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Secularising the Secular Monumentalisation of the Taj Mahal in Postcolonial India

Hilal Ahmed

The Taj Mahal can also be seen as a religious place of worship, as the local Muslim community is allowed to offer prayers at the mosque situated inside the Taj complex. The monument is also privy to two kinds of publics a congregation that offers prayers at the mosque, paying no attention to the central building, and a public, which stays at the central building and seems to follow the given official meanings of the Taj as a world heritage site. Is it possible to look at the Taj merely as a secular historical monument? If yes, how can we respond to the religious meanings embedded in the very architectural composition of the buildings? Are Muslims, as a religious minority, entitled to use spaces such as the mosque in the Taj Mahal to offer congregational prayers? This article explores these questions to understand the practice and politics of secularism in postcolonial India.

Mosque/Tomb/Monument: The Taj and Its Publics

This article has emerged from my short introductory article, Afterlife of a Monument: Taj Mahal, which is being published online by Sahapedia and the Archaeological Survey of India. I am thankful to Sahapedia for inviting me to the lecture series on Indian heritage. A special thanks to Yashaswini Chandna, Rajesh Ranjan and Venugopal Maddipati for their help, comments and criticism. The comments of an anonymous reviewer are also gratefully acknowledged. Hilal Ahmed ( is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.
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aghu Rais famous picture of the Taj, which shows bajamatnamaz (Muslim congregational prayer) at the mosque situated inside the Taj Mahal complex, seems to capture the multilayered meanings of a monument in a signicant way.1 The picture reminds us that the Taj Mahal often recognised as a symbol of eternal love, a monument of national importance, or even a world heritage site could also be seen as a religious place of worship. Rais pictures clearly bring out the architectural synchronisation, as well as functional distinctiveness of the two main buildings of the Taj complex the central tomb building erected over the graves of Mumtaz Mahal and the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and the mosque, to the right of the tombs facing the Kaba.2 The picture, in addition, encapsulates two kinds of publics a congregation that offers prayers at the mosque, paying no attention to the central building (at least at that very moment), and a public, which stays at the central building and seems to follow the given ofcial meanings of the Taj as a world heritage site. How do we make sense of these ostensibly incompatible elements two different sites inside a known monument; two kinds of publics; and, above all, two modes of commemoration? We might say that the mosque and the tomb building are inseparable parts of the Taj monument complex, and presenting them separately does not solve any purpose. In this sense, offering prayer at the mosque is a minor, or rather unimportant act, which can easily be ignored.3 One may also suggest that activities such as religious worship are not consistent with the recognised architectural/archaeological/historical values of the Taj. These activities might encourage religious fundamentalism, and must therefore be stopped. If we look at Raghu Rais picture from this perspective, we get a very straightforward interpretation: the worshippers appear as unintended public encroaching upon the secular space of the Taj; the rational public, on the other hand, which commemorates the site in an acceptable manner, seems to look at the congregation in a puzzled way, as if the worshippers were intentionally defying the ofcial meanings! Although one cannot ignore the positive intentions embedded in these overtly secular readings of buildings like the Taj Mahal, at least two important questions pose a serious challenge to given meanings of secularism in the postcolonial Indian context: Is it possible to look at the Taj merely as a secular historical monument? If yes, how could we respond to the religious

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meanings embedded in the very architectural composition of the buildings, which have been built intentionally as a maqbara (mausoleum)?4 Secondly, religious communities, especially religious minorities, have a set of constitutional rights that legally protect their right to worship. Are Muslims, as a religious minority, entitled to use spaces such as the mosque in the Taj Mahal to offer congregational prayers? I investigate these questions to look at the ways in which the Taj Mahal, a maqbara built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, transforms into a modern historical monument. This exploration, I hope, can help us move beyond the secular/communal binary and appreciate the manner in which secularism has emerged as a political idiom, especially in the past two decades. I would like to make four clarications. First, the article discusses the 2005 controversy between the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board (UPSWB) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) over the ownership of the Taj Mahal as a point of reference. I am not interested in evaluating the veracity of the conicting claims made by these two institutions. Instead, I focus on the reception of various competing forms of secularism in these discussions to trace the evolution of the emerging language of politics. Second, I try to make a crucial distinction between wakf as a practice and the institutional architecture of wakf boards in India. This distinction is important to clarify the conceptual difference between religious acts such as performing namaz, etc, inside the space of a mosque, and ownership claims of the modern kind. We have to remember that organised Muslim politics, state-managed Muslim institutions such as the wakf boards, and Muslim worshippers must be analytically differentiated. The claims made by Muslim political elites do not represent the views, ideas and expressions of various Indian Muslim communities; this is also true about the wakf boards, which are mainly run by the government through favourable nominated Muslims. This leads us to the third clarication, which is about the connotation of the term secularisation. We know that secularism, and for that matter secularisation, are highly contested terms in the postcolonial Indian context. The article does not make any grand generalisation in this regard. The question of secularisation in this particular case is explored not as a decline of religious belief or shrinking of the domain of religion (for an elaborated discussion on this point, see Casanova 1994), but is understood as a practice which inuences, shapes and nurtures the everyday acts of the state and modied religiosities of communities. In other words, a difference exists between the secular claims of the ASI and UPSWB, and the actual practice of secularism inside the Taj. Finally, I would like to clarify my use of historical sources in this article. I evoke the past of the process of monumentalisation of the Taj Mahal to ask a few second order political questions (Kaviraj 2010: 39). The legal-archaeological framework and the modes of writing about the Taj Mahal are explored to trace the complex formation of recent political

debates. My questions obviously stem from this crucial point of departure; however, I do not ignore the contextual specicities of certain historical writings, and the functioning of institutional mechanisms related to historic architecture.
What Is Monumentalisation?

