It was probably late sixties or early seventies – when a gentleman called P N Oak started appearing in Marathi magazines peddling his weird theories about well known monuments in and outside India. An article which made lot of news then was centred around Taj Mahal where it was claimed that it was ‘Tejo Maha Aalay’ or hindu god Shiva’s abode. It tried to establish through various ‘explanations’ that a Shiva Temple was destroyed to build Taj Mahal and if we dig deep we can find ‘remnants’ of the earlier structure. Mr Vinay Katiyar’s latest advice to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath that he “should go into the Taj Mahal and see the Hindu signs inside it” reminded one of P N Oak.
Looking at the fact that ideas of Hindutva had still not caught the imagination of the people then, hardly anyone – apart from a minority of Chitpavan Brahmins who believed in turning India into a Hindu Rashtra – looked at Oak’s ‘theories’ seriously. Definitely nobody could then have the premonition that such claims – that their places of worship were buried beneath the Mosques as a lame excuse to demolish them – would become order of the day, in Hindutva politics.
Definitely the article on Taj Mahal by Oak was not a one off affair. Similar articles /books kept appearing here and there where Oak engaged in rectifying what he believed to be “biased and distorted versions of India’s history produced by the invaders and colonizers” and a section of the Marathi Brahminical elite – which always entertained sympathies towards the idea of Hindu Rashtra – provided legitimacy to these ideas by their reception. Oak argued that modern secular and Marxist historians have fabricated “idealized versions” of India’s past and drained it of its “Vedic context and content”. And he went on propagating his ideas writing articles, publishing books and also initiating the work of ‘Collecting Local History’ by forming ‘Bharat Itihas Sankalan Samity’ which also use to bring out a journal in the 80s. A rough estimate tells us that he has written nine books in English, 13 books in Marathi and 8 books in Hindi. One of his books which according to a scholar summarises his life’s work is titled ‘World Vedic Heritage: A History of Histories, Presenting a Unique Unified Field Theory of History that from the Beginning of Time the World Practised Vedic and Spoke Sanskrit.’
For laypersons who have never heard of him it would be opportune to name the list of few of his other books which appeared in English which can give one an idea about his key argument : Christianity is Chrisn-nity, ISBN 978-81-88388-77-6, Islamic Havoc in India (A. Ghosh Publisher, 5740 W. Little York, Houston, Texas, 77091), The Taj Mahal Is a Temple Place (Alternate title, The Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace), Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi (online version: hindusarise.com), Who Says Akbar Was Great? (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Agra Red Fort is a Hindu Building (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Some Missing Chapters of World History (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), World Vedic Heritage—A History of Histories (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Taj Mahal — The True Story (ISBN 0-9611614-4-2), Was Kaaba a Hindu Temple?, Learning Vedic Astrology etc
Analysing Oak’s work Srinivas Aravamudan noted that it typically resorts to “deep punning” – associating Sanskrit sound-alikes with non-Sanskrit religious terms such as Vatican=vatika “hermitage”, Christianity=Krishna-netti or Chrisn-nity “ethics of Krishna or the way of Krishna” Islam=ishalayam “temple of God”, Abraham as an aberration of Brahma, and George as an aberration of Garg.Based on this, Oak claimed that both Christianity and Islam allegedly originated as distortions of “Vedic” beliefs. Aravamudan concluded that via “deep punning” Oak is “creative in proliferating these delusional etymologies.” (Srinivas Aravamudan, Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language Princeton University Press (2005), ISBN 0-691-11828-0).
While his weird theories like ‘Christianity and Islam being both derivatives of Hinduism’ or ’Like Taj Mahal, Catholic Vatican, Kaaba, Westminster Abbey were once Hindu temples to Shiva’ or ‘Vatican being originally a Vedic creation called Vatika and that the Papacy was also originally a Vedic Priesthood’ or his complete denial of Islamic architecture in India could not find any takers in the mainstream, in fact were rejected in academia, they gathered a popular following in the Hindu Right which is still in search of a grand theory to further its agenda. Interestingly the Belgian orientalist and Indologist Koenraad Elst- who is sympathetic to Hindutva -seems to be an exception. Underlining Oak’s ‘lasting popularity’in NRI/PIO circles and debunking Oak’s varied ‘historical and linguistic theses’ regarding Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Vikramaditya he rather focusses his attention on the ‘gross immaturity’among Hindu activists :
The popularity of PN Oak’s theses is a sign of gross immaturity among contemporary Hindu activists. It indicates confusion regarding the facts of religious conflict in Indian history, along with a narcissistic greed, a morbid desire to lay ludicrous ownership claims to all manner of precious objects produced by outsiders (as if Hindu Dharma’s genuine achievements weren’t enough to be proud of)
Vinay Katiyar’s latest rant just goes to show the unending traction of ‘Oakisms’( as Koenraad Elst says) among Hindutva followers.
It is now history how Oak had even petitioned the Supreme Court to rewrite the history of Taj Mahal as being built by a Hindu King during NDA’s first stint of power at the centre. Perhaps the then conducive political atmosphere might have prompted him to gain further legitimacy but he was sadly mistaken. A two member division bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the ‘misconceived’ petition with these remarks ‘Somebody has a bee in his bonnet, hence this petition’.
Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : firstname.lastname@example.org