A controversial politician from one of India’s major political parties has called the iconic Taj Mahal a “blot on Indian culture” built by “traitors”. Sangeet Som, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made his remarks after it emerged that the landmark had been excluded from a state tourism booklet — the Gorakhnath Math temple taking its place. He also stoked religious tensions further by referring to only Hindu rulers such as Maharana Pratap and Shivaji as the “real great men” of India, and denouncing non-Hindu rulers as “invaders” of India.
The politician also wrongly claimed that the “creator of Taj Mahal had imprisoned his father”. In actual fact, the Taj Mahal was built by Muslim Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1643 to honour the memory of his late wife, and it was he who was imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb until his death. Som also took aim at other historic Muslim emperors such as Babur, Akbar, and Aurangzeb — calling them “traitors” whose names would be wiped from history. Mughal history has always been a contentious issue in Indian history. The final Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is largely credited with ending the policy of religious tolerance espoused by previous rulers and instead implementing a repressive militaristic rule that resulted in a moribund empire that was approaching collapse.
This is the latest incident in escalating conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India. It is also not the first time the Taj Mahal has been cited as a symbol of religious division. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (the state where the monument is located) has been quoted as saying that that Taj Mahal “did not reflect Indian culture”, due to its ties with Muslim history.
Though the Taj Mahal is revered by millions of people across the world as a sign of love and loss, it is also a visible reminder of religious tensions that have not yet abated.
Photo: M & G Therin-Weise