A court in India has heard testimony from government archaeologists that the Taj Mahal is a Muslim mausoleum built by a Mughal emperor to honour his dead wife – delivering an official riposte to claims it is a Hindu temple, the Guardian reports.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which protects monuments of national importance, had been ordered to give its view in response to a petition filed by six lawyers stating that the Unesco world heritage site in the city of Agra had originally been a temple called Tejo Mahalaya dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva.
The petition also demanded that Hindus be allowed to worship in it. Only Muslims are permitted to offer prayers at the 17th-century monument.
Dr Bhuvan Vikrama, the ASI’s superintending archaeologist in Agra, said he rejected the claims: “Our written statement called the claims concocted and we asked the court to dismiss the petition. It’s up to the judge to decide what happens.”
Claims that the Taj Mahal is a Hindu temple have surfaced periodically, either from lone Hindu mavericks, revisionists, or extremist Hindu groups ever since PN Oak, an Indian writer, published his 1989 book Taj Mahal: the True Story, in which he claimed it was built before Muslim invaders came to India. Proponents of this theory resent that its glory belongs to India’s Muslim heritage and argue that since some of the Mughal invaders destroyed Hindu temples or converted them into mosques, it follows that the Taj Mahal must have originally been a Hindu structure.
“History shows conquerors all over the world converting existing monuments to suit their own ideas,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, an author and columnist. “But this claim about the Taj is absurd because features such as the dome and minaret cannot be found in earlier periods and it is silly for the judge to have even allowed the petition.”
Oak, who died in 2007, took his claim as far as the supreme court in 2000 where it was thrown out as no more than a “bee in his bonnet”.
Hari Shankar Jain, one of the lawyers who took the case to the Agra court, had said he was looking forward to winning the case and performing Hindu prayers at the Taj Mahal. Asked if he would disinter the body of Mumtaz Mahal, the Mughal empress buried inside, he replied: “Of course not because there is no body inside. It’s built on a Hindu temple so there is no question of anyone being buried in it.”