You got me right here. The Taj is NOT the symbol of love. It is a symbol of cruelty. Those who call it the symbol of love either do not know what love is, or do not know history or are simply overlooking the facts upon the surface beauty of the building.
I am not discussing the fact that the Taj is quite possibly built on the place of a very old Shiva temple called Tejo Mahalaya. Stephen Knapp has already written an awesome article on it with photographs and scientific evidences. I am approaching it more in the humanitarian basis than that of religious.
The king of a soft and artistic nature
Shah Jahan is termed artistic and of a soft nature. This fact is comfortably presented because during his regime, no major war or invasion happened, owing to the iron-fist rule that Akbar had before. So the ‘spoiled-son-of-a-rich-man’ is left to taste the beauty of the world, arts and things under the sun. Apart from his lifetime task of reproducing 14 children from a single woman (Mumtaz), we get to see that he had appointed men to have detailed records of how birds mate, animals rejoice and so on. Very artistic indeed. We hear that he appointed an artist to wait upon a dying man and draw his portrait ‘at the moment of death’ to present the world the feel of it. Very artistic indeed.
Had he stopped his artistic nature with just these, it would have been ok to call him artistic because we do see historic records in him overseeing the creation of those beautiful gardens. But it didn’t stop there. He wanted something long-lasting, long after he was gone. He wanted to express the world his love towards Mumtaz, one of the many many queens in his chamber whom he loved the most. So a plan to construct a monument got his mind. The plan sets off quickly and the building came up with the tiresome effort of many artists worldwide. But the soft and artistic nature of the king and the purpose of a “monument of love” turns upside down when he cuts off the thumbs (some say the hands) of some 40 chief craftsmen who were involved in building the monument and signed threatening contracts to many others not to involve in a similar project. Let’s pause for a moment and see what love is.
The definition of love
Wikipedia – Love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection; and “the unselfish , loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another“. Love may also be described as actions towards others or oneself based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.
What do the oldest and the grandest scripture of mankind, The Vedas define love as:
Love is the firstborn, loftier than the Gods, the Fathers and men. You, O Love, are the eldest of all, altogether mighty. To you we pay homage! – Atharva Veda IX, 2, 19
Greater than the breadth of Earth and Heaven or of Waters and Fire, you, O Love, are the eldest of all, altogether mighty. To you we pay homage! – Atharva Veda IX, 2, 20
Beyond the reach of Wind or Fire, the Sun or the Moon, you, O Love, are the eldest of all, altogether mighty. To you we pay homage! – Atharva Veda IX, 2, 24
According to the grandest scripture ever known to mankind – The Bhagawadh Gita, unconditional love – Love of God and love of a child to his mother and vice versa. This kind of love is the purest love of them all and all humans should love this way. This kind of love has no expectations, only forgiveness and respect.
Now having a glimpse of what real love means, we are moved by the following story of Adalaj Stepwell (given as it is from Wikipedia)
There is an interesting legend related to the building of this stepwell. In the 15th century, Rana Veer Singh of the Vaghela dynasty, a Hindu ruler, reigned over this territory, then known as Dandai Desh. His kingdom was attacked by Mohammed Begda, the ruler of a neighboring kingdom. The battle resulted in the Rana king getting killed. Consequently his territory was occupied by the invader. Rana Veer Singh’s widow, a beautiful lady known by the name Rani Roopba, though in deep grief at the death of her husband, agreed to a marriage proposal made by Mahmud Begada on the condition that he would first complete the building of the stepwell. The Begda who was deeply enamoured of the queen’s beauty agreed to the proposal and then built the well in quick time, and with great interest. Once the well was completed, Begda reminded the queen of her promise to marry him. But the queen who had achieved her ambition of completing the stepwell started by her husband, decided to end her life, as mark of devotion to her husband. She circumambulated the stepwell with prayers to God and jumped into the well, thus ending the saga of building the well in tragedy.
Wikipedia further tells us another legend that the invader asked if a replica of the well can and will be made for which when the masons accepted, he killed them as he didn’t want a replica of this architectural marvel. It is said that the queen designed it thinking the welfare of the villagers who can fetch water during summer. It is a surprise as to why these soft-natured men could not stand a thought on replica – our artistic hero Shah-Jahan could not tolerate the thought of a replica to the Taj either.
A black Taj
On the contrary, it is said that when he was kept in house-arrest by his own son, he wanted a replica of the Taj, a Black Taj connecting the white one where he wanted to be buried. This idea was promptly rejected by none other than his son Aurangazeeb who said “the existing Taj has place to bury him too” – love, do we say?!
Some may brush all these as mere myths, but the historians does not feel so and we have similar proofs of many other temples getting destroyed, wealth looted etc. After all, they came here to loot and not for social service or for the welfare of the land. Period.
We are living in a weird society. A warfare minister asking the right thumb of a potential conspirator as a guru dakshina (where we can only arrive at conclusions on why he did so) becomes a hot topic because of one grand reason – he was a Brahmin and they comfortably named Ekalavya as a low-caste so Drona must be bad. Had he thought only on clearing Ekalavya out of Arjuna’s pathway to supremacy, then Drona is partial indeed, but after all, he never claims to be perfect. We scream and debate on this a lot. On the contrary, an artistic butcher cuts down the thumbs of over 40 chief craftsmen, after getting their finest of workmanship, completely disabling them not just physically but mentally, emotionally and what not, to show the world his love for the woman who delivered his 14 children and died shortly after the 14th delivery, probably because of the over-time done as a delivery machine. We call that a symbol of love and regard him a great lover, we exclaim about the fact that his black beard turned pale white after losing the love of his life, that is blasphemy. The same pattern of killing and looting and butchering is followed by many other butchers before and after this artistic hero but we never mention it, not even in the history books because we are secular.
When I see the picture of the Taj, I see the silent cries of those craftsmen. Had Mumtaz lived, she probably wouldn’t have wanted such a cruel monument in the name of love as we see that she had great love to the king and the king loved her so much too. Probably he never would have built the Taj if she had lived but she over-worked already. Symbol of love? Far from it. I would rather call the Coral Castle a symbol of love made by a single man for his ‘sweet sixteen’ instead and his remarkable theories and inventions on magnetism that is still debated. Or the Adalaj Stepwell built by the queen thinking of the welfare of her people, in spite of having lost her beloved. After all, this is love and this is a nation which not just teaches love but lives it.
But (there is always a but), we may most certainly not know what really happened with Shah Jahan’s Taj or why Drona did that act. And as a seeker of Truth, we always keep our mind open and does not pin point or blame someone or something just because everyone does so. May be Shah Jahan did not cut off the fingers, maybe the place where Taj stands was not that of a Shiva temple and if that is the case, we truly will admire his artistic nature and the beauty of the Taj. But only may be, because the pattern and historic records we see about such looters talk otherwise, including the story of Taj. May be the Almighty does not want me to see this cruel monument. I have never visited the Taj, probably never will.