Our Heritage

Blog about Heritage, Monuments, Ruins and much more…

Archive for the month “October, 2014”

The Auction of Taj Mahal

This article is part of my Taj Mahal Series

“Henceforth, let the inhabitants of the world be divided into two classes – Them as has seen the Taj Mahal; and them as hasn’t.”

– Edward Lear

In my series of articles on Taj Mahal, I am going to introduce you to an interesting episode of our history, where one of the British appointed Governor General, Lord William Bentinck, who had absolutely no respect for or interest in Indian Heritage, decided to auction off the Taj Mahal.

When celebrated English author, poet and illustrator Edward Lear wrote the quote mentioned above, he tried to depict the mesmerizing sight of the great Taj Mahal. Countless visitors since ages have praised the beauty of Taj. But one man, sitting on the top position had some other evil plans about this beauty. Lieutenant-General Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck became the Governor General of India for just two years from 1833 to 1835. In these 2 years, he saw the bad state of finances. To improve the financial state of the government, he took a very stupid decision, which was to auction, what we today regard as the ‘Wonder of World’.

During British Raj, it was a practice of Rich British families to visit decorated Mughal buildings and dig precious stones to be taken back as souvenirs. Taking a hint form this malpractice, Lord Bentinck decided to dismantle the Taj Mahal and auction off the precious marble. Part of the marble was to be sold to Indian nobles and rest was to be sent to Britain, for further sale. Idea of trying to sell majority of marble in India rather than in Britain came because an earlier attempt to sell marble from Red Fort of Delhi was not a successful. The cost of transporting marble to England came out to be more than the bid.

The British had earlier sold the Taj Mahal to Seth Laxmichand of Mathura for Rs. 1.5 Lakh, who, when reached the Tomb for possession, faced a major opposition from the Hindu and Muslim residents of Taj Ganj, the colony established by Emperor Shahjahan, which is said to have the descendants of workers, who made Taj Mahal. Seth Laxmichand had to retreat and the sale was called off.

Bentinck_williamThen Lord Bentinck came with better arrangements and ensured that such problems do not hamper the auction. On July 26, 1831, an advertisement to sell Taj Mahal was published in an English daily of Kolkata. Auction started with seths of Mathura and Rajasthan. The next day, auction continued with English Bidders. Once again, the Taj mahal was sold to Seth Laxmichand for Rs. 7 lakh. But the cost of dismantling and taking off the marble was so high, that it was practically impossible to make profit out of it. Once again, the auction had to be called off.

Lord Bentinck went back to his thinking table and finally managed to sort out the cost issue. Historian, Prof. Ramnath in his book ‘The Taj Mahal’, mentions about this incident. British author HG Cannes also mentioned about this incident in his book ‘Agra and Naibr Hoods’. They wrote Lord Bentinck finally managed to arrange an auction, which cannot be called off as all the hurdles have already been taken care off and this one was well planned.

As the second auction was arranged, the seths and the British once again were invited. Then came into picture, an unknown soldier from the British Army, who secretly reported the matter to the Member Parliament of his constituency back in England. The matter was taken to the British Parliament and London office immediately ordered the Indian Governor General to give up this stupid idea. We will never know who this unsung soldier was, who saved the precious Taj and gave India its share in the list of Wonders of World.

Much later, Lord Curzon, called for an auction on 7th February 1900. Many old paintings and precious carved stones, which included some material from Taj Mahal was auctioned. Even Lord Hastings had many precious stones from Taj Mahal sent to London.

However, there have been incidents where looters didn’t bother to do the formality of auctioning. Historian E.B. Havell records that the Jats of Bharatpur, under Suraj Mal, carried away the fountains and the fish tanks of Machhli Bhawan of Fort. Later, other parts were taken by Lord Bentick for auction. Similar looting was done at Taj as well. In 1784, the Jats carried away the silver doors of Taj, which were estimated at Rs 127,000, when installed by Shahjahan. They were studded with nails, the heads of which were silver rupees.

Manucci writes, the first plunder of Taj took place in 1691, when Jats, under the command of Rajaram and Ramchhera took away great gates of bronze, studded with precious stones and plates of gold and silver.

No matter what Taj has seen and suffered, it is still counted as one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in Indian Subcontinent.


