Following online demand by fanatic followers of revisionist PN Oak, especially since a plea was filed in the Supreme Court last week, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has tried to diffuse the tension by releasing pictures of the restoration work done inside more than 22 locked rooms in the basement of the Taj Mahal.
Agra ASI chief RK Patel said that the pictures were live on the ASI website as a part of the January 2022 newsletter. He said anyone could view the rooms online by visiting the ASI website.
A source in the Ministry of Culture told Sirf News that these pictures have been released into the public domain to quell the spread of misinformation about the contents of these rooms in the country. Tourism industry sources substantiated the claim.
The photographs, which have surfaced days after the Allahabad High Court quashed the PIL filed by Dr Rajnish Kumar for the opening of these rooms, showed extensive restoration work being done in these closed rooms, including plaster and lime panning. ASI sources confirmed that the restoration work in these rooms had cost Rs 6 lakh.
Meanwhile, despite the searing heat of the day, over 20 thousand tourists visited the Taj Mahal on 14 May. As many as 13,814 tourists had purchased their tickets online, while 7,154 tourists purchased them offline.
The Indian Express recently published a report that cited archaeologists and historians to say that the so-called “22 rooms” in the basement of the Taj Mahal are not really rooms, but rather a long arched corridor along which doors were fixed so the space could be utilised better.
An employee of the ASI said the department’s staff at the Taj clean the “rooms” weekly or fortnightly, and “There is nothing on the walls there.”
“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.
Former ASI Regional Director (North) archaeologist KK Muhammed — a rage in Hindutva circles since the time he testified in favour of the Hindu side during the court hearings on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute hearing — said that he had seen no religious motifs inside the basement rooms of the Taj. He said such rooms were 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.
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.
The newspaper cited above quoted the official from the ASI’s Agra Circle as saying: “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.”