It is quite common to use terms like historic architecture and monument interchangeably to describe old buildings or historic sites. There is, however, an important conceptual difference between these two terms. Historic architecture is a broad category and can be used to describe a number of old buildings, ruins and protected monuments. On the other hand, the basic function of a monument is to commemorate an idea, event or person. In this sense, a monument could have two interrelated aspects: (a) the object/structure that is intentionally erected to symbolise a person or an event; and (b) the associated idea/story that has to be remembered/commemorated. In India, a monument is also a legal entity. The artistic and historical values of a particular historic building determine its status as an ofcially declared historical monument that commemorates signicant historical events related to the nations past. Thus, any historical building could be converted into an ofcial national monument, or alternately, any ofcially declared national monument could simply cease to be a national monument at any point in time. This substantial difference between historic architecture and monument is very crucial in understanding the process by which a particular building or group of buildings is converted into a protected historical monument or monumental complex in India. This process deals with a number of issues: a particular building is differentiated from other buildings; its physical characteristics are identied as symbols; its architectural properties are measured; certain historic and artistic values of the building are determined; its history is traced; and nally, it is preserved as a heritage of a nation, community, or people. In a broader sense, we may call this the process of monumentalisation.5 The transformation of the Taj Mahal into a monument of national importance, and subsequently into a world heritage site, is the outcome of this process.
Neutrality and Colonial Archaeology

The Taj Mahal, as is well known, was a popular monument for colonial ofcials, artists and tourists, who admired its architectural composition and described it as one of the most fascinating historical attractions.6 Despite the fact that organised efforts in the eld of archaeology (such as the formation of the ASI) began quite late, the colonial administration remained sympathetic to the preservation of outstanding historic sites and monuments in India (for a detailed discussion on the debate on colonial archeological initiatives in the 19th century, see Kavuri-Bauer 2011). The Taj Mahal was one of the most important buildings in this regard. Governor General Lord Minto constituted a Taj committee in 1808 and allocated Rs 1,00,000 for repairs and upkeep (Allchin 1978). This kind of ofcial protection for the Taj Mahal and other buildings in Agra continued for a long time.7
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This does not, however, mean that the protection of Indias historic architecture was a settled issue. There was a strongly held view that money should not be spent on the protection of Indias buildings. In fact, criticism of this kind encouraged people like Lord Curzon to not only develop reasonable arguments in favour of the protection of historic architecture, but also institutionalise the process of monumentalisation in India.8 Lord Curzon took a special interest in the renovation of the Taj Mahal.9 In fact, he initiated a massive restoration project, completed in 1908, to protect the buildings of the Taj complex and revive its gardens. Curzon ofcially reported:
It is no longer approached through dusty wastes and a squalid bazaar. A beautiful park takes their place; and the group of mosques and tombs, the arcaded streets and grassy courts that precede the main building are once more as nearly as possible what they were when completed by the masons of Shah Jehan. Every building in the garden enclosure of the Taj has been scrupulously repaired, and the discovery of old plans has enabled us to restore the water-channels and owerbeds of the garden more exactly to their original state (Archaeological explorations in India, 1909-10: 127-28).

a functional or living site by colonial authorities. This was why the local community was allowed to use the mosque situated inside the Taj complex for religious purposes. However, the use of this building for offering namaz, etc, was contingent upon the larger agenda that of the conservation of the entire monument complex. The colonial state followed the norms given in the Indian Archaeological Policy (1915). Clause 19 says:
[I]n this country it is impractical to lay down one law which will be applicable to every case. Thus a distinction is drawn between the older Buddhist, Hindu and Jain edices on the one hand, and the more modern erections of the Muhammadans on the other; and in the case of the latter the view is taken a policy of limited restoration not only desirable but justied on the ground that the art of the original builder is still a living art. It is held also that in the case of monuments which still serving the purpose for which they were built, whether they be Hindu temples or Muhammadan mosque or tomb or palaces where ceremonial function are still performed, there are frequently valid reasons for restoring to more extensive measures of repair than would be desirable, if the buildings in question were maintained merely as antiquarian relic (18-19; emphasis added).

