Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sunni Muslim Wakf Board takes over Taj Mahal from Archaeological Survey of India

The Taj Mahal, shrine to love, was declared Sunni Wakf property on the grounds that it is the grave of a woman whose husband, Emperor Shah Jahan was a Sunni. The Archaeological Survey of India, the custodian of this World Heritage Monument said it would appeal the decision to the High Court today, and then the Supreme Court, if necessary.

The Wakf board was asked to decide the ownership of the Taj by the Allahabad High Court. It cited the regular Friday prayers at the heritage structure in support of its judgment. According to an earlier Supreme Court ruling, a site or a building is considered Wakf property “by user” if it is used for religious purposes at a stretch.

“From today, the ASI ceases to have absolute right of possession over the monument,” said board chairman Hafiz Usman. “Henceforth, we would have the right to manage all religious rituals carried out inside the Taj Mahal premises.”

He ordered his office to immediately register the Taj — declared a nationally protected monument in 1920 and listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1983 — as Wakf property. The verdict brings the Taj under dual administration. The ASI will continue to look after it but the board will have a say in its running and maintenance.

For instance, the board will decide how often namaz can be held at the monument, where prayers are now allowed only on Fridays. The ASI will not be able to decide on its own which material to use for repairs.
Some background: A 'wakf' is an endowment of sorts. Islamic Law recognized and developed a legal expedient under the name of wakf, which permitted an owner to settle his property for the use of beneficiaries in perpetuity. This pre-dated the English doctrine of uses and trusts. The institution of Wakf or the provision of dedication of property, movable or immovable, for religious purposes. It has also aided in 'the uplift of the poorer sections of the society' and has been a distinguishing feature of the socio-economic structure of Islam.

The Indian government passed the Wakf Act in 1954 which has had far-reaching socio-economic consequences. Official Boards were constituted to rule on wakf matters, and obligations imposed on the caretakers or mutawalis. At present, there are over 100,000 wakfs, large and small.

The Allahabad High Court referred the case, filed by a member of the Wakf Board, to the Wakf Board for adjudication - perhaps a conflict of interests. Six other claimants — including the Shia Wakf board, a Sangh parivar activist and a descendant of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar — jumped into the fray. Their claims were rejected. The Wakf Board used the biography of the Mughal ruler Shah Jehan, the Badshahnama as evidence, wherein, the author, Mullah Abdul Hamid Lahori, mentions a decree given by Shah Jahan which states "I am declaring Taj Mahal as a wakf property of very high stature. A year after my death, the ritual of reciting the Quran will be performed there and the money generated from this will be spent on the welfare of underprivileged Muslims" (trans.)

The Taj Mahal is the name of a monument located in Agra, India. It was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the son of Jahangir, as a mausoleum for his Persian wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, also known as Mumtaz-ul-Zamani. It took 23 years to complete (1630 - 1653). The tomb of Queen Mumtaz-ul-Zamani stands on a raised terrace with four minarets at each corner framing the tomb. The minarets are slanting outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they will fall away from the tomb. Like most Mughal tombs, the Taj shows a great amount of Persian influence. There are some typical Hindu-influenced characteristics as well; the dome is a upside down lotus-flower, as well as the pillars. In the ceiling of the dome, there is a drawing of the Sun. Both the lotus and sun are central elements of Hinduism.

Various studies on the Taj speculate on what makes it unique and beautiful. One reason is attributed to its perfect proportions and geometry. Another is ascribed to the various moods that the Taj presents to its viewers. Clad in delicate, white Makrana marble, the Taj changes its character across time as the light changes- dawn, noon, twilight, night. The shadows that fall on the marble too enhance the effect, being very delicate. The Taj is considered especially ethereal when viewed on a full moon night. For Tagore, the Taj was a "tear in the face of eternity".

An identical complex was originally supposed to be built on the other side of the river, in black marble instead of white. It was never completed, but the base of it can still be seen across the river. Shah Jahan spent his final days imprisoned in the Agra Fort nearby, gazing at the Taj. He was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who went on to become a tyrannical emperor, and who sowed the seeds for many of modern Islam's conflict areas. Shah Jahan was buried next to his wife in the Taj.

The Taj will now be “like a house owned by two warring brothers, no one keen on its proper maintenance”, said the assistant director of ASI, Agra, S.K. Sharma. “The order is not against the ASI, it is against the Taj Mahal.”

Rumors that they will 'paint it black' and have another Yanni concert at the Taj have been disputed.

The Taj Mahal (Great Buildings)/Christine Moorcroft Taj Mahal/Jean-Louis Nou The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal (Asian Art and Culture)/Elizabeth B. Moynihan Mumtaz of the Taj Mahal Paper Dolls/Tom Tierney Taj Mahal/Rai Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal/John Shors The Best Of Taj Mahal/Taj Mahal Yanni Live at the Acropolis/Yanni


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