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Explained: The 22 locked ‘rooms’ at the Taj Mahal, and a mystery that isn’t

The Allahabad HC has dismissed a petition seeking a "facts finding committee to study and publish the real History of Taj Mahal" and a "direction...to open the sealed doors inside the Taj Mahal to rest to the controversy".

Written by Divya A , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 14, 2022 9:52:56 am
The Taj Mahal in Agra. (Express Photo: Nandagopal Rajan)

Allahabad High Court on Thursday (May 12) dismissed a petition seeking a “facts finding committee to study and publish the real History of Taj Mahal” and a “direction…to open the sealed doors (approx. 22 rooms) inside the Taj Mahal to rest to the controversy”.

A Bench comprising Justices Subhash Vidyarthi and Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya said the prayers were “non-justiciable”, and “such issues…should be left to be debated amongst the academicians, scholars and historians”.

No secret history

The so-called “22 rooms” in the basement of the Taj Mahal are not really rooms, rather a long arched corridor along which doors were fixed so the space could be utilised better, sources in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who have seen the basement area on several occasions, said. The sources said ASI staff at the Taj clean the “rooms” weekly or fortnightly, and “There is nothing on the walls there.”

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A retired ASI official who did not want to be identified said the area is not of tourist interest, and is therefore kept locked to prevent unnecessary movement of people at the protected World Heritage Site that gets up to 1 lakh visitors daily.

“There is no secret history in the basement, it is for security reasons only that the area is kept out of bounds for visitors,” the official said.

Architectural feature

The noted archaeologist K K Muhammed, who retired in 2012 as the ASI’s Regional Director (North), told the Indian Express that he had seen no religious motifs inside the basement rooms of the Taj. Such rooms, he said, are not uncommon in other Mughal-era structures of a similar nature — in Agra, and at the Humayun’s Tomb and Safdarjung’s tomb in Delhi.

“The ASI maintains all these basement rooms. The walls are bare, there are no motifs; it’s just a structural element to raise the plinth on which the main mausoleum and the minarets stand,” Muhammed said.

An official from the ASI’s Agra Circle said: “For a structure of this size, once the foundation is done, arches are created to lift the platform and spread the load uniformly. Surveys are conducted from time to time by going to the basement to test the strength of the Taj Mahal.”

Claims of a ‘temple’

Claims have been made over many years — and repeatedly rejected by historians, ASI officials, and courts including the Supreme Court — that the Taj is really a Hindu temple, and idols of gods and goddesses may be hidden in its basement.

Muhammed said the Taj was first mentioned in the Badshahnama, the official chronicle of Shah Jahan’s reign — and that its architectural features are such that it could not have been built even 50 years before the time that is historically assigned to it, given the way Mughal architecture evolved. “It takes the double-dome, inlays, and jaalis from various Mughal structures that existed at the time it was commissioned,” Muhammed said.

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