This restoration project also remained quite sensitive to the religious and popular meanings associated with the various buildings inside the Taj complex. Local residents were allowed to use the Taj Mahal mosque for offering namaz, etc, and permission was also given to perform certain religious rituals at the graves of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan.10 One may ask an obvious question: Was the colonial state highly sympathetic towards the cultural-religious meanings of the Taj? Or was this merely an act of appeasement to pacify the local community? After all, the conservation of Indias built heritage had always been dened in strictly secular terms. To understand this poser, it is important to look at the ways in which religious practices were understood in relation to the legal principles laid down by the state for administrative purposes. The colonial state separated itself from the religious affairs of Indian communities. As a result, a legal principle of strict neutrality was evoked to dene the relationship between the domains of the state and religion. Protection of religious places of worship functional and non-functional was given priority in this framework, simply to uphold the practicalities of the principles of strict neutrality. Let us take the example of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904 to elaborate this point. Not only did this law dene the term monument in a legal-administrative sense, but it also legalised the process of monumentalisation in India. Most importantly, the historical relevance of a religious place of worship was also identied in this law. Section 13(1) of the Act, for instance, clearly noted that any place of worship or shrine maintained by the Government shall not be used for any purpose inconsistence [sic] with its character. In fact, the collector was given special powers to protect the religious character of such monuments under this law (Section 13[2b]). Thus, the conservation of a historic building as a monument in colonial India was always seen in relation to its recognised architectural/religious character. The Taj Mahal, or at least the mosque inside it, was in this sense considered
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A more powerful expression of this policy in relation to the religious character of a historic building can be found in the Conservation Manual of 1923. Section 27 of the Manual, which lays great stress on the principle of neutrality in relation to religious affairs, notes:
it is the policy of the Government to abstain as far as possible from any interference with the management or repair of religious buildings. But if such buildings were of exceptional archaeological interest, and if the endowment attached to them were insufcient for their upkeep, the offer of expert advice and guidance or even of nancial assistance might be made by the Government to the owner or trustee, on condition that the repairs were carried out on lines approved by the Archaeological Department (10-11).

Therefore, the restoration of the Taj Mahal in the early 20th century, considered the states prerogative, was not conned to the Tajs archaeological/artistic value; religious acts, rituals and popular meanings of the Taj were also given some kind of policy consideration. In a broader sense, concessions given to the local community to perform certain religious rituals at the Taj Mahal were not an act of appeasement, but a clear manifestation of a secularism of strict neutrality.11
Taj Mahal as a Monument of National Importance

The Partition of India on religious grounds also affected the heritage map of south Asia. Interestingly, Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Taxila, all extremely important ancient Indian sites, came under the control of Pakistani authorities, while most signicant Indo-Islamic buildings, including the Taj Mahal, remained in India.12 This division of architectural heritage worked, on the one hand, as an advantage for the Nehru-led government in their attempt to consolidate the already worked-out theory of composite nationalism; on the other hand, protection of Indo-Islamic buildings became a serious issue in the early 1950s. Hindu rightists were quick to capitalise on the political outcomes of Partition violence. For them, Indo-Islamic buildings were symbols of Muslim dominance.13

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Nevertheless, for Nehru, Indo-Islamic sites, particularly the Taj Mahal, were symbols of Indias composite culture. In Discovery of India, Nehru wrote:
Beautiful buildings combined the old Indian ideals in architecture with a new simplicity and a nobility of line grew up in Agra and Delhi. This Indo-Mughal art was in marked contrast with decadent, overelaborate and heavily ornamented temples and other buildings of north and south. Inspired architects and builders put up with loving hands the Taj Mahal at Agra (263).

sites were declared monuments of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958). These monuments were to be conserved in a manner that enabled the objective national history of India to be displayed. Second, it was decided that non-functional monuments would be protected as dead entities, while at the same time, the state would follow the principle of strict neutrality in relation to those functional religious places of worship which would be protected as monuments.
Who Owns the Taj?

These words, I suggest, should not be understood as the political rhetoric of secularism. Nehru had worked hard to translate this interpretation of Indias past into a serious policy discourse. For example, in a later speech, delivered at the Centenary Celebrations of the ASI on 14 December 1961, at the International Conference of Asian Archaeology, Nehru said:
In this highly utilitarian age, how does one justify archaeology? I have no clear answer to that except that I am quite sure it is very important . There was a direct conict between the claims of today in the sense of practical utility and the claims of the past. We were troubled by the conict. But it was inevitable that we should decide ultimately in favour of the present. And that turned out to be the best way of preserving the past also (Nehru 1964: 180).

In any case, the policy on archaeology had to deal with two very different compulsions. First, it had to nationalise Indian historic sites in purely legal-administrative terms. This move was not only essential for restructuring archaeological management in the country, but was also crucial to publicising the ofcial interpretation of the history and culture of India, from the point of view of the newly emerged Indian state. Since the idea of an ofcial history of India was evolving at the time, it was fairly obvious for the state to identify historical monuments as the most representative symbols of the ofcial postcolonial version of national culture and heritage.14 Second, the state had to deal with the question of religion. This was again a very complicated issue. Unlike the colonial state, which had followed the principle of strict neutrality in relation to religious affairs, the Indian Constitution had already granted a few constitutionally protected fundamental rights to religious communities, particularly religious minorities. In addition, the state had also set out long-term social and religious reform agendas. In this sense, the Indian state had been following a kind of secularism, which was to a great extent involved in the religious life of Indian communities. However, the Nehruvian state did not apply such a secularism to redene the religious status of historical monuments, primarily because of the political context of the time. As a result, it became a compulsion for the state to stick to the colonial conservation policy of strict neutrality. In this sense, Nehru developed a different interpretation of secularism a participatory secularism that recognises the colourful culturalreligious life of Indian communities, while adhering to the logic of a principled distance from religions and religiosities (Bhargava 2006).15 Following this context-specic elucidation of secularism, the Nehruvian state laid down two principles of neutrality in relation to monuments. First, a few historic

