The iconic Taj Mahal is one of the best known monuments of India. This 17th century white marble structure represents India just as the Eiffel Tower represents France, the Big Ben represents the UK, and the Great Wall represents China. Universally known as a symbol of love, the Taj Mahal is also one of the biggest tourist attractions of the country, drawing a footfall of over 7 million each year. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was ranked among the New Seven Wonders of the World. Despite its popularity, this architectural marvel now finds itself under a shadow of political controversy.
UP Government Drops Taj
The Uttar Pradesh government recently issued a tourist booklet featuring some of the state’s prominent tourist attractions. This booklet is meant for circulation within India and is also available in Indian tourism offices all over the world. A major uproar broke out when it came to light that this new publication did not feature the Taj Mahal of Agra, the state’s greatest draw, but carried relatively lesser known temples such as those in Ayodhya, Mathura, and Gorakhpur. This glossy 32 page brochure titled “Uttar Pradesh Tourism: Unlimited Possibilities”, not only showcases the best tourist destinations of UP but also serves as a valuable tourist guide.
Taking the controversy to a new level was BJP MLA Sangeet Som’s statement which called the Taj Mahal a “blot on Indian culture”. Som also accused Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who had commissioned the monument) of wanting to wipe out Hinduism.
BJP MP Vinay Katiyar added another dimension to the controversy claiming that the monument was built over an ancient Hindu temple called Tejomahal. Over the past years there have been unsubstantiated rumors that the Taj Mahal was constructed over a Shiva Temple. The Archeological Survey of India, however, has denied any such claims in response to an RTI filed earlier this year.
Religious and Cultural Ramifications
The right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, the key member of the NDA government at the centre, has drawn a lot of flak over the years and critics allege that the party propagates anti-Muslim policies while promoting its Hindutva agenda. The ascent of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh (with CM Yogi Adityanathat the helm) has been primarily held responsible for the removal of Taj Mahal from the UP Tourism booklet.
Earlier this year, CM Adityanath had invited criticism when the Taj Mahal was not included in ‘Hamari Sanskritik Virasat’ (Our Cultural Heritage), a special section that featured in his government’s maiden state budget (2017-2018) speech. A number of other monuments from the state had, on the other hand, found mention in this speech.
The businesses and enterprises in Agra that are highly dependent on the steady influx of visitors are greatly worried about the omission of the Taj Mahal in this brochure. The monument is surrounded by hotels, restaurants, memento and handicraft stalls.
UP Government Denies Allegations
The UP Government and CM Yogi Adityanath have denied allegations that the omission of the Taj Mahal was done as an affront to India’s Islamic legacy. The CM said that the brochure was meant to promote monuments or tourist attractions that are currently under development by the government. The central Tourism Minister Alphons Kannanthanam also did not seem to accord the controversy much importance. He said that the Taj Mahal is “India’s pride” and that cannot be denied.
In a series of tweets, the UP government declared that INR 156 crore worth schemes had been designed to develop the Taj Mahal and Agra, thus indicating that the monument was not under neglect. The proposals for these schemes had been developed in consultation with the World Bank, said the tweets.
The Taj Mahal also features prominently in the 2018 calendar to be released by the Uttar Pradesh government.
The Glorious Taj Mahal
The glorious Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan to be the final resting place of his favorite wife, Queen Mumtaz Mahal. The queen’s tomb is the central structure of the 42 acre complex which includes sprawling lawns and a mosque. The Emperor himself has also been laid to rest here. It is a well-known symbol of eternal love and is visited by couples from across the world. The view of the Taj Mahal’s reflection on a full moon night in the waters of River Yamuna is a very captivating one. In 2006, the area over the Taj Mahal was declared a no-fly zone. This has been done to enhance the security of the monument.
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