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The Yogi, Sangeet Som and the missing Taj Mahal

Sangeet Som’s comments that the Taj Mahal is a blot on Indian culture is embedded in chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s own world-view in which he believes that the monument to love is not a part of “Bhartiya sanskriti’

Written by Amaresh Misra | Updated: October 17, 2017 8:49 am
Sangeet Som, Taj Mahal, Taj Mahal sangeet som, Taj Mahal controversy, BJP, Bhartiya Janata Party, Taj Mahal issue, Sangeet Som on Taj Mahal, Sangeet Som Sardhana, 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Sangeet Som Muzaffarnagar riots, Sangeet Som Taj mahal comment, Sangeet Som Taj mahal remark, up govt tourism booklet, Mughal history, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Mamata Banerjee, Narendra Modi, BJP government, Asaduddin Owaisi, Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh, Sangeet Som needs to be told that the renowned Dr Tripathi also wrote a book on Shahjahan, but there is no mention in it at all of the Mughal ruler and builder of the Taj as a killer of Hindus. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

One fine recent morning, the Taj Mahal, wonder of the world, India’s pride of prides, a UNESCO heritage site and one of the few spots in Uttar Pradesh visited by foreign tourists in droves, went missing. It did not figure in the tourist map issued by the Uttar Pradesh government. Heated denials, accusations and counter accusations followed — UP’s Tourism minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi said the BJP government had spent crores in maintaining the Taj, while bureaucrats close to the government reaffirmed that the Taj is, indeed, a world-renowned site, but that the Tourism booklet was really about “local” spots. Then just as the brouhaha was settling, another minister in Yogi Adityanath’s government proclaimed that instead of the Taj, Hindu religious shrines should figure on UP’S tourist map.

Meanwhile, the BJP MLA from Sardhana in western UP, Sangeet Som, seems to have jumped right into the sizzling controversy, saying that Shahjahan’s beautiful memento of love to his wife is a “blot” on Indian culture because it was built by “traitors” who killed many Hindus.

But the truth is that something has been simmering in the state of Uttar Pradesh for some time. Soon after Yogi Adityanath took power, the BJP government made the Taj Mahal an issue. It figured in one of the Mahant-turned-politician-turned-UP CM’s early statements, when he said that the Taj is not a part of “Bhartiya sanskriti,” or Indian culture.

Since assuming power, in fact, the Chief Minister has frequently attacked several so-called “Muslim” historical symbols. First of all, the shrine of Ghazi Babi, the 11th century warrior-Sufi-acsetic in Bahraich, was targeted. This is a shrine that Hindus and Muslims have venerated for centuries. Ghazi Baba was a fighter who, aided by Yadavs and Pasis, cleared forest land in and around Bahraich and in alliance with Hindu castes fought against local tribes then inhabiting the region.

Then the UP chief minister turned to Akbar. The Mughal emperor, Yogi said, had gone to meet Tulsidas — who wrote Valmiki’s Sanskrit Ramayana in Awadhi, which is known as Ram Charit Manas – who told him that “Ram is my only Badshah” and refused to meet him.

But what’s a little history between a state and its elected chief minister, who may not like facts to come in the way of people’s beliefs, especially when the selfsame people are most important. Still, if you read the history books, they do point out that Akbar and Tulsidas did, indeed, meet, that too in Kashi, or Varanasi. A painting preserved in the Tulsi Museum in Jaipur, said to have been made in 1590, attests the meeting. In this, Akbar and Tulsidas are seen in separate boats, having  a conversation.

Now here is another set of facts. It seems that Kashi’s orthodox Brahmin Pandits were furious at Tulsidas for daring to write Lord Ram’s story, originally written by Valmiki in Sanskrit, a Dev Bhasha, in Awadhi, which is a language of the masses.

In fact, Tulsidas’ experience was quite similar to the hostility faced by Martin Luther, the European reformer, who translated the Bible from Latin to German, thereby making it immediately accessible to thousands of people. Led by the Pope, the orthodox clergy so vehemently opposed Martin Luther that Luther ultimately broke free from the Catholic church to establish the Protestant faith.

Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, another devotional poet and one of Akbar’s ‘navratnas,’ mediated between Akbar and Tulsidas. Fed up by the incessant attacks on him, Tulsidas even threatened to write the ‘Ram Charit Manas’ inside a mosque, it is said, because unlike a ‘Mandir’, a mosque gives sanctuary to all and sundry.

In UP and across the rest of North India, places of worship, religious structures, folk culture etc are eclectic in character. Hindu temples have had a ‘Muslim’ touch and vice-versa. An Islamic crescent adorns a major Hanuman temple in Lucknow, Aliganj. Built by Bahu Begum, the mother of the Nawab wazir of Avadh, Asif-ud-Daula (who reigned from 1775-1797), who was a Begum of Avadh herself, the 18th century temple is still functioning. Over the decades and centuries, Hindu officials built Masjids and Imambaras. Muslim rulers donated land to temples.

Truth is, all major temples in Ayodhya were made on grants given by Muslims. In Yogi Adityanath’s case, the Gorakhmath land of which he is the Mahant, was donated by Nawab Asif-ud-Daula who visited Gorakhpur around 1790. Since Asif-ud-Daula was a Shia, he wanted to meet Roshan Ali, the pir of an Imambara in the region. Roshan Ali asked Asif-ud-Daula to donate land to Gorakh Math. In the 19th century, it was said that half of Gorakhpur belonged to Roshan Ali’s Imambara and the other half to the Gorakh Math.

Asif-ud-Daula’s ‘firman’ granting land to the Gorakh Math is preserved in the temple.

