The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Indian and Persian architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage." While the white domed marble mausoleum is its most familiar component, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures. Building began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, and employed thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision including Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri
If you have ever visited the Taj Mahal then your guide probably told you that it was designed by Ustad Isa of Iran, and built by the Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Indian children are taught that it was built in 22 years (1631 to 1653) by 20,000 artisans brought to India from all over the world.
This story has been challenged by Professor P.N. Oak, author of Taj Mahal: The True Story, who believes that the whole world has been duped. He claims that the Taj Mahal is not Queen Mumtaz Mahal's tomb, but an ancient Hindu temple palace of Lord Shiva (then known as Tejo Mahalaya), worshipped by the Rajputs of Agra city.
In the course of his research, Oak discovered that the Shiva temple palace had been usurped by Shah Jahan from then Maharaja of Jaipur, Jai Singh. Shah Jahan then remodelled the palace into his wife's memorial. In his own court chronicle, Badshahnama, Shah Jahan admits that an exceptionally beautiful grand mansion in Agra was taken from Jai Singh for Mumtaz's burial. The ex-Maharaja of Jaipur is said to retain in his secret collection two orders from Shah Jahan for the surrender of the Taj building.
The use of captured temples and mansions as a burial place for dead courtiers and royalty was a common practice among Muslim rulers. For example, Hamayun, Akbar, Etmud-ud-Daula and Safdarjung are all buried in such mansions.
Oak's inquiries begin with the name Taj Mahal. He says this term does not occur in any Moghul court papers or chronicles, even after Shah Jahan's time. The term 'Mahal' has never been used for a building in any of the Muslim countries, from Afghanistan to Algeria.
'The usual explanation that the term Taj Mahal derives from Mumtaz Mahal is illogical in at least two respects. Firstly, her name was never Mumtaz Mahal but Mumtaz-ul-Zamani,' he writes. 'Secondly, one cannot omit the first three letters from a woman's name to derive the remainder as the name for the building.'
Taj Mahal is, he claims, a corrupt version of Tejo-mahalaya, or the Shiva's Palace. Oak also says that the love story of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan is a fairy tale created by court sycophants, blundering historians and sloppy archaeologists. Not a single royal chronicle of Shah Jahan's time corroborates the love story.
Furthermore, Oak cites several documents suggesting that the Taj Mahal predates Shah Jahan's era:
1. Professor Marvin Miller of New York took samples from the riverside doorway of the Taj. Carbon dating tests revealed that the door was 300 years older than Shah Jahan.
2. European traveller Johan Albert Mandelslo, who visited Agra in 1638 (only seven years after Mumtaz's death), describes the life of the city in his memoirs, but makes no reference to the Taj Mahal being built.
3. The writings of Peter Mundy, an English visitor to Agra within a year of Mumtaz's death, also suggest that the Taj was a noteworthy building long well before Shah Jahan's time.
Oak also points out a number of design and architectural inconsistencies that support the belief that the Taj Mahal is a typical Hindu temple rather than a mausoleum.
Many rooms in the Taj Mahal have remained sealed since Shah Jahan's time, and are still inaccessible to the public. Oak asserts they contain a headless statue of Shiva and other objects commonly used for worship rituals in Hindu temples.
Fearing political backlash, Indira Gandhi's government tried to have Oak's book withdrawn from the bookstores, and threatened the Indian publisher of the first edition with dire consequences.
The only way to really validate or discredit Oak's research is to open the sealed rooms of the Taj Mahal, and allow international experts to investigate.