As I finished my lecture at India Habitat Centre, a person approached me and congratulated me for the way I presented the history of Delhi. He gave me many points and asked if I would like to dive deeper into the history and try to find out the history of every single locality of Delhi. While we were talking, he gave many pointers to work on, one of which caught my immediate attention. This person, named Nataranjan Bohidar (Roni) wrote me this:

Pythagoras_in_Thomas_Stanley_History_of_PhilosophyThe Greek influence in India is to be sought in the fact that the greatest mathematician of 3-d triangles, the father and inventor of TRIGONOMETRY, was Pythagoras…and he comes form the Greek town of Samos, which is the name that we still call the Samosa by …and the
samosa by shape must be  a  tribute to this 3-dimensional genius, PYTHAGORAS ! What are the chances it came to India from Greece …what
are the chances Pythagoras born 150 years in Samos before Alexander, was well known to the military commander and his Generals introduced samosa to Alexandrias all over the world  and so too to Sikanderpur?

Note: India-Pakistan has multiple towns with name Sikanderpur. These are the territories given to nobles of Alexander (locally known as Sikander) after Alexander’s alleged victory over India, who established townships and named after him.

This made me thinking, is really my favourite snack an instrument to learn the 3-Dimensional triangle.


A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that the word Samosa can be traced to Persian word sanbosag. In Arab countries, the name changed to Sanbusak or Sanbusaj. Afghanis call it Sambosa and Tajakistan knows it by name Samboosa. Turkic speaking nations call it Samsa and Portuguese speakers call it chamuça.

Samosa is a triangular fried pastry with savory filling within a finely milled wheat flour. In its initial days, Samosa was filled with ground lamb, beef or chicken. However in India, Potatoes cooked with onion, peas and spices is filled. It got associated with Indian subcontinent during the Mughal Period (16th century). It has been an important snack prepared in the royal kitchen. Interestingly, there is also a building in Akbar’s capital Fatehpur Sikir, which goes by the name “Samosa Mahal”. It got its name due to its 3 sides. This triangular palace with multiple rooms and a small gusal-khana was built for one of the nobles of Akbar’s court. Name of this noble is no longer known. The landscape of this building has changed slightly with time.

Pythagoras-MünzOldest written reference of Samosa is by Abolfazl Beyhaqi (995 AD – 1077 AD), an Iranian historian, who mentioned about it in his work Tarikh-e-Beyhaghi. This work is the most authentic account of Ghaznavid empire, which was spread from Iran to Afghanistan (including parts of Pakistan and India). Based on this account, researchers deduced that the Samosa originated somewhere in Middle East before 10th century. It should be noted that this land was part of Ancient Greece till 7th-8th Century. The island of Samos, from where Pythagoras came is situated to the immediate west of this mainland Abolfazi talked about. We know that Pythagoras was very famous in this region because we get his image and work depicted on coins from 3rd century.

Some claim that Samosa was introduced in India by traders from Middle East in 13th or 14th century. Hazrat Amir Khusrow, the famous sufi mystic, poet and disciple of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (ra), who also worked as the royal poet in the court of Slave emperors wrote in 14th century about Samosa, prepared with meat, ghee and onion. Ibn-i-Battuta, the famous Moroccan traveller, who visited India during the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq wrote about a small triangular patty, which he calls Sambusak (the name Samosa is known by in Arabia, from where Battuta came). He says that Sambusak is stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachio, walnuts and spices, was served before the third course, of pulao.

In 16th century, Akbar’s minister Abu’l Fazl ibn Mubarak wrote a complete account of Akbar’s administration, known as Ain-i-Akbari (Constitution of Akbar). He mentions the recipe for Qutab, which he says, the people of Hindustan call Sanbusah.

While samosa originally started with a filling of minced meat and became popular as a potato filled pastry, there have always been experiments with it. These days shops across the globe serve samosas filled with various items like macroni, pasta, noodles, cottage cheese, cauliflower, meat, mushroom, peas, and almost everything else that can be eaten. Interestingly, the most popular filling of Samosa, Potato is also not from India. It originated in Peru somewhere between 8000 and 5000 BC. Like potato, many other common food items that we consume in India were traded into the subcontinent.

I will now stop writing and head to my nearest Samosa shop. Time to pay tribute to Pythagoras.

Bon Appetite!!!

Diwali, beyond Lord Rama

The famous south Asian festival of Diwali (Deepavali) is said to be celebrated because on this auspicious day, Lord Rama of Hindu Mythology returned from a 14 year long exile, during which he also won the battle against King Ravana of Lanka. Lord Rama’s subjects celebrated his return by lighting up earthen lamps. With time, as the religion spread across borders, culture and festival also reached remote pockets of South Asia.


