
In exchange for the haveli of Akbarabad, Raja Singh received the havelis of Raja Bhagwandas, Madho Singh, Rupasi Bairagi; and Chand Singh, son of Suraj Singh. (Raja Jai Singh had to donate his property soon after Mumtaz Mahal’s death – no later than December 1631 – but apparently Shah Jahan’s bestowal of Crown property in exchange took nearly two years to be processed.
At least one of these havelis had been given by Rupasi Bairagi to his niece, Mariam-uz-Zamani (popularly known as Jodhabai), the daughter of Raja Bharmal, on the occasion of her marriage to Mughal Emperor Akbar in January 1562.
The mentions on the farmer mention that the Raja had previously received another property from the Crown, the haveli of the late Shahzada Khanam – whose identity is unknown – but it is unclear whether this bequest was also part of the agreed final exchange.
farmers issued around the same time include capricious missives from the crown, asking Jai Singh to ensure that marble from his mines is sent only for the construction of the Taj, and not to other clients.
Tangled claims on the Taj
Claims that the Taj was once a Hindu temple date back to at least 1965, when former Ministry of Information and Broadcasting employee Purushottam Nagesh Oak published a book – no longer in print, but always available online — assert the claim. Oak is famous, among other things, for insisting that the Kaaba in Mecca and the Vatican were also once Hindu temples – and that the papacy was an ancient Vedic priesthood.
In 2000, a Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice SP Bharucha and Justice Ruma Pal dismissed Oak’s claims as “ill-conceived”. “Someone has a bee in their hat”, the judges would have pointed out. For its part, the Archaeological Survey of India said in 2017 that he had no reason to believe there had ever been a temple where the Taj now stands.
Oak’s ideas, however, have proven sticky: Online groups are still circulating a letter from architect Marvin Mills, Posted in The New York Times in 1992, asking carbon 14 and thermoluminescence dating of the monument.
The calls have received little attention among pundits, however. Thermoluminescence can, for example, establish approximately when ceramics were fired, but it is unclear how this information would establish whether there was once a temple standing where the Taj now stands. In general, academic historians have dismissed Oak’s theories.
End of the love story
Every Indian schoolboy knows – or should know – how the story ended: Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, only allowed to view the Taj Mahal through his prison bars. From chronicler Niccolao Manucci’s account, however, the imprisonment was not entirely without consolations.
His son Aurangzeb’s wife, Aurangabadi, the story goes, had two beautiful servants, one named Aftab, meaning “Sun”, and the other Mahtab, or “Moon”. “Finding that Shah Jahan was attracted to them, she gave them to him for his amusement,” the columnist wrote.
“One day,” Manucci recorded, “Shah Jahan was in front of a mirror adjusting his mustaches, and these two women were standing behind him. One waved at the other, as if to mock the old man who wanted to dressed as a youth Shahjahan saw the gesture, and, hurt in his reputation, resorted to drugs to maintain his strength in his accustomed vices.
“By these, his bladder was so weakened that urinary retention occurred. For this, no remedy could be found. The end of the emperor had come, but the debate rages on.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
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