Indian court rejects demands to unlock sealed chambers of Taj Mahal

·3 min read

A court in India has dismissed a request to open locked rooms in the Taj Mahal in a search for Hindu idols in the 17th century wonder.

On 12 May, Allahabad High Court threw out the petition of a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying the reopening of 22 rooms – locked decades ago for security reasons – must be decided by historians.

“It is not for the court to direct what subject needs to be researched or studied,” it ruled as BJP lawmaker Diyva Kumari added the Taj Mahal was built on her ancestral princely estate.

"We have documents to prove it,” Kumari said.

Monument of love

Right-wing groups say Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal on the ruins of a 12th century temple to Hindu lord Shiva in memory of his departed wife.

Three million tourists visit the mausoleum every year.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, celebrities and others have visited the Taj since 1959, when US president Dwight Eisenhower became the first world leader to inspect the architectural marvel.

The most telling journey to the monument was by Britain’s Lady Diana, when in 1992 the then princess of Wales broke her silence on her marriage falling apart.

Festering row

Even as dust settled on the Taj Mahal showdown, India’s Supreme Court sealed off a pond at the Gyanvapi Mosque after state surveyors claimed they found telltale Hindu artefacts there.

But it shot down a lower court’s order limiting the number of Moslem worshippers to the 17th century mosque.

Right-wing groups celebrated it as clinching evidence that the mosque straddled a razed Shiva temple in Varanasi, Hinduism’s holiest town, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home borough.

BJP’s associates argue the Taj Mahal and other Muslim monuments were placed atop the rubble of 36,000 Hindu temples after the Moguls invaded India in 1526 and ruled until the 18th century.

Muslim MP Asaduddin Owaisi warned the face-off was unhealthy for India, where 200 million Muslims form the largest religious minority.

“The unfortunate part is that this is not going to stop and there are many mosques that will now be opened on the basis of faith,” he said.

Copycat demands surfaced this week in Karnataka state, also ruled by the BJP, which is helping in the construction of the Rama temple on the debris of the Babri mosque, demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992.

A similar war cry is also heard in two towns popular among Hindu devotees near capital Delhi.

Sectarian blitzkrieg

Right-wing politicians argued a closure to the festering dispute wiould end purported Hindu-Muslim rivalries.

“The history which has been wiped out from the pages of India’s education system has to be re-recorded and re-narrated ... that the Muslim invaders came from outside,” said pro-BJP lawyer Desh Ratan Nigam.

“Once the acknowledgement is there, then things can move forward.”

Diplomat-turned-author Pawan Varma prodded politicians to end their sectarian rivalries.

“Do we need now to excavate the past in order to fuel acrimony in the present, some of which can go out of control?” the diplomat asked.

Others such as right-wing author Amrish Tripathi insisted the drive was not designed to target Indian Muslims.

“It is not a Hindu-Muslim thing. It is an Indian-Mogul issue,” Tripathi told local TV.

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