The Central Information Commission has directed the Union culture ministry to clarify its stand on whether the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Shahjahan or a Shiva temple gifted to the Mughal emperor by a Rajput king.
The question, forwarded as an alternative narrative of history by some claiming to be historians and the subject of various court cases, reached the CIC through an RTI plea and is now at the culture ministry's door.
In a recent order, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said the ministry should put to rest the controversy and clarify doubts about the history of the white marbled mausoleum, considered one of the wonders of the world.
Acharyulu recommended that the ministry give information on its stand on the cases related to the provenance of the Taj Mahal, and on the frequent claims based on historian P N Oak and advocate Yogesh Saxena's writings.
He noted that some cases in courts, including the Supreme Court, were dismissed while some were pending.
Acharyulu said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), being a party in some cases, must be holding the counters (affidavits) filed on its behalf and by the culture ministry.
"The Commission directs the Archaeological Survey of India to share those copies with the appellant at additional fee constituting the cost of copying, before August 30, 2017," he said.
The CIC was pulled into the debate after an applicant, B K S R Ayyangar, approached the ASI through an RTI application asking whether the monument in Agra was the Taj Mahal or "Tejo Mahalaya".
"Many people stating that Taj Mahal is not Taj Mahal and it is Tejo Mahalaya: that this was not constructed by Shahjahan, but was gifted by Raja Maan Singh; hence give the facts as per ASI reports-details with evidences," he asked.
The ASI told him no such record was available with it.
Among other records, Ayyangar also demanded "construction details" of the 17th century monument, including its rooms, hidden rooms and the rooms closed to him citing security reasons.
Acharyulu noted what he expected from his RTI application was research and investigation into the history of the Taj Mahal, which is beyond the purview of the RTI Act and ASI.
"It is unreasonable to ask for opening of closed rooms, bringing out hidden things, and for excavations underneath the protected monument of Taj Mahal and rewriting the history under an RTI application," he said.
"Before Taj Mahal was declared as such protected monument, people should have filed their objections. Those who wanted Taj Mahal to be declared as Tejo Mahalaya should have filed objections," he stated in his order.
The information commissioner added that ASI had to inform the appellant whether any excavations were done in the protected site of the Taj Mahal and, if so, what was discovered.
"Decision regarding excavation has to be taken by the concerned competent authority and Commission cannot give directions to excavate or open the hidden or closed rooms in Taj Mahal," he said.
Oak had written a book "Taj Mahal: The True Story", arguing that Taj Mahal was originally a Shiva temple built by a Rajput King which was adopted by Shahjahan, he noted.
"Oak claiming himself to be a historian not only wrote a book but also approached Supreme Court in 2000 to declare Taj Mahal as Shiva Temple. However, Supreme Court reprimanded him for having 'a bee in his bonnet' about the Taj Mahal," the information commissioner said.
Acharyulu cited a petition, seeking removal of ASI notices that the Taj Mahal was a Mughal structure, filed before the Allahabad High Court.
On February 21, 2005, the bench of Allahabad High Court consisting of Justices B S Chauhan and Dilip Gupta agreed that petition raised disputed question of facts, which could not be adjudicated upon in a writ jurisdiction, and dismissed it.