It’s an anthology of writings, research papers and photographic evidences on Taj Mahal, edited by Stephen Knapp, an Indophile. He dedicates it to “all those who are not afraid to view the real history of ancient India”. Clearly, the book is for people who have the courage to listen to alternative theories and examine them objectively. Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, is popularly believed to have been built as the expression of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz. Is this true? Did Shah Jahan really build it, or did he merely acquire it from Raja Jai Singh?
Chapter 1 is a short write up by Dr V.S. Godbole, author of ‘Taj Mahal: Analysis of a Great Deception’, based on his seminal research of 15 years (1981-96) on contemporary accounts and primary sources, wherein he proposes that the legend of Taj is a British colonial conspiracy. Chapter 3 is the architectural analysis of the Taj by US senior architect Prof Marvin H. Mills. Chapter 4 is a research paper ‘The Question of the Taj Mahal’ by P.S. Bhat and A.L. Athavale.
The authors scrutinise primary sources like the travelogue of J.B. Tavernier, Elliot and Dowson’s work History of India (8 vols) published in 1867-77, Mughal court chronicle Badshah Nama, Book Agra Historical and Descriptive written in 1894 by Khan Bahaddur Syed Muhammad Latif, Commercial Report of a Dutch, Fransisco Pelsaert, senior factor merchant at Agra in 1626, travelogue of Peter Mundy, book Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb by Wayne Edison Begley and Ziyaud-Din Ahmad Desai, farmans issued by Shah Jahan to Raja Jai Singh, letter written by Aurangzeb in 1652, complaining of the extensive repairs being done on the Taj Mahal (recorded in chronicles titled ‘Aadaab-Ealamgiri’, ‘Yaadgaarnama’ and the ‘Muraaqqa-I-Akbarabadi’).
The farman of Shah Jahan issued on 20 September 1632 to Raja Jai Singh asked him to hasten the shipment of marble for the facing of the interior walls of the mausoleum! Prof Mills points out, obviously, that a building had to be there by then for the shipment of marble. He also examines the description of the first Urs of Mumtaz given by Begley and Desai and points out that by that time the building was surely in place. Even the European traveller Peter Mundy, on whom Begley and Desai extensively rely, said that he saw the installation of the enamelled gold railing surrounding Mumtaz’s cenotaph at the time of the second Urs on 26 May 1633. Since the railing could not have stood forth in the open air, it can only mean that the Taj building was existing. Prof Mills also reveals that radiocarbon dating of a piece of wood surreptitiously taken from one of the doors revealed the 13th century as a possible date. P.S. Bhat and A.L. Athavale wonder, given the mammoth planning, marshalling of resources, gigantic financial outlay involved, why the contemporary Mughal court papers do not have any records of the same.
All the authors in this book rely on the Mughal court chronicle Badshah Nama written by the emperor’s chronicler, Moulvi Abdul Hamid Lahori. It devotes two pages for burial of Mumtaz Mahal, wherein it says, “The site is covered with magnificent lush garden, to the south of that great city and amidst which the building known as the palace of Raja Mansingh, at present owned by Raja Jaisingh, grandson was selected for the burial of the queen whose abode is in heaven… in exchange of that grand palace, he was granted a piece of government land… Next year that illustrious body of the heavenly queen was laid to rest… as per royal orders the officials hid the pious lady from the eyes of the world under the sky-high lofty mausoleum.” They argue that Badshah Nama being a contemporary account should have been adequate evidence for any historian.
Taj is a multi-storeyed structure (including a basement) with many stairways; on one floor above the basement the real grave of Queen Mumtaz is located. This floor has corridors and rooms on both sides of corridors, rooms’ wide windows opening towards the river; it has 3 entrances. The basement floor is permanently sealed with brick and mortar and likewise the entrances and all the rooms on the floor above are permanently sealed. The authors question the necessity to build a basement floor and the corridors, rooms’ entrances on the floor earmarked for the real grave. And then again, why were they sealed permanently?
In Chapter 2, Stephen Knapp presents an excerpt from his book Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence. He narrates a series of deceptions, distortions made in Indian history including the legend of Taj. He lists other monuments which are similarly misidentified; viz Qutb Minar, Humayun’s Tomb (French writer G. Le Bon in his book, The World of Ancient India, has published a photo of marble footprints), Sikandra Tomb of Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri, Jama Masjid at Ahmedabad, Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur, etc.
Chapter 5 contains photos of Taj and other monuments. It is the visual proof for the discussions in the book. Photos of architectural features, details and motifs, plans and sketches of Taj help us to better comprehend the arguments made in the book.
Next (Chapter 6), an essay by Dr Radhasyam Brahmachari, discusses the Munj-Bateshwar edict found a few km from the Taj. The 25th, 26th and 34th verses in the edict mention that King (Paramardidev of the Chandratreya dynasty) has built two marble temples one each for Vishnu and Shiva and that the edict was laid in 1212 Vikram Samvat (AD 1156). Agra has two marble monuments, one is the mausoleum of Itmad-ud-Daulah, and the other is Taj Mahal; this coincides with two marble temples mentioned in Munj-Bateshwar edict.
Last chapter (chapter 7) is a summary of the book Taj Mahal: True Story by P.N. Oak. It lists 110 documentary and architectural evidences to establish that Taj Mahal was built as a Hindu temple or a palace.
The book makes a strong case for a re-look at the legend of Taj. A multi-disciplinary team must be constituted to research all relevant sources and examine the architecture of Taj by opening all the sealed parts.
The reviewer, IRS, Commissioner of Income Tax, is interested in social service, literature, history, culture, economics, science, agriculture and law.