Diwali is not a single day festival. It is a series of celebrations, which begins with Dhanteras and ends 4 days later with Bhai Dooj. In different parts of Indian subcontinent, Diwali is associated with different stories.

  • As per Ramayana, Diwali is the day of return of Lord Rama from exile
  • As per Mahabharta, Diwali is the day of return of Pandavas from exile
  • Many believe that Goddess Lakshmi was born on the day of Dhanteras and on the night of Diwali, she married Lord Vishnu
  • Some believe that on this day, Lord Vishnu came back to Lakshmi in Vaikuntha, hence the prosperity, happiness and good health is returned
  • Nepal & East Indian region celebrates this festival as Kali Pooja or Mahanisha Pooja
  • In Braj, this day is attributed to Lord Krishna’s lifting of Mount Govardhan
  • In southern and western part of India, offerings are made to Lord Ganesha (along with Lakshmi) as he is worshipped before starting anything new. Diwali marks the beginning of New year as per Indian Calendar
  • In Some parts, it is the day when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasur and hence started the festival of Nark Chaturdashi
  • Legendary King Vikramaditya was coroneted on this day.

Besides Hinduism, other religions also celebrate Diwali in their own form. Here’s an account:

Jainism – Lord Mahavir’s Attainment anniversary

Lord-MahaviraBhagwan Vardhman (aka Mahavira), last of the 24 Tirthankars of Jainism attained Nirvana (or Moksha) on the Kartika Chaturdashi in Pavapuri (Bihar). Lord Mahavira is regarded as an important reformer of Jainism and his teachings comprise most of the modern Jain philosophy. According to Kalpsutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, Lord Mahavira attained moksha on dawn of amavasya (new moon). He further states that many gods were present there, illuminating the pitch dark night. To symbolize the incident, where master’s light is kept alive even in darkness, 16 Gana kings, 9 Malla and 9 lichchhavi of kasi and kosai illuminated their doors.

गये से भवुज्जोये, दव्वुज्जोयं करिस्समो

means: Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter

Another reference is found in Harivamsha Puran, written by Acharya Jinasena. This reference is also the oldest reference to the word “Diwali”. It mentions the word Deepalikaya, from which, the word ‘Deepawavali’ and later ‘Diwali’ is believed to be born. This puraan states:

ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धदीपलिकयात्र भारते |
समुद्यतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्वरं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक् |२० |

means: The gods illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since that time, the people of Bharat celebrate the famous festival of “Dipalika” to worship the Jinendra (i.e. Lord Mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.

It is also believed that Gautam Swami, the chief disciple of Lord Mahavira attained complete knowledge (Brahmgyaan/Kevalgyaan) on this day. This incident makes the occasion even more important.


Buddhism – Ashok Vijayadashmi

ashokaIt is said, that on this day, Ashoka the great, the legendary Mauryan emperor from 1st century BCE converted to Buddhism. After numerous battles and bloodshed, he decided to give up everything and adopt the path of peace. He started following the teachings of Lord Buddha and thus became one of first rulers to widespread Buddhism across the subcontinent. He places edicts across the length and breadth of his kingdom, with inscriptions about Buddhism. His edicts are important as one such pillar gives India its national emblem and also the famous ‘Chakra’ in the national flag of India.

Ambedkar_BarristerAnother interesting event is associated with Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1st Minister of Law & Justice in Independent India and a major contributor to the constitution of India. He is known for his exemplary work in the reformation of Dalits (Scheduled Casts) in India.He, at one point decided to convert to Sikhism. The idea was dropped after a long meeting with Sikh scholars and religious leaders as he found out that he will be getting a second grade status within Sikhism. He then started looking for a religion, which treats everyone as equally as the religious law teaches them to. On 14th October 1956, he finally converted to Buddhism in Nagpur along with 500,000 followers. This is exactly 30 days before Diwali, but many Ambedkarites associate the event with Diwali and remember Ambedkar on this day.


