It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World, an iconic heritage site, built exquisitely, and the pride of India. Yes, we’re talking about the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra. While most Indian and foreign travellers have this landmark on their bucket list, a recent controversy has brought the Taj Mahal in focus by giving its mention a complete miss.
The Uttar Pradesh government recently released a new booklet about the ongoing and future tourism projects in the state, and failed to mention the Taj Mahal at all.
The booklet, called Uttar Pradesh Paryatan: Apar Sambhavnayen (Uttar Pradesh Tourism: Its High Potential), was released last week by the state’s tourism minister, Rita Bahuguna Joshi. Since the Taj’s complete absence from the list was revealed, reactions from political circles across the country have criticised the Yogi Adityanath government for this oversight.
But while the absence of the iconic landmark is worthy of criticism, it does not really take away any of its significance or contributions in India’s rich culture and its growing tourism industry. Here is a list of everything you should know about this beautiful structure on the bank of River Yamuna.
1. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, in the loving memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz, who died while giving birth to her 14th child, was a favourite of the Mughal Emperor, and he spared no expense to build the memorial for his wife. Both the Emperor and his wife were finally laid to rest in the Taj.
2. The construction of the Taj began in 1632, a year after Mumtaz’ death, and was completed nearly 20 years later. It took 20,000 labourers, artisans and workmen to create the structure.
3. A fine example of Mughal architecture, the Taj is made of white marble. The large dome, the four minarets and the high platform are a few of the distinguishing features of the structure.
4. While portraits and idols are never represented on Indo-Islamic construction like the Taj, it does have beautiful and detailed carvings, as well as a fair amount of Persian calligraphy.
5. The two decorated tombs under the dome are fakes. The real tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz are in a basement below, and they are completely bare, with not a bit of decoration on them.
Popular legends and myths:
1. The Taj Mahal is visible from a part of the Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was kept a prisoner during the last days of his life by his successor, Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan was barred from visiting the Taj by his son, so he adored the memorial from the Agra Fort itself.
2. Most Indians have grown up with the story that all the artisans who worked on the Taj had their hands cut off on the Emperor’s orders, so that they can’t replicate such a feat again. This myth has been disproved since it was discovered by historians that the chief architect of the Taj, Ustad Ahmed Lahauri, was later commissioned to build other structures by the Mughal Emperor.
3. Another popular myth about the Taj is that Shah Jahan did not intend to be laid to rest with his wife there. The contemporary European traveller, Tavernier, mentions that the Emperor wanted to build a black Taj Mahal on the opposite bank of the Yamuna as his own mausoleum. He could not, however, go ahead with the plans because his son, Aurangzeb, overthrew him.
4. During the Second World War, it was feared that India–still a British colony, and an involuntary participant in the war–and its heritage sites would be attacked by the Axis Powers, especially Japan. The Taj was protected during this period with extra scaffoldings built around the structure. Similar efforts were made during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars.
5. Purushottam Nagesh Oak, a historical revisionist, claimed in his works that the Taj Mahal was actually a Hindu temple called Tejo Mahalaya, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Oak claimed that the Taj had been built by the Rajput kings in the 12th century, and taken over or desecrated by the Mughals. Oak also claimed that the Vatican in Italy and Westmeinster Abbey in Britain were Shiva temples. While most of Oak’s ridiculous theories have been discredited, zealous Hindus still continue to file petitions to “restore” the Taj as Tejo temple.
1. The Taj Mahal is a major tourist attraction, and has a heavy footfall throughout the year. In 2016, as the data revealed by the UP government shows, a total of 62 lakh tourists visited the iconic landmark.
2. Every major celebrity who has visited North India has taken a trip to Agra, just to visit the Taj Mahal. The list includes actors like Anil Kapoor, Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey.
3. Heads of states, world leaders and European royals have also made a point of visiting the Taj Mahal. From Pervez Musharraf to Vladimir Putin, from the Clintons to Nicolas Sarkozy, they’ve all paid a visit to the Taj. This illustrious list also includes Princess Diana, who visited in 1992. Prince William and Kate Middleton also visited the Taj during their India tour in 2016.
The Taj Mahal, with romance at its core and beauty as its main defendant, has always captured the minds of Indians as well as non-Indians. People still flock to this heritage site, and want to experience the wonder that it is. So, whether a government booklet mentions it or not is immaterial–after all, information about the Taj Mahal is easier to find in Digital India, and one need not depend on a booklet at all.
As long as the Taj Mahal stands, those with wanderlust in their hearts and minds will seek out the adventure that this iconic landmark offers.
This post was originally published in India Today by Shreya Goswami.