While the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath's visit to the Taj Mahal got national coverage, many also noticed that a BJP MLA who was accompanying him to the Taj said that the seventeenth-century monument was actually a Shiva temple. Though the BJP MLA from Agra north, Jagan Prasad Garg was cautious and said that the BJP acknowledges Taj, he told enough which could potentially cloud Adityanath's visit to the Taj with controversy.
Garg told a group of reporters that the Mughal emperor built the monument after demolishing a Shiva temple which existed there before, a view which the historians of all ideology and schools, found untrue and factually baseless.
“It is nothing but fact that the Mughals first dismantled a Shiva temple which was at the same place where the Taj is located and then built Taj Mahal. It is not my view but several historians have been saying this for quite some time. They believe that there was a Shiva temple at the same place where the Taj Mahal is located,” Garg, told a bunch of reporters inside the Taj premise.
What is very important to note here is that Garg is not the only BJP leader to have repeated what is factually incorrect and is merely a wishful thinking of the Hindutva groups to polarise the masses. Many senior BJP leaders including BJP MPs, MLAs have reiterated the claim that Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple, a view which has no basis in history.
The BJP Member of Parliament from UP Vinay Katiyar last week repeated the same propaganda on Taj Mahal without offering any evidence. Katiyar who was one of the BJP leaders to have spearheaded the Ram Mandir agitation in the early 1990s said that Taj Mahal used to be a temple which was destroyed by the Mughal rulers.
What is interesting is that Katiyar sought to do a Babri out of Taj Mahal. He said that Taj Mahal was constructed at the exact same spot where stood a Shivaling, as part of a Shiva temple which was known as “tejo mahalaya”, an argument similar to the popular Hindutva view that Babri Masjid was built at the exact same spot where Lord Ram was born and where earlier existed a Ram temple.
“The Taj Mahal is a Shiva temple. There used to exist many signs of Hindu gods and goddesses inside the Taj. For instance, there used to be a Shivaling there which had water dripping on it from its top. That ling was removed and a mausoleum built there,” he said last week.
Katiyar was actually responding to a controversial statement by another BJP leader Sangeet Som last week. Som, an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, who had earlier while addressing a gathering in Meerut said that the Taj Mahal was a “blot on the Indian culture”. He said that present history of India was the history written in order to please the invaders like Mughal kings and he also promised and assured that the BJP governments in the State and at the Center was working to “rewrite history”. Actually, Som's statement should not have made any controversy because he was merely repeating what the UP chief minister Aditya Nath had said again and again that Taj was not part of Indian culture.
But if one looks at the entire Taj controversy, it is no longer about Taj being a part of Indian heritage or not. Those who spoke about Taj very cleverly steered the narrative from Taj being part of Indian heritage to Taj being actually a Hindu temple.
Accordingly, when Som made an outrageous statement about Taj Mahal, the Hindutva groups and RSS affiliates read the sign and quickly picked up the controversy to popularise a narrative that the monument is a Hindu temple. It is nothing but fabrication and bunch of falsehood. Hence came the reaction of Vinay Katiyar.
After that members of Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation founded by no other than Adityanath himself, and another lesser known outfit Rashtra Swabhiman Dal, from Aligarh, Hathras and Meerut, were caught inside Taj Mahal on Monday reciting 'Shiva Chalisa', causing tension inside the Taj Mahal.
The members of both the outfit claimed that they should be allowed to worship inside the Taj because it was a Hindu temple. They were let off by the CRPF. Mr Katiyar again came to the rescue of Hindu Yuva Vahini activists and declared they were right in attempting to worship inside the Taj as it was originally a Hindu temple.
It might sound unbelievable but on Friday, Akhil Bhartiya Itihaas Sankalan Samiti, the history wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, came up with a demand that Friday prayers at Taj Mahal should be banned. The National Organisation Secretary of the Samiti Dr Balmukund Pandey told India Today TV that if Muslims are allowed to perform namaaz then Hindus must also be allowed to do “Shiva puja” inside the Taj.
Last month Praveen Togadia, the VHP’s international working president, had said that the Taj Mahal was a ‘Shiva temple,’ known in ancient India as ‘tejo mahalaya’. He was also offered a replica of the Taj with 'tejo mahalaya' written in bold on it.
Last year the local court in Agra admitted a petition by a group of six lawyers pleading that the court should declare that Taj Mahal was actually a Shiva temple or in their words “Tejo Mahalaya” and that they should be allowed to perform Shiva puja inside the Taj. The court had asked the ASI to clarify and submit its reply. The ASI's leading archeologist in Agra, Bhuvan Vikram told the media then that the ASI had submitted its official stand calling the petition of the lawyers concocted and misleading. The ASI had also requested the court to dismiss the petition which was still pending.
Actually, the claims that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple was a theory first propounded by Purushottam Nagesh Oak in his book Taj Mahal: The True Story published in 1989. Oak who was respected by the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates, had claimed in his highly controversial and completely discredited book that the structure of Taj Mahal was actually built in 1155 before Muslim invaders came to India. He claimed that the building was originally a Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalaya dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Most theories and arguments about Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple originated from Oak's books. But in 2000 Supreme Court of India dismissed the petition of Oak calling it “misconceived”. Oak had pleaded for Taj Mahal to be declared a Shiva temple.
What stands out is the concerted and combined campaign of the Sangh Parivar affiliates and other Hindutva groups in popularising the fabricated and false narrative about Taj being a Shiva temple. While the Hindutva campaign is forceful, the State is silent when it comes to counter the propaganda.
One wonders if this silence on the part of the BJP government is a part of the strategy to strengthen the right-wing forces in the State.