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 are targeting other Muslim sites such as the Taj Mahal, an architectural gem and a symbol of India in the eyes of the world.The Gyanvapi Mosque, erected in the 17th century in the city of Varanasi (former Varanasi), in the state of Uttar Pradesh (north), is the most threatened by supporters of Hindutva (Hindu supremacy). Last week, according to information from press, court-ordered excavations were carried out at the site of the mosque, which would have unearthed a “Shiva Linga”phallic-shaped object, “sign” of the god Shiva for his worshipers.A member of security personnel stands guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj Mahal. PAWAN SHARMA – AFP“This means it is the site of a temple”Kaushal Kishore, Minister of State for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, immediately concluded before the press. “Hindus should be able to go pray”Muslims are already banned from practicing their usual ritual ablutions where the alleged relic was found and fear that this Islamic place of worship will suffer the same fate as the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, built in the 16th century.TheTaj MahalThe Taj MahalPAWAN SHARMA – AFPAfter the destruction of the mosque in 1992, interfaith riots broke out, among the worst in the history of independent India, 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 as head of the country, home to 200 million Muslims.Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time RSS memberPrime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time RSS memberBBC World/Getty ImagesSince 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 then, 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 MahalMembers of security personnel stand guard behind a perimeter fence at the Taj MahalPAWAN SHARMA – AFPThey are agitating 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 of the Hindu Mahasabha —a radical Hindu organization—, the Taj Mahal was built in Agra (Uttar Pradesh) on a temple dedicated to Shiva “destroyed by the Mughal invaders”. The mausoleum —erected between 1631 and 1648 at the initiative of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan perpetuate the memory of his late wife Mumtaz Mahal – became the universal symbol of eternal love, and the main tourist attraction in the countrywhich millions of Indian and foreign visitors flock to every year.That the Taj Mahal symbolizes India in the eyes of the whole world has always infuriated Hindu supremacists. Today, that 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, 2022PAWAN SHARMA – AFP“I will continue to fight for this until my death. 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 claim 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 precincts that were supposed to house Hindu idols. The ASI denied the existence of such objects and the court summarily rejected the request. Audrey Truschke, Associate Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University (United States), considers these statements “as reasonable as saying that the Earth is flat.” There is no “coherent theory” about the Taj Mahal, the expert tells AFP, who sees rather in it the expression of “an angry and fragile nationalist pridewhich does not allow anything non-Hindu to be Indian and demands to erase the Muslim contribution to the Indian heritage.

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