NEW DELHI: India's government has been dragged into a bizarre row over whether the Taj Mahal, widely seen as a masterpiece of Muslim architecture, should be converted into a Hindu temple.
A legal case, first brought by six lawyers in Agra in April, claims that the monument built by a 17th-century Mughal emperor as a tomb for his wife was originally an ancient shrine to the Hindu god Shiva.
The petition, which was accepted by the Agra Court, names a Hindu deity as its main plaintiff. It calls for ownership of the monument to be transferred to Hindus for worship and for Muslim
religious activity to be blocked and graves removed. Currently, only Muslims are allowed to worship at the site, offering Friday prayers at a mosque attached to the Taj Mahal.
Dr Mahesh Sharma, India's culture minister, said he was aware of the suit, but "the government has not found any evidence which can suggest that Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple of Shiva". But experts said this will not be enough to quash the suit. "What the culture minister has said will be the government's official stand on it, but the court has yet to decide," said Dr Bhuvan Vikrama, of the Archaeological Survey of India, which manages the site.
Theories over the Taj Mahal's heritage have abounded for decades. In his 1989 book Taj Mahal: The True Story, PN Oak claimed the monument was built in 1155, decades before the Muslim invasion of India. However, Oak is behind many discredited theories.
Today, such claims have been taken up by some members of the ruling BJP, the Hindu nationalist party. Lakshmikant Bajpayee, BJP president of Uttar Pradesh, said that the Taj Mahal was an ancient temple sold by Hindu king Jai Singh to Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor believed to have built it.
Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh Mahapatra, who died aged 94 on Monday was the final surviving ruler of the British Raj-era "princely states" of Orissa, and possibly the whole subcontinent. More than 500 princely states were once allowed to retain their hereditary rulers in return for accepting the British monarch. Mahapatra, who ruled Tigiria state, died in poverty.