Sikhism – Data Bandi Chhor Divas


After the martyrdom of 5th Sikh master, Sri Guru Arjan Dev jee, time was tough for his followers. Most respected figure in Sikh community after the Guru himself was Baba Budhha Jee. Baba Buddha jee gave two swords to next Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib jee during the coronation and requested him to stand up against the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his atrocities. Guru Hargobind Sahib jee, the 6th guru of Sikhs built the fort of Lohgarh in Amritsar and maintained a strong force of 700 horses, 500 Infantry, 300 horsemen and 60 gunners. While he preached peace and humility, he also encouraged his followers to be trained in martial arts and self defence. They even fought 4 defensive battles against local Mughal generals and won them all.

Jail-GwaliorFortMughal Emperor Jahangir was told that the Guru is strengthening his army and establishing a state within a state. He is preparing for the revenge of his father (which was not true). Jahangir sent his trusted nobles Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg to arrest the Guru. Wazir Khan was an admirer of Guru and so instead of arresting him, he requested Guru to come to Mughal court, as the emperor wants to have a dialogue with him. Guru agreed and accompanied him to royal court, only to be arrested and confined to the fort of Gwalior. Guru Hargobind was kept in the Baoli of Gwalior fort, along with other 52 kings from neighbouring kingdoms. As the legend goes, Jahangir fell ill soon after the arrest. Witch-Doctors suggested that Jahangir’s illness is because of the curse of Guru and the Mughal court should immediately release him. Noorjahan convinced Jahangir to release Guru and the official orders were sent to Gwalior Fort. 52 other imprisoned kings stood in front of Guru and said that they will allow Guru to leave the prison only if he takes everyone with him. If not, then Guru should kill all 52 kings and free them from this mortal life. The matter reached Jahangir and he said, ‘those who can hold on to Guru’s robe can walk away’. Everyone spent the night stitching pieces of their robes to Guru’s robe, making it long enough that all 52 Kings could comfortably hold it. Next day, which was also the Day of Diwali, Guru Hargobind Sahib jee stepped out of Fort with 52 kings holding his robes and celebrating their freedom. Since that day, Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Diwas.


Islam – The communal harmony

While the modern day Islamic preachers recommend that Muslims should not participate, or even congratulate non-Muslims during their pagan festivals, things were different a few centuries back, at least in Hindustan. Especially during the Mughal rule, the Hindu-Muslim harmony was at its peak. Akbar had Indian religious stories translated to Persian and made pictorial books of the narration. Dara Shikoh had major contribution to the unity and later Jahangir, Shahjahan, and even Aurangzeb kept distributing gifts and sweets on Diwali to their Hindu nobles. The later Mughals were even more generous. The first Ramlila committee of Delhi, named Shri Ram Lila Committee was established by last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. They still perform in same traditional way, like they did 180 years ago for Emperor’s soldiers.

Not just Diwali, other Indian festivals were also celebrated by Muslims in the subcontinent. Baba Bulleh Shah, the famous 17th century sufi mystic wrote “Holi khelungi, keh bismillah. Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi allah allah”.

Indian Subcontinent is a land of diversities, but they still bind with each other via common festivals and celebrations. It is amazing to see, how beautifully the culture has mixed over time. After the British invasion of India and their divide and rule policies, the cultural and religious conflict started. I and many like me always pray for the communal harmony and happiness to return.


[UPDATE - 01 November 2016]

The Diwali Bonus

This year, I got a forwarded message talking about the annual Diwali bonus. When I searched about it, I found multiple blogs mentioning the same thing. In most cases, even the language was same. I tried to find truth of that article but couldn’t find any authentic proof online. I will check it from the government archives whenever I get chance, but till then, I decided to put it here for public discussion.

NOTE: The below statement is unverified and is all over internet. I will appreciate if my readers can shed some light on this and help me find the authenticity of this claim:

Earlier, there was a concept of weekly salary payments. (I think this is where the Hafta Wasooli concept came from). This way, one would get 52 salaries a year. But British factories started the concept of monthly salaries (Probably because all the material was sent to England and finances were processed from there, which would take multiple weeks to get cleared). In monthly salary system, only 48 weeks were paid to employees and remaining 4 weeks (1 month) was deducted. During 1930-1940, multiple protests were staged against this. Therefore, from 30th June, 1940, the British factories in India agreed to give that additional 1 month salary and it was to be paid as Diwali Bonus. Later, people forgot the reason to start Diwali Bonus and it was reduced to distribution of a small percentage of salary or even just chocolates/gifts in some cases.

(If any of my readers find any additional information related to this claim, please share it in comments below)


Vikramjit Singh Rooprai

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