ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Monumentalisation of the Taj Mahal in Postcolonial India

Secularising the 'Secular'

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

Raghu Rai’s famous picture of the Taj, which shows bajamatnamaz (Muslim congregational prayer) at themosque situated inside the Taj Mahal complex, seems to capture the multilayered meanings of a “monument” in a significant 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. Rai’s 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 official meanings of the Taj as a world heritage site.

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