AGRA: Contrary to claims made in a petition to the Lucknow High Court seeking the unlocking of the Taj Mahal’s ’22 permanently locked rooms,’ many of which are in its basement, ‘as they could be housing Hindu idols from ancient times,’ top Archaeological Survey of India officials told TOI on Thursday that the contention in the petition is incorrect on both counts. One, these spaces, formally known as ‘cells,’ are ‘not permanently closed’ and were just recently opened for conservation work. And that all records examined throughout the years ‘have not indicated the presence of any idols.’
‘Various records and reports that have been evaluated till now haven’t disclosed the existence of any idols,’ claimed a senior official familiar with the restoration work done just three months ago. According to those with the most intimate access to the Taj, there are over 100 cells in various portions of the mausoleum complex that have remained closed to the public for security and safety reasons, and none have yielded any such finds.
‘The petitioner’s claim of 22 rooms being permanently locked is factually incorrect as conservation work – including filling of cracks, re-plastering and anti-ageing treatments – are periodically done. In fact, the most recent work cost us Rs 6 lakh,’ a senior ASI official told TOI.
Another senior ASI official added that 100 cells remain locked to the public in the monument’s complex and are located in the basement, upper storeys of the main mausoleum, corner ‘burjs,’ the four minarets, inside the baolis (near the mosque), and on the Chameli floor on the east, west, and north sides. Aside from this, several areas of the region’s other world heritage monuments – Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – have been restricted to the public for years for security concerns.
The Taj Mahal controversy was sparked by historian PN Oak, who claimed in a 1989 book that the monument was initially called ‘Tejo Mahal’. He said that the structure was originally a Hindu temple and a palace erected by a Rajput monarch. Several historians, however, have consistently rejected his idea. In reality, in 2000, the Supreme Court denied Oak’s plea to establish that the Taj Mahal was built by a Hindu ruler.