The ownership of the Taj, and for that matter its nature as a monument, have always been contentious issues in postcolonial India. Although the local Muslim community has been allowed to use the Taj mosque to offer prayers, the Tajs representation as a Hindu/Muslim/secular monument has continued to affect public discourse in a signicant way (Oak 1966). The legal-ofcial status of the Taj mosque becomes crucial in this regard. It is important to note that the question of religious worship in a protected monument is always dealt with on a case-to-case basis. Any religious activity in a protected monument, therefore, needs to be seen in relation to the principles set out by the ASI in this regard. As per the established principles, if a building is being used by the local community for religious activities at the time of formal notication (the date when the building is taken over by the ASI as a protected monument), particular religious activity would be recognised as an important marker to determine the monuments religious character. The ASI, following Section 16 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958), ensures that the conservation of the building respects the recognised religious character of the monument. The Taj mosque, technically speaking, is part of the Taj monument complex. The local community, particularly Muslims, have been using the tomb area as well as the mosque for religious purposes since the time that colonial authorities decided to take care of the Taj as a protected monument. Interestingly, the scope of religious activities has increased over the years. For instance, apart from regular prayers, Friday prayers, and Eid congregational prayers, the Taj mosque was also opened for Muslims to offer the special namaz of Taraveeh in the month of Ramzan from 7.30 pm to 10 pm. In fact, the Superintending Archaeologist, Agra, issued an ofcial order in this regard on 16 October 2003. Similarly, on 9 September 2004, the ASI gave permission for the threeday annual urs of Shah Jahan to be held inside the Taj Mahal. Devotees were exempted from the entry fee during those three days (Venkatesan 2005). The most interesting debate on the ownership of the Taj Mahal took place in June 2005, when the UPSWB declared the Taj a wakf property, and demanded that it be given back for protection, conservation and management. The controversy began in 1998 when a resident of Firozabad, Mohammed Irfan Bedar, led an application before the UPSWB, seeking the registration of the Taj Mahal as wakf property. However, the UPSWB did not respond to this application. Questioning this
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delay, Bedar led a writ petition before the Allahabad High Court, arguing that the court should direct the UPSWB to expedite a decision. On 8 November 2004, the Allahabad High Court dismissed the writ petition and directed the UPSWB to take a decision within three months on this issue. In response to this directive, the UPSWB gave its ofcial reply, declaring the Taj Mahal wakf property.16 The UPSWB made two points to justify its position: (a) Being a maqbara (mausoleum), the Taj Mahal is a wakf property as per Sections 2 and 40 of the Government of Indias Wakf Act, 1995.17 (b) The Taj Mahal as a wakf has historical legitimacy. The UPSWB refers to the Padshahnama by Abdul Hamid Lahori, published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and the Shahjahan Nama, Vol II (290-94), published by MajliseTaraqqi Adab, Lahore, to substantiate its claim that the Taj Mahal and its mosque, and a structure called the Jamaat khana, had been established with prayers and charities in accordance with Muslim Sunni laws and traditions by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (Venkatesan 2005). A close reading of these claims reveals that the UPSWB tried to articulate a secular position. Its adherence to a law passed by Parliament simply brings in the much talked about issue of minority rights. After all, the formation of wakf boards in India is inextricably linked to the commitment expressed in Articles 26-30 of the Indian Constitution. As an institutionalised form of Muslim charitable endowments, the UPSWB has a legitimate secular existence. The second claim further substantiates the Boards secular position. The Board relies upon a recognised historical document as evidence to legitimise its legal privilege over the Taj (for a detailed discussion on the wakf status of the Taj Mahal, see Begley and Desai 1989). This is a very important aspect, and can help us in making a crucial difference between the claims of the UPSWB and Muslim politics of the past in postcolonial India. It is important to note that dominant Muslim political groups do not directly enter the realm of history to articulate political demands (Ahmed 2013). On the contrary, the vocabulary of rights embedded in the secular discourse of law is extracted to generate a language of minority politics. In this framework, a romanticised past is always evoked as political memory, which is justied by ofcial history at the last instance (Ahmed 2009). The position of various Muslim groups on the history of the Babri Masjid is a revealing example. Muslim groups dened the Babri Masjid as a question of secular law; however, instead of producing any history of this mosque, they relied heavily on the report of secular historians.18 In the case of the Taj Mahal, however, the UPSWB goes directly into the discourse of ofcial history. In fact, it does not highlight the act of worship by Muslims in the Taj mosque as primary evidence of some kind. This shows that the claims made by the Board deviated from organised Muslim politics primarily because, being a government institution, it was in a position to adopt a slightly different secular language. This point needs further elaboration because the claims of the UPSWB were also described as reecting a certain kind of
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communal politics. It is important to remember that the Wakf Boards are not directly governed by the Muslim community in India. As per wakf laws, the principle of nomination is applied while appointing members of wakf boards in states. As a result, a few politically preferable elite Muslims members of Parliament, members of Legislative Assembly, educationists, and social workers are nominated by the government. A Chief Executive Ofcer is also appointed by the government to administer the usual ofcial activities (Wakf Act 1995: Sec 23 [1]). In this sense, wakf institutions cannot be treated as community institutions in the actual sense of the term. This is precisely why the relationship between wakf institutions and organised Muslim politics has always been problematic.19 In response to the UPSWBs claims, the ASI submitted its reply, arguing that Shah Jahan had not dedicated the Taj Mahal to charitable purposes. In support of its claims, the ASI submitted a copy of a notication issued by the British government on 18 November 1920, under Section 3(1) of the Ancient Monument Preservation Act, 1904, which clearly established that the ownership of the Taj was vested in the government (Venkatesan 2005). In addition, it was also claimed that the ASI has a legal constitutional right to protect, conserve, and manage monuments of national importance. Therefore, the Wakf Board has no power to interfere in the matter. If we take a close look at this reply, two points become clear: (a) The Taj Mahal, being a monument, is a dead entity, which has no relation with living communities. (b) The Taj Mahal is a monument of national importance; therefore, it needs to be protected on the basis of the principle of strict neutrality. Historian Irfan Habib, who followed this controversy closely in 2005, underlines the limits of these two seemingly conicting positions. In an interview, Habib argued that the claims of the UPSWB were not justiable on historical grounds. He said:
The Chairman of the Wakf Board relies on Lahoris Padshahnama but misrepresents it. In his judgment he devotes only four or ve lines to the Padshahnama evidence. He does not have access to the Persian text of the Calcutta edition, but relies on some publication from Lahore. Whatever it is, he misrepresents the relevant passage in Lahori. Lahori does not say that Shahjahan made himself the custodian (mutawalli) of the Taj. In fact, Shahjahan made the sovereign of the time (khalifa-i waqt) the custodian of the Taj. Secondly, the Wakf Board order misrepresents the functions of the monuments within the Taj complex. There is certainly a mosque in the complex, but the Wakf Board erroneously refers to the building on the opposite side of the mosque as the jamaat khana, a building used for religious teachings. Lahori calls it the mehman khana (guest house) and it was used for entertaining guests. There was no religious signicance attached to it . Nowhere do revenue documents style the Taj as wakf property. They call the property of the Taj either nazul (government property) or roza (tomb) (Habib 2005).

