Indian court rejects plea to unlock Taj Mahal chambers believed to house Hindu idols

Petitioner from the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party also claims the 17th-century structure was not built by a Mughal emperor

An Indian court has rejected a petition filed by a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party to open nearly two dozen locked rooms in the Taj Mahal.

Rajneesh Singh, a local media co-ordinator of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the nearby city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, filed the petition in the state's high court last Saturday, demanding that 22 rooms in the basement of the mausoleum be opened amid claims that they contain “idols of Hindu gods”.

He also claimed that the 17th-century monument was not built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

But Justices DK Upadhaya and Subhash Vidyarthi of the Allahabad High Court came down heavily on the petitioner, saying such questions were meant for “drawing room discussions” and should be left to historians.

“You hold that the structure was not made by Shah Jahan? Are we here to pronounce any verdict? Please don't take us to the historical facts which you believe," the justices said.

“Tomorrow you will ask for permission to see our chambers.”

The judges said the plea was “non-justiciable”.

“The issues lie outside court and should be done by various methodology and should be left with the historians,” the bench said.

Right-wing Hindus have claimed for decades that the Taj Mahal — a Unesco heritage monument built of white marble by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaaz — was a temple devoted to the Hindu god Shiva.

The monument is listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world and remains a top tourist attraction, drawing about eight million visitors a year.

Mr Singh had asked the court to set up a committee to investigate whether its locked chambers contain Hindu idols and demanded that the Archaeological Survey of India, which manages the historical monument, submit a report.

The ASI said in 2017 that there was no evidence to suggest the monument had ever been a temple after a petition was filed to rename the mausoleum “Tejomahalay”.

In 2000, India’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by P N Oak, a self-styled historian, seeking to declare that a Hindu king had built the Taj Mahal.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 3:17 PM