23 April 2024 05:10 AM



Wah Taj! From A Tea Affair (in Kashmir) to A Religious Affair


I am a tea buff and a Kashmiri. We in Kashmir, generally used to have a very distinct way of dividing/differentiating the time zones of a day, basis the variety of tea we consumed, or vice-versa.

The normal Tea invariably called “Lipton” (pronounced Lyepton by many a Kashmiri) has a “garam taaseer” in our Tea manual and should be had as morning or evening beverage, to wake our hilly-billy sensibilities. By the same logic it was a ritual in our household to mix Green label and Red label variants of Brooke Bond Lipton tea, to render neutralization to the two distinct variants. The aroma and colour were balanced to the TEA and this resulted in some thought provoking tete-a-tete in the family.

The whole process evolved to an art form if we got the colour and aroma in equal measure. Those were my first lessons in “Balancing the Life mantra”. I buy all kinds, from Chamomile to Hibiscus, to Rosemary variants; only to revert back to my “Wah Taj” moments, to the beat of Zakir Hussains tabla and the sway of his curls. It evokes nostalgia of times when Tea was savoured as a pretext to “Gup-Shup”/bonding. Bengalis call it Adda-Baazi and by that logic “A lot can happen over Tea” too.

These thought provoking insights occurred to me while I savoured my Tajmahal Tea and listened to “Jab aanchal raat ka lehraaye aur sara alam so jaaye, tum mujh se milne, shama jalla k Tajmahal mein aa jana” in the morning----Ah bliss! But wait, what do I hear; are we not supposed to say “Arrey Huzoor Wah Taj boliye” now. They say that now more than a Tea Affair/Love Affair, it’s a “Religious Affair”.

Going ahead from profound to profane; There’s a bizarre row doing the rounds, whether Taj Mahal which has been seen as a masterpiece of Muslim architecture, commemorating “Love”; should now be converted into a Hindu temple. It started when a legal case was filed by six lawyers in Agra, a few years back, citing that the architectural marvel famously built by a seventeenth-century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife, is actually a Shiv temple by the name of “Tejo-Mahalaya”. Subsequently the petition, demands the removal of graves therein and ownership of the monument. It calls for reverting back to the supposed status of the monument; that of a Hindu temple. So much so, it's being called as a blog on Indian culture.

A little analysis throws light on the theories over the Taj Mahal’s supposed Hindu heritage. Mainstream history and other digressive narratives have been pointing towards this dimension. The book Taj Mahal: The True Story, written by revisionist historian PN Oak had claimed that the monument was built in 1155, decades before the Muslim invasion of India. He said its name is a corrupt form of the ancient Shiv Temple “Tejo-Mahalaya”.

There’s a whole lot of debate pertaining to the fallacy of his claims. Precisely because Oak is considered to be the author of many bizarre, exaggerated and discredited theories. In one of his theories he had claimed that the Hindus once conquered Italy, and even that Westminster Abbey was once also a Shiva temple.

As is evident, sensational revisionist history at times is capable of catching eyeballs and therefore may influence public opinion in a considerable way. This has been corroborated by British historian William Dalrymple, who believes that like all other supremacists of other religions who tend to jump the gun and go overboard in propagating “feel good fallacies”; The Hindu supremacists also find it antithetical to their aspirations, to credit a Muslim emperor with the legacy of the masterpiece called Taj-Mahal.

Such a chain of thoughts and events of late has molded opinion of a section of people who are going hammer and tongs in altering many such facets of history. An erstwhile minister of ruling dispensation had opined that the Taj Mahal was an ancient temple sold by Hindu King Jai Singh to Shah Jahan.

Such like narratives seem to be an outcome of several visible and embedded dynamics of our history and socio-political scenario, which aims to usher in a supremacist majoritarian system, in an otherwise pluralistic and secular ethos. It may harbor on a strange concoction of revenge, hatred, persecution complex and victimhood.

Going by human psychology, it’s evident that any such negativity manifests itself in alteration and correction of wrongs suffered at the hands of the oppressor. Indian subcontinent is privy to the intrusions of Central-Asian Muslim invaders till late 16th Century. They unleashed havoc, looted, plundered and razed down scores of temples, in their fanatic religious frenzy and by virtue of their reckless exploits, which aimed at amassing wealth and territory.