Habib also points out the limitations of the ASIs position:

The ASIs arguments are not complete. The ASI relies on an ofcial notication issued by the Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces, Agra and Oudh in 1920, which declared the Taj a protected monument under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904. In

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fact, the Taj was denoted as government property, and managed by the government from much earlier. A. Fuhrer, in his book The Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, published in 1891, describes the buildings of importance in Agra, and gives the Taj pride of place. He classies the Taj Mahal as a monument coming under Category 1A, which refers to properties of the government that were totally maintained by the government. If it had been a monument under private ownership, he would have classed it under category IB, which refers to monuments of equal importance as under 1A, but which are privately owned yet must still be maintained by the government. The ASI should have used Lahoris Padshahnama, which is the original document on the Tajs ownership, and Fuhrers book, to give substance to its case (ibid).

Evoking the legal constitutional discourse of secularism, Habib suggests that wakf laws and laws related to the conservation of monuments of national importance need to be synchronised. He says,
There is need for fresh parliamentary legislation to reconcile the Ancient Monument Acts with the Central Wakf Acts to exclude protected monuments from the purview of the Wakf Act in any case, central legislation should carefully clarify the matter, and keep our historical buildings under proper national management (ibid).

and the ASI drew heavily on two different sets of laws the 1995 Wakf Act, and the 1958 Act, respectively. These laws stem from two different conceptions of secularism. The Wakf Act underlines the states commitment to religious minorities, while the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 denes the protection of national heritage as a secular act. In this sense, one kind of secularism is pitted against another, equally legitimate, form of secularism. One may say that these two versions of Indian secularism are in conict, and the best way to rid ourselves of this paradox is to identify the real secularism so that the other, less secular, form can be legally adjusted accordingly. This is what Irfan Habib seems to suggest. There is another constructive way to view these two versions of secularism. The recommendation of the Prime Ministers High Level Committee Report (also known as the Sachar Committee) 2006 can be taken as an important example in this regard. The report points out:
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 has often been at cross purposes with the Wakf Act. Very often the former has an overriding effect. There are innumerable cases where the wakf properties despite being a place of worship and religious reverence, cannot be touched by the Wakf Board because it is declared as protected monument. Given the present state of large number of wakf properties under the control of ASI, it would be proper if their list[s] are annually reviewed and their condition is assessed in a joint meeting of senior ofcers of the ASI with representatives of the Central Wakf Council (PMHLC 2006: 232).

This controversy, as expected, died out within a year, and like many other unresolved political and legal issues, the ownership of the Taj Mahal was turned into a matter pending before the honourable court. The complex legal details arising out of various ongoing cases are irrelevant to our discussion. However, the controversy takes us back to the two basic questions I raised in the beginning of this paper.
Contested Secularism(s): The Taj as a Social Text

What is the relevance of this controversy, especially in the context of secularism? Irfan Habibs reasonable arguments are logical, rational, and above all, secular. However, I nd Habibs secularism problematic, not because of his critique of the UPSWB or his suggestions regarding the centrality of conservation laws, but because of his adherence to a kind of secularism that stems from a clear and rigid dividing line between religious practices and conservation. In Habibs framework, Muslims as worshippers in the Taj Mahal are missing completely. As a result, he could not recognise the crucial difference between wakf as a practice and the Wakf Board as a caretaking institution. The Muslim worshippers, who use the Taj mosque to offer prayers, actually symbolise the notion of wakf in practice; however, this practice does not necessarily justify the claims of modern institutions, including the UPSWB. As a result, the answer Habib proposes turns out to be quite simple and straightforward. According to him, the Taj Mahal needs to be protected as a secular monument through a set of building-centric conservation laws partly because such laws, in his opinion, are desirable for maintaining the secular credential of Indias heritage, and partly because he feels that there is an ambiguity with regard to the legal status of a few Islamic religious places of worship, which are protected as monuments (such as the Taj Mahal). However, the legal ambiguity, which Habib rightly points out, introduces us to the complex ways in which secularism as a concept was employed during this controversy. The UPSWB

