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The desire to erase the Taj Mahal and other parts of our history seen by some as ‘alien’ points to a giant ego that wants to rubbish everything done by ‘other people’.
If there was a prize for the largest number of motor mouths in the world, we would win it hands down, the US coming a close second, I dare say. Despite all the pollution that makes its presence felt during Diwali, there are still folks who persist in exacerbating the atmosphere with their own particular brand of hot air.
Like the individual who declared that the Taj Mahal is a blot on Indian culture! He termed Babur, Akbar and Shah Jahan traitors, and declared pompously that the marble mausoleum had been built by an emperor who had targeted Hindus in his realm, and also apparently imprisoned his own father.
Of course, the man had not bothered to check his facts. Wasn’t the boot on the other foot? Shah Jahan was supposed to have built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beautiful wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and then been imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb. Tales abound about how he gazed longingly at the reflection of the Taj on a polished back stone.
Of course, the CM of the state came back like a boomerang, and stated, “It does not matter who built it (Taj Mahal) and for what reason; it was built by blood and sweat of Indian labourers.” He emphasised that the monument was very important, especially from the perspective of tourism.
Over the years, the Taj Mahal has been lauded as one of the wonders of the world, and droves of visitors make their way there to pose for pictures. One of the most discussed photographs was that of Princess Diana who had posed in solitary splendour before the monument of everlasting love. Unfortunately, it didn’t do her any good, as it turned out.
Going back to the motor mouth above, his tirade did not stop there. He went on to say that if rulers like Shah Jahan “who tried to wipe out Hindus” form part of India’s heritage, he and obviously people like him would change that history. Sadly, at some time this year, a tourism booklet released by the government to showcase tourist spots in the state had no mention of the Taj Mahal, the most prominent of them all. The State Tourism Minister later tried to whitewash the damage by proclaiming that the Taj Mahal continued to be the country’s cultural heritage and priority.
“The greatness of the Mughal achievement in the political unification of India was matched by the splendour and beauty of the work of the architects, poets, historians, painters, and musicians who flourished in the period. The resemblances of the Mughal Empire to the Bourbon monarchy in France during the same period have often been noted, and in India, as in France, a literate and refined court gave a recognizable style and manner to a wide variety of arts”, says this essay. Thus, if history is to be believed, myriad were the achievements under the Mughal emperors in the fields of art, literature, architecture, painting, music and education.
Humayun founded the Mughal School of painting, which was further developed by Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The art of book illustration and portraiture flourished under Akbar. Tansen, the renowned musician, was one of the Gems in Akbar’s court, and almost forty musicians and instrumentalists were patronized by the Emperor, according to Abul Fazl. Shah Jahan was also surrounded by around thirty musicians, often rewarded for their prowess.
Poetry, History and Biography were assiduously cultivated during Mughal times. A few of the noted names were those of Abul Fazl and his significant Akbar Nama, Badauni, Firishta, Abdul Rahim and the like. Persian and Hindi flourished, and Muslim poets like Jaisi and Kabir co-existed peacefully with Hindu poets like the erudite Tulsi Das and the witty Raja Birbal.
Architecture reached the heights of its glory under the Mughals. Akbar’s imperial court, Fathepur Sikri, and his fortresses at Agra and Lahore, were followed by the impressive Mughal gardens laid out by his son, Jahangir, in Kashmir (The Shalimar and the Nishat), as also in the Punjab. Akbar’s tomb at Sikandar was planned by his son. Shah Jahan was the master builder of the Mughals. He introduced marble into his buildings, which lent a new lightness and translucence to his buildings. The Taj Mahal at Agra is generally considered his masterpiece, but the Pearl Mosque at Agra, the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort in Delhi, and various edifices at Lahore, Sind, Kashmir, Ajmer and Kabul come a close second.
Education was given great importance during the period with many impressive institutions at Agra, Delhi, Sialkot and Lahore, which led to the resurgence of cultural activity. Women were equally engrossed in education, with many Muslim women also taking an interest in literature and writing. Libraries also thrived during the era.
This is just a short overview of the effect the Mughals had in India. So, instead of trying to negate the significance of history by giving it religious overtones, wouldn’t it be better to inculcate a sense of pride in our ancient achievements and try and move on from there to a further position of strength? Why do we decry the achievements of others? Why do we strive to destroy and then build again, instead of strengthening what we already have?
In fact, do we even need to go back into the past to dwell upon this particular dilemma? How often do we see one man’s achievements being trodden upon by the one who succeeds him? Don’t we tear at our hair when we witness how every government that comes to power cries foul, pointing fingers at what their predecessors have done, however laudable? Giant egos come into play and ‘rubbish’ everything that has gone before. It is as though a clean slate (tabula rasa) needs to exist every time before any good can be done. Who thinks about the immense waste of time, effort and money that has gone before?
I reiterate, why can’t we build upon what is already there, and strengthen our foundations? Or will we continue to spin like Penelope, the faithful wife of the renowned traveller, Ulysses, who spent her days when he was away, spinning a shroud, and unravelling it by night just so that she could keep her suitors away? For, as she had promised them, the day she completed it, she would deign to marry one of them.
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