Almost whole of North India stands testimony to this facet of umpteen invasions wherein some invaders looted and left, but some were here to stay. Besides the Afghans, Turks & the Slave dynasty; The Mughals were here to stay till the British arrived. After getting uprooted and defeated from Samarkand, Babur in his third try could hold sway over North India and thus started the lineage of Mughal dynasty.

The “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb” which we are proud of, is a direct manifestation of the assimilation of Hindu-Muslim cultural and religious ethos. This can be credited to the patronage that such liberal arts and architecture received under the aegis of many a Mughal ruler. It goes without saying that there have been Mughals who were out rightly fanatic and barbaric towards religious minorities; but then there have been those who initiated “Deen-e-Illahi”, promulgated the ethos of Sufi Islam, believed in the paradigm of “Sulah-e-Kul”, imbibed and deliberated upon other religious doctrines and brought about a fluidity of thought in the socio-religious sphere.

If there was a Jaziya on one hand, there also was a deep study of Indian classical “Ragas”. If there was the initiation of Khalsa to fight the ruthless oppression of Aurangzeb and stand for the oppressed; there also was a court culture of “Navratans” comprised of selectively chosen geniuses from both religions. All this and more churned the greater Indian fabric and culminated in the bigger and beautiful concept of “Hindostan”; which was “Saarey jahan se acha” because of its plurality and diversity co-existing in harmony till the Radcliffe line by a foreigner cut across our hearts.

Had it not been for communal fundamentalism, there would have been no colonization over our indolent “Shatranj k Khiladis”, no East India Company would have entered into our innermost zones, no Crown or Radcliffe could have exploited our religious vulnerabilities to render us homeless and butchered on either side of the divide, till date.

In light of such dynamics in the past and in present we need to come back to the Tea narrative, wherein it’s pertinent to mix green and red label for the requisite blend of aroma and colour. The balance of nature and TEA is paramount to the sustenance of life in its pristine glory. Hindu and Muslim ethos is akin to these two variants.

In the same vein our native Kashmiri, “Namkeen/Shiir” chaii/ our ancient variant of the raw/unprocessed “Green Tea”, brews for long to arrive at its natural consistency and colour. A pinch of baking soda added to brewing leaves and it turns a blushing pink. We become epitomes of patience as the Tea keeps brewing over slow flame; aroma keeps wafting around; little amount of water is added to it at regular intervals and it’s left to itself, to evolve to its best. Same goes for humans and diversity, in order to arrive at an optimized state of existence. Keep patience, keep adding and nurturing and arrive at an ethos which blends towards harmony for all.

However it seems that we never learnt our lessons well, despite singing “Mazhab nahin sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna”. The enmity continues for our versions of the guy in the sky aka God, we continue to get exploited as vote banks in the name of religion and we still fail to process and filter our banal thoughts to channelize them towards fruitful endeavors.

The reason we keep going in circles and Zauq laments the loss of Delhi; “Kaun jaye Zauq par dilli ki gulliyan chorr kar”. In the same vein Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal called us to stay steadfast in our collective pride of India; “Ghaziyon mein buu’ rahegi jab tak imaan ki, Tab toh Takht (London) tak chalegi Tegh Hindostan ki”. As long as our faith in our faith stays pristine, till then our collective strength is unbeatable”

History is a consequence of phased trials, tribulations and civilizational upheavals, of heroes and villians, of oppressed and oppressors, of saviors and saved, across eras. It also is a resultant gamut of mercy and forgiveness, of grace and virtue, of collective human ethics surpassing all that was detrimental to evolution. Let’s revel in that heritage of benevolence and pull down any contrarian vile thought to die its own death.

The Taj Mahal is a major tourist attraction and a symbol of national pride not only for Agra but also for the entire country. Such like narratives are detrimental to communal harmony and accelerate tensions in our already fragile religious landscape.

This reminds me of Bina Roy-Pradeep Kumar snapshots from the movie “Taj Mahal”. Not for nothing did Mohammad Rafi croon the lines on behalf of Shah Jahan, as he serenades Mumtaz Mahal “ Paanv choo leney do Phoolon ko inayat hogi---Humko darr hai ki ye tauheen e mohabbat hogi”. Some, I hear, are debating on the fallacy of its backdrop of love---but then who has the answer to what love is?

“What’s love, but just a manifestation of a perceived sentiment, internalized by us ---Fact or fallacy; why to ponder?” That’s my quote…..TEA wisdom I suppose!