In this era of fake news and ‘imaginative’ histories, it is important to know the story of where much of this came from, here in India. Few people have contributed as much to spinning tales about our history than writer PN Oak. While you may not have heard of him, you would have heard of some of his theories - from how the Taj Mahal was built on the site of a Shiva temple or the theory that the Kaaba in Mecca was originally a Hindu shrine! While his theories were debunked conclusively in his lifetime, Oak’s ideas have gone viral, thanks to the internet.
So who was this man and how did he come up with these theories?
In 1964, PN Oak founded an institute, whose purpose was clear from its very name - It was called ‘The Institute for Rewriting Indian History’.
Purushottam Nagesh Oak was born into a Maharashtrian family in Indore in 1917. During World War II, he joined the Indian army and was posted in Singapore, following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1941, Oak joined the Indian National Army (INA) established by Subhash Chandra Bose and was made in-charge of the Free India Radio, in Saigon, Vietnam.
Between 1947 and 1974, he worked in several organisations such as The Hindustan Times, The Statesman and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in India. In 1964, he founded an institute, whose purpose was clear from its very name - It was called ‘The Institute for Rewriting Indian History’. Under the aegis of this institute, he issued a quarterly periodical called Itihas Patrika in the 1980s. Through this Oak went on a tirade against the establishment. He claimed that modern day historians had falsified Indian history and ignored its great past. This he said was why he was rewriting it.
Over the next several decades, till his death in 2007, PN Oak churned out a huge body of work in which he not only claimed that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple but also that the Kaaba in Mecca, the Vatican in Rome, the Notre Dame in Paris and the Westminster Abbey in the UK were all Hindu temples earlier!
In 2000, PN Oak himself had approached the Supreme Court to get the theory ‘Taj Mahal built on a Shiva temple’ official recognition.
His most popular book was ‘Taj Mahal: The True Story’ was published in 1989. The central premise of this book was that Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple named ‘Tejo Mahalaya’ which had been requisitioned by Shah Jahan to be converted into a tomb. While Oak has used bits and pieces of information like the fact that it is called a ‘Mahal’, its octagonal shape and a Bateshwar inscription talking about a temple to justify his belief, there is no proof. The land on which the Taj Mahal stands was indeed a garden retreat of the Rajas of Amer (Jaipur) and was acquired by Shah Jahan, after paying adequate compensation to the Raja of Amer (just like land-acquisitions today).
In fact, based on the theory first propounded by Oak, several petitions were filed in various courts of the country to have the Taj Mahal declared as a Shiva temple. In 2000, PN Oak himself had approached the Supreme Court to get this theory official recognition. But this was rejected. Despite this, there were repeated claims. Last heard, in December 2015, Mr Mahesh Sharma, the Minister for Culture, in the Narendra Modi Government, gave a written reply to the Lok Sabha, that the Government had found no evidence of the Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple.
Though the most popular, the Taj bit was just a small part of the wide sweep of Oaks vivid imagination. Some of his ‘theories’ must be mentioned to get a broader sense. Oak has also written that Christianity was ‘Krishna-Neeti’ - Jesus Christ came to India to learn the Vedas from the Hindu Rishis, the Kaaba in Mecca was built by Raja Vikramaditya of Ujjain, English is a dialect of Sanskrit’, the name of the city of Prague was derived from ‘Pragjyotishpur’, Riga, in Latvia from ‘Rigved’ and Deutschland (Germany) comes from ‘Daityasthan’.
The list is long and reflective of the sheer spread of the author's ‘world-view’. Interestingly in his lifetime, PN Oak hardly sold any of his books. He had few followers and he lived a quiet retired life in Pune, before he died.
But thanks to the internet and the many fake news stories and histories that keep popping up, many of PN Oak’s ideas have found new wings and believers.
This is a sad reflection of the times we live in and sadder still, given the great history and legacy, we actually do have and should be talking about!
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