The ‘Indian Express’ reported this in 2007. In 1994, Mahant Avaidyanath, Adityanath’s predecessor, announced in a public meeting in Gorakhpur, held to felicitate Late Prince Anjum Qadar, a direct descendant of Asif-ud-Daula, that the whole stretch of Gorakh temple land was donated by Anjum Qadar’s ancestors. Digvijay Nath, Avaidyanath’s predecessor, during his dialogue with Swami Karpatri ji maharaj of the Hindu Mahasabha, admitted that the Gorakh Math land was donated by a Muslim Nawab. As for the Taj Mahal, Digvijay Nath had said that it is part of “Bhartiya sanskriti.”

Adityanath has built his politics on a virulent anti-Muslim plank. But readers will be surprised to note that the Nath Sampradaya, the order initiated by Guru Gorakhnath which Adityanath follows, actually venerates the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Gorakhnath was a heterodox religious reformer and advocated reason in place of blind faith, a healthy scepticism towards the Vedas, and egalitarianism among castes by questioning the birth-given caste hierarchy. The Nath Sampradaya welcomed Muslims and low caste Hindus with open arms. Prophet Muhammad was so central to the Nath Sampradaya that its curricula includes Muhammad Bodh, or the Orientation of Muhammad, as a standalone chapter.

Tourism minister Rita Joshi, who crossed over to BJP from Congress on the eve of the elections, is the grand-daughter of Dr R P Tripathi, a doyen of the Allahabad school of history. In contravention to the colonial and Bengal schools of history, and along with Dr Tara Chand, Prof Satish Chandra and Prof Beni Prasad, Dr Tripathi established the Mughals as secular rulers.

In 1988, as a teacher in Allahabad University’s Medieval and Modern History department, Rita Joshi supervised a thesis by Akhilesh Jaiswal on Aurangzeb, titled “Aurangzeb’s relations with Hindus’, and wrote a preface to it. The thesis is now a book. In it, Joshi writes about how Aurangzeb donated land to temples but remains much misunderstood.

BJP MLA Sangeet Som needs to be told that the renowned Dr Tripathi also wrote a book on Shahjahan, but there is no mention in it at all of the Mughal ruler and builder of the Taj as a killer of Hindus. In fact, Shahjahan comes across as a proponent of Hindustan’s composite, syncretic culture. Given Dr Tripathi’s relationship with Rita Joshi, and Ms Joshi’s own views regarding Aurangzeb, will Sangeet Som now demand the resignation of his party’s cabinet minister?

Amaresh Misra is a writer, historian, script-writer and politician and is based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

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  1. R
    Rohini
    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:01 pm
    I'm sorry, am I reading right? Teh author's name seems to be someone called Amaresh Mishra..is this the SAME amaresh mishra who has been abusing on Twitter? Abusing women using the worst sort of words possible? Is the IE serious? HAve you completely lost it? How can you possibly carry articles of a foul mouthed, misogynist, sexist abuser? I really do wonder about the IE's moral compass. I am not going to even be glancing at whatever toxic sewage this man has written here.
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    1. R
      R K
      Oct 18, 2017 at 5:43 pm
      Independent scholar Matthew White, in his popular history book The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, claims an estimated 4.6 million people were killed under his reign.[110] White estimates that about 2.5 million of Aurangzeb's army were killed during the Mughal–Maratha Wars (100,000 annually during a quarter-century), while 2 million civilians in war-torn lands died due to drought, plague and famine.[111] According to research by Stanford University and Cambridge University academic historian Audrey Truschke,[112] he "did not perpetrate anything resembling a genocide of Hindus."[105] The population estimates of economic historian Angus Maddison also show that the Indian population increased from 135 million in 1600 (under Akbar's reign) to 165 million in 1700 (under Aurangzeb's reign), an increase of 30 million between 1600 and 1700.[113]
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        R K
        Oct 18, 2017 at 5:42 pm
        Aurangzeb issued orders in 1669, to all his governors of provinces to "destroy with a willing hand the schools and temples of the infidels, and that they were strictly enjoined to put an entire stop to the teaching and practice of idolatrous forms of worship".[106] These orders and his own initiative in implementing them led to the destruction of numerous temples, contributing to the list of temples destroyed during Islamic rule of India.[107][108] Some temples were destroyed entirely in other cases mosques were built on their foundations, sometimes using the same stones. Idols in temples were smashed, and the city of Mathura was temporarily renamed as Islamabad in local official documents.[106][109] However, Auranzeb also built temples.[104][105]
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        1. R
          R K
          Oct 18, 2017 at 5:37 pm
          They (Hindus) committed jauhar (...). In the night, the (Muslim) assailants forced their way into the fortress in several places, and fell to slaughtering and p ering. At early dawn the Emperor went in mounted on an elephant, attended by his nobles and chiefs on foot. The order was given for a general massacre of the infidels as a punishment. The number exceeded 8,000 (Abu-l Fazl states there were 40,000 peasants with 8,000 Rajputs forming the garrison). Those who escaped the sword, men and women, were made prisoners and their property came into the hands of the Musulmans. – Maulana Ahmad, Tarikh-i Alfi[96]
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            R K
            Oct 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm
            AKBAR THE GREAT...
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          2. R
            R K
            Oct 18, 2017 at 5:30 pm
            He [Lodi] was so zealous...[as a Musulman] that he utterly destroyed diverse places of [infidel] worship... he entirely ruined the shrines of Mathura, [and] the minefield of heathenism. Their stone images were given to the butchers to use...as meat weights,[89] and all the Hindus in Mathura were strictly prohibited from shaving their heads and beards, and from performing ablutions. He stopped the idolatrous rites of the infidels there. Every city thus conformed as he desired to the customs of Islam. – Táríkh-i Dáúdí[90]
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