Does this recommendation defend the claims made by the UPSWB on the Taj? Does it reject Habibs reasoned arguments in favour of secularism? The crucial distinction between the act of worship by common Muslims and the claims made by the UPSWB on the Taj Mahal is signicant. The Sachar Committee Report is concerned about the act of worship, and therefore argues for an ofcial discussion on such matters, again on a case-to-case basis. From this point of view, the polemical claims made by the UPSWB on the Taj can be rejected because the Taj has always been protected by the ASI. However, since it has a mosque, the Muslim community is allowed to offer prayers inside. This permission does not contradict the principles of conservation outlined in the 1958 Act. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Sachar Committee Report underlines the concept of principled distance quite implicitly. Unlike Habibs claim that there should be a clear dividing line between religious activities and conservation, the committee recognises institutions like the Wakf Boards as stakeholders, so that a meaningful, context-specic, and above all, principled dialogue can be initiated.20 These possible negotiations would not only help in nding amicable solutions to such contentious issues, but would also discourage organisations like the UPSWB from making polemical claims. In the specic case of the Taj Mahal, for instance, the UPSWB might be given the partial task of managing the religious affairs associated with the Taj mosque. Raghu Rais picture of the Taj Mahal becomes relevant in this regard. Capturing these trajectories of monumentalisation
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of the Taj, this picture shows that the very architectural composition of this monument is often recongured by various publics who commemorate it in different ways. So the Muslims who offer prayers at the Taj should not be understood as anti-secular; rather, the very act of worship inside a protected monument of national importance, I suggest, signies an India-specic notion of a secular monument a secularisation of a particular kind. To understand the uniqueness of this secularisation, we have to move away from the conventional meanings of secularism as a rigid, anti-religious doctrine. At the same time, we also have to give up the belief that secularisation is a transitional process, which might lead a society to partial, complete, and/or incomplete secular forms. Instead, we must appreciate a complex conguration in which the secular travels with the religious, and produce an evolving and acceptable form of secularisation (for an elaborated discussion on the multiplicity of the secular and secularisation, see Taylor 2009). In this case, the secular monumentalisation does not encroach upon the historically evolved, religious meanings of the Taj
1 This is quite a well-known picture of the Taj Mahal. The picture has also been published in the collection of Rais pictures of World Heritage sites (Rai 2008). 2 Although there is also a third structure in the Taj complex, situated to the left of the tomb building, called the Tasbih Khana/jamaat khana/ mehman khana (guest house) in various descriptions, the mosque and the tomb are central to the debate on the secular meanings of a monument and the acceptable mode of commemoration in postcolonial India. Precisely for this reason, I do not wish to comment on the larger architectural symmetry of the Taj, at least in this article. For a relevant discussion on the architectural composition and urban signicance of the Taj Mahal, see Koch (2005). 3 This kind of evasive response is not unusual. The vast literature on the architectural specicities and conservation of the Taj somehow tend to ignore the functional relationship between the building and the site. As a result, one nds virtually nothing on the placing of the Taj in the social and urban imagination of the local community (see, for example, Koch 2011). 4 Alois Riegl makes a distinction between intentional and unintentional monuments. An intentional monument is a human creation, erected for the specic purpose of keeping single human deeds or event (or a combination thereof) alive in the minds of future generations. For him, this type of monument is concerned with commemoration. They recall a specic moment or complex of moments from the past, and make a claim to immortality in an eternal present and an unceasing state of becoming. The idea of commemoration remains the prime objective behind the construction of these types of monuments. Riegl believes that all the antiquities of the middle ages can be called intentional monuments. An unintentional monument is a remain [sic] whose meaning is determined not by their makers but by our own modern perceptions of these monuments. All historical buildings can be clubbed in this category. Riegl also informs us that an intentional monument can become unintentional when it
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Mahal, and recognises the relevant place of religion within the wider agenda of conservation. Similarly, the Muslim worshippers (who actually become a community in an identiable sense at the very moment they perform the congregational prayer) seem to recognise the authority of the state, and adjust the space (the Taj mosque) and time of worship (as a limited number of prayers are allowed) as per the rules laid down by the ASI. Thus, the secular and religious in this form of secularisation are reconstructed to realise a practical harmony. This reinterpretation should also be seen in relation to the polemical claims made by Hindu and Muslim rightists, rigid secularists, and institutions like the ASI or the UPSWB, who want us to believe that religion and the secular are essentially xed and conceptually antagonistic terms, and therefore only one meaning of great social texts like the Taj Mahal can be possible. Rais picture, I argue, responds to these claims in a radically different manner, not only by depicting the multilayered monumentality of the Taj, but also by pointing towards a reconstituted Muslim religiosity, which turns out to be a relevant signier of a much larger, context-specic secularisation in postcolonial India.
some sort of attention from Government (Spear 1949: 183-84). 8 In one of his speeches, Curzon says: I cannot conceive of any obligation more strictly appertaining to a Supreme Government than the Conservation of the most beautiful and perfect collection of monuments in the world . Thus it has come about that owing to the absence of any central and duly qualied advising authority, not merely are beautiful and famous buildings crumbling to decay; but there is neither principle nor unity in conservation and repair (cf Roy 1961). 9 Catharine Ashers article, Fantasizing the Mughals and the Popular Perception of the Taj Mahal (2010), provides a synoptic view of the popular reception of the Taj Mahal in colonial India. It is better to read Ashers discussion on the various forms in which the Taj is understood, along with the debates on conservation during the late colonial period. 10 The observation of the annual urs (death anniversary) of Mumtaz Mahal has been reported by many observers. For instance, the second urs of Mumtaz Mahal was held on 26 May 1633, reported in detail by an English traveller, Peter Mundy, in his description of Mughal India (Begley 1979b). This tradition continued during the time of Curzon as well. Lord Curzons various correspondence and speeches seem to suggest that he wanted some kind of harmony between local, historical, and his own views in relation to the Taj Mahal. The permission given to the local community to use the mosque and tomb space for religious/ceremonial purposes; his insistence on the particular type of Mughal dress for attendants; his famous decorated lamp, which he ordered to be put inside the main chamber of the Taj Mahal tomb; and his speech in the Legislative Council on 5 September 1905 on the eve of the Delhi Durbar, in which he emphasised the signicance of native political culture, all underline the fact that local or native sensibilities had been accommodated in the project of renovation of the Taj Mahal. For these discussions, see Curzon papers, Mss. Eur. F 111/621, Mss. Eur. F 111/620 and Mss. Eur. F 111/216;

