The Taj Mahal, architectural jewel of India, in the sights of Hindu fans

The Taj Mahal, architectural jewel of India, in the sights of Hindu fans

NEW DELHI — Thirty years after Hindu fanatics destroyed a secular mosque in Ayodhya, sparking bloody interfaith riots, Supremacists target other Muslim sites like the Taj Mahal, an architectural gem and symbol of India in the eyes of the world.

The Gyanvapi Mosque, erected in the 17th century in the city of Varanasi (formerly Varanasi), in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is the most threatened by supporters of Hindutva (Hindu supremacy).

Last week, according to news reports, court-ordered excavations were carried out at the site of the mosque which reportedly unearthed a ‘Shiva Linga’phallic-shaped object, “sign” of the god Shiva for his worshippers.

A member of security personnel stands guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj Mahal.PAWAN SHARMA – AFP

“It means it is the site of a temple”Kaushal Kishore, Minister of State for the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, immediately concluded in front of the press. “Hindus should be able to go pray”he added.

Muslims are already banned from performing their usual ritual ablutions where the alleged relic was found and fear that this Islamic place of worship could suffer the same fate as the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, built in the 16th century. century.

The Taj Mahal
The Taj MahalPAWAN SHARMA – AFP

After the mosque was destroyed in 1992, inter-religious riots broke out, among the worst in independent India’s history, and more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives.

A member of security personnel stands guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj Mahal.
A member of security personnel stands guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj Mahal.PAWAN SHARMA – AFP

these events they shook the secular foundations of the country and imposed Hindu nationalism as the dominant political forcepaving the way for Modi’s election in 2014 to lead the country, which is home to 200 million Muslims.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a longtime member of the RSS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a longtime member of the RSSBBC World/Getty Images

Since the 1980s, the BJP has supported the construction of a temple dedicated to the god Rama on the same site as the mosque, and Modi laid the foundation stone in 2020.

Since, Hindu extremists flock to the Taj Mahal, built by the Mughals – who ruled much of the Indian subcontinent between the 16th and 11th centuries – and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Security personnel stand guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj Mahal
Security personnel stand guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj MahalPAWAN SHARMA – AFP

They campaign for the right to pray there, arguing that the monument was built on the site of an ancient shrine dedicated to Shiva.

According to Sanjay Jat, spokesman for the Hindu Mahasabha – a radical Hindu organization – the Taj Mahal was built in Agra (Uttar Pradesh) on top of a temple dedicated to Shiva “destroyed by Mughal invaders”.

The mausoleum – erected between 1631 and 1648 on the initiative of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to perpetuate the memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal – has become the universal symbol of eternal love and the main tourist attraction of the countrywhere millions of Indian and foreign visitors flock every year.

That the Taj Mahal symbolizes India in the eyes of the whole world has always infuriated Hindu supremacists. Today, this resentment is expressed to the point of openly threatening their integrity.

People visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on May 19, 2022.
People visit the Taj Mahal in Agra on May 19, 2022.PAWAN SHARMA – AFP

“I will continue to fight for this until I die. We respect the courts but, if necessary, we will destroy the Taj and prove the existence of a temple there,” Jat told AFP, admitting that the allegation is unfounded.

This month, a request was made by a BJP member in Uttar Pradesh to force the Archaeological Agency of India (ASI) to open twenty Taj quarters believed to house Hindu idols.

ASI denied the existence of such objects and the court summarily dismissed the claim.

Audrey Truschke, associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in the United States, considers these claims “as reasonable as saying the Earth is flat”.

There is no “coherent theory” on the Taj Mahal, the expert told AFP, who sees it rather as an expression of “an angry and fragile nationalist pridewhich prohibits anything that is not Hindu from being Indian and demands the erasure of the Muslim contribution to Indian heritage.

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