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‘Taj Mahal basement has no Hindu idols’: A response to a RTI request

After a protracted argument over the claimed existence of Hindu god statues in the Taj Mahal’s sealed subterranean rooms, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has finally ended the debate with a single-line response to a Right to Information (RTI) request. A group of petitioners issued a court notice to the Centre and the ASI on June 3 requesting the relocation of Hindu deity statues they say are buried beneath the stairway of an Agra mosque. The petitioners in the Shahi Idgah Masjid-Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi dispute litigation requested that public movement on the stairway be halted immediately.

Saket Gokhale, a spokesman for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), has requested details on the monument’s history from the ASI. In response to TMC leader Saket Gokhale’s RTI request for proof that there was no temple on Taj Mahal land and no idols in the Taj Mahal’s 20 locked basement rooms, the ASI has stated unequivocally that there are no idols of Hindu gods and goddesses in the Taj Mahal’s basement, nor was the Taj Mahal built on temple land.

Mahesh Chand Meena, the Central Public Relations officer, responded in one sentence. He had just typed ‘No’ in response to the first question. In response to the second query, it was written that there is no idol of any deity in the basements. Prahlad Agarwal, President of the Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber, expressed hope that after the ASI’s response, no additional religious disputes about the Taj Mahal will be created. He stated that tourism loses greatly as a result of such issues. ‘Tourism has already suffered tremendously as a result of Covid-19 over the past two years. In such a position, repeatedly raising such conflicts not only hurts the Taj Mahal but also the reputation of Agra and the entire country, which should be avoided ‘, Prahlad Agarwal stated.

Under recent months, Hindu organisations have asserted the existence of Hindu gods and goddesses in the Taj Mahal’s basement, referring to it as the Tejo Mahalaya temple. A BJP politician from Ayodhya also petitioned the High Court’s Lucknow Bench to open the basements, which was denied by the Allahabad High Court. The leader wanted to form a fact-finding commission to investigate the Taj Mahal’s past and unlock the doors of its 22 closed chambers.

According to the Allahabad High Court, ‘The request to form a fact-finding committee to discover the ‘true truth’ about the Taj Mahal is a non-justiciable matter. This court is unable to rule on the requests’.  The court went on to say, ‘The historical study should include an adequate methodology for the petition for the opening of the chambers. This is something that should be left to historians’.

Following the huge dispute about the Taj Mahal’s 22 sealed chambers in the basement, the ASI attempted to defuse tensions by publishing images of the repair work done within these rooms. The photographs depicted the repair work being done in these rooms. According to Agra ASI chief R K Patel, the images are available on the ASI website as part of the January 2022 bulletin and anybody may view them by visiting their website.


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