survives much longer and nds new meanings in a completely new social set-up (Riegl 1982: 21). 5 I look at the historical formation of the process of monumentalisation in colonial and postcolonial India in Ahmed (forthcoming). For an elaborated discussion on this aspect of my larger argument, see Ahmed (2013). 6 However, it would be incorrect to say that this was the only response to the Taj. The Taj was also compared, criticised, and even rejected as a work of art by a few critics such as Aldous Huxley (see Jairazbhoy 1956; Lancaster 1956). From our point of view, another, and equally puzzling, story is also relevant. It is said, particularly by Orientalists such as E B Havell, that the Company government once seriously considered demolishing the Taj and selling the marble with which it was constructed. It is also reported that a Hindu trader was keen to purchase this marble because he wanted to build a Hindu temple on the site of the Taj! Percival Spear offers a systematic analysis of this story and refutes these claims (Spear 1949). What is interesting in this account is the communally contested image of the Taj Mahal, which emerged as a political discourse in the late colonial period. 7 Percival Spear provides some interesting gures to substantiate this point. He notes: [O]n 15th February 1831, the cost of the establishments at the Taj Mahal, Ram Bagh, Akbars Tomb, and the Bootad Mahal [sic.; Moti Masjid?], together with the gures for 1823-24 were called for. On 26th April, 1831, there is a report about repairs to the buildings at Agra. In the General Letter to the Court of 19th August, 1831, the cost of the establishments at the Taj Mahal, Ram Bagh, Akbars Tomb, and the Moti Masjid is given as Rs 485 odd per month compared with Rs 401 in 1823-24. A reduction of Rs 73 per month had been effected, leaving the monthly expense at Rs 412. Thereafter the records are silent. These entries coincide with the period of Bentincks visit and can clearly be connected with his well-known drive for economy. At the same time they show that, contrary to the general belief, not only the Taj but other important buildings as well, received
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also see Metcalf (2005) Chs 6, 7; Raleigh 1906: Ch 1). For an interesting discussion on the idea of strict neutrality, as practised by the colonial state, see Dhawan (2001); however, for an analytical treatment of this aspect of secularism, especially the complex relationship between the postcolonial version of secularism and its colonial past, see Bhargava (2006); Devji (2006). It is interesting to note that the Pakistani establishment attempted to produce a new, ofcial imagination of the Pakistani past in the 1950s. The discovery of the Bhanbhore mosque near Karachi and its presentation as the rst South Asian mosque underlines this signicant aspect of Pakistani archaeological policy (see Ashfaque 1969). The Hindu rightists looked to ancient India to trace unadulterated and authentic historical sources. Conceptualising Muslim rule as a kind of imperialism, these authors dened medieval India as a dark age. K M Munshi, for example, identies four phases of Indian culture: the rst phase symbolises the age of settlement, which began when the Aryan civilisation settled in northern India. The second phase was the age of resistance, when Indians passively resisted foreign invaders. The third age was the period of modern resistance, which began in the 17th century when Shivaji waged a war against Muslim rule. Finally, the fourth period started in 1947, when India became independent (Munshi 1956: 113). In a letter to Rajendra Prasad, Nehru says: An authoritative and comprehensive history of the freedom movement of India should be compiled and written. The question is how to do it. Everything depends on the individual or individuals who will be put in charge of this work. I am afraid that there are very few competent men or women who might be able to do it. This requires two qualities at least. One is an emotional and intellectual appreciation of what has taken place and the other is high literary ability it seems to me that the rst step is to collect material (SWJN, Vol 3: 504). Theoretically, the state maintains equal distance from all religions. Yet, some special rights are given to religious and/or cultural minorities, so that their cultures and languages can be preserved and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion can be protected. Articles 26 and 29 of the Constitution provide freedom to religious minorities to manage their own religious affairs, including their religious places of worship. A possible reading of these constitutional provisions would suggest that Muslims, as a religious minority, have a right to preserve their own heritage in accordance with the law. In other words, Muslims have a constitutional right to heritage. For more factual details, see 50576, accessed 19 November 2012. Section 40 (1) of the 1995 Act says: The Board may itself collect information regarding any property which it has reason to believe to be wakf property and if any question arises whether a particular property is wakf property or not or whether a wakf is a Sunni wakf or a Shia wakf it may, after making such inquiry as it may deem t, decide the question (The Wakf Act 1995). The Declaration of Delhi, adopted by the All India Babri Masjid Conference on 22 December 1986, clearly shows that the dominant Muslim position dened the Babri Masjid as a part of Indias national heritage. This declaration says: The Conference regards the Babri Masjid as a national heritage and as a historical monument but, above all, as a place of Islamic worship whose sanctity must be universally respected by all right minded persons, whatever their religion and whose violation should be regarded as an offence to the religious sentiments of the Muslims but also to the secular order because it contravenes Article 25 of the Constitution (Declaration of Delhi 1987). 19 Wakf institutions are often regarded as Sarkari (government-owned). The former Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi, Abdullah Bukhari, became a national gure in 1975 when he openly refuted the authority of the Delhi Wakf Board to establish his control over the mosque (Ahmed 2009). 20 It is important to note here that the Sachar Commission report also makes a case for wakf reform, so that wakf institutions can represent various sections of the Muslim community. Thus, the absolute representativeness of the Wakf Boards, including dalit Muslims is also questioned while making such constructive suggestions. Conservation in Gabriela Krist and Bayerova Tatjana (ed.), Heritage Conservation and Research in India: 60 Years of Indo-Austrian Collaboration (New Delhi: Austrian Cultural Forum). (2005): The Taj Mahal: Architecture, Symbolism, and Urban Signicance, Muqarnas, 22: 128-49. Lancaster, Clay (1956): A Critique on the Taj Mahal, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 15(4). Metcalf, Thomas R (2005): Forging the Raj: Essays on British India in the Heyday of Empire (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). Munshi, K M (1956): Epoch of Indian Culture in K M Munshi (ed.), Indian Inheritance: Art, History and Culture, Vol II (Bombay: Bhartya Vidhya Bhawan). Nehru, J L (2002 [1946]): The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). (1964): Speeches, Vol IV, 1957-63 (New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India). Oak, P N (1966): Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research (Delhi: Institute of Rewriting Indian History). Rai, Raghu (2008): Inherited Spaces Inhabited Places: World Heritage Sites in India (New Delhi: External Publicity Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India). Raleigh, Thomas (1906): Lord Curzon in India: 1898-1905 (London: Macmillan). Riegl, Alois (1982 [1903]): The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin (Kurt W Forster and Diane Ghirardo [trans]), Oppositions, 25. Roy, S N (1961): The Story of Indian Archaeology (New Delhi: ASI). Spear, Percival (1949): Bentinck and the Taj, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2. Taylor, Charles (2009): The Polysemy of the Secular, Social Research, 76(4): 1143-66. Venkatesan, V (2005): A Claim to Taj, Frontline, 22(16).




Ahmed, Hilal (forthcoming): Monuments, Memory and Contestation: Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India (New Delhi: Routledge). (2013): Mosque as Monuments: Afterlives of Jama Masjid and the Political Memories of a Royal Muslim Past, South Asian Studies, 29(1). (2009): Reception of Nehruvian Secularism and the Political Architecture of Jama Masjid, Third Frame, 2(3). Allchin, F R (1978): Monument Conservation Policy in India, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 126 (5268). Asher, Catherine B (2010): Fantasizing the Mughals and Popular Perceptions of the Taj Mahal. Available at essay/114/index.html, accessed 2 May 2013. Ashfaque, S M (1969): The Grand Mosque of Banbhore, Pakistan Archaeology, 6. Begley, W E and Z A Desai (1989): Taj Mahal, the Illumined Tomb: An Anthology of SeventeenthCentury Mughal and European Documentary Sources (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Harvard University, and Seattle: University of Washington Press). (1979b): Amanat Khan and the Calligraphy on the Taj Mahal, Kunst des Orients, 12. Bhargava, Rajeev (2006): The Distinctiveness of Indian Secularism in T N Srinivasan (ed.), The Future of Secularism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press). Casanova, Jos (1994): Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Devji, Faisal (2006): Comments on Rajeev Bhargavas The Distinctiveness of Indian Secularism in T N Srinivasan (ed.), The Future of Secularism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 54-60. Dhawan, Rajeev (2001): The Road to Xanadu: Indias Quest for Secularism in Gerald Larson (ed.), Religion and Personal Law in Secular India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). Habib, Irfan (2005): The Taj Is Not Wakf Property, interview with S R Raghunathan, Frontline, 22(16). Jairazbhoy, R A (1956): The Taj and Its Critic, East and West, 6(4): 349-52. Kaviraj, Sudipta (2010): Imaginary Institution of India: Politics and Ideas (New York: Columbia University Press). Kavuri-Bauer, Santhi (2011): Monumental Matters: The Power, Subjectivity, and Space of Indias Mughal Architecture (Durham: Duke University Press). Koch, Ebba (2011): Taj Mahal: Survey, Documentation and Analysis (1995-2005): Its Bearing for
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Other Publications
Curzon papers, Mss Eur F 111/621, Mss Eur F 111/620, and Mss Eur F 111/216. Archaeological Explorations in India, 1909-10, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, London. The Declaration of Delhi: Adopted by the All India Babri Masjid Conference, New Delhi, 22 December 1986, issued by the BMMCCC on 23 January 1987, Muslim India, 50, February 1987. The Conservation Manual (1923): A Hand Book for the Use of Archaeological Ofcers and other entrusted with the care of Ancient Monuments by John Marshall (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing). The Constitution of India. Available at The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958). The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904. The Wakf Act 1995. Sachar Commission Report (Prime Ministers High Power Committee), Government of India, 2006.




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