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Why was Taj Mahal excluded from Indian tourism brochure?

A decision to omit the Taj Mahal from a tourism booklet has ignited controversy in India, with the ruling BJP party being accused of excluding non-Hindu heritage sites. Murali Krishnan reports.

Taj Mahal (DW/A. Chatterjee)

A 36-page booklet released this week by the tourism department of Uttar Pradesh state in northern India inexplicably omits the Taj Mahal, India's top tourist attraction, with over 10 million visitors last year alone.

The decision to omit the Taj Mahal from "Uttar Pradesh Tourism – Limitless Possibilities," was reportedly made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh.

The brochure reportedly places special emphasis on Hindu religious sites promoting, for example, Ayodhya as the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, and Mathura-Vrindavan for its link to the Hindu deity Krishna.

The government booklet also emphasizes the religious and cultural significance of the holy city of Varanasi and the upcoming religious gathering at Allahabad in 2019. It also covers Hindu cultural and heritage cites like Awadh and Gorakhpur.

The Taj Mahal - not Indian enough?

Muslime beten vor dem Taj Mahal in Indien FREI FÜR SOCIAL MEDIA (picture-alliance/dpa)

The omission of the Taj Mahal, which was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, sparked anger and bewilderment across India

But the omission of the Taj Mahal, which was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, sparked anger and bewilderment across India.

"This is total disrespect to the Taj. It shows the BJP's mindset, which is trying to create its own cultural and religious identity," Atul Pradhan, a legislator from the opposition Samajwadi Party, told DW.

Other critics said the omission was part of the BJP's overall strategy of promoting Hindu nationalism in India

"In the idea of a Hindu state, anything purported to have been created by Muslims, including language, culture, music and lifestyle must be eliminated from social and civic memory. The BJP want it replaced with Brahmin religious symbolism," Dunu Roy, social activist and architect, told DW.

"The BJP wants to remove all shades of Muslim influence and replace it with faith-based symbols of heritage. That is the bigger motive," Rakesh Batabyal, a media historian, told DW.

Selective history

Indien Amtseid Yogi Adityanath, Staat Pradesh (Reuters/P. Kumar)

Yogi Adityanath is sworn in as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017. Critics call him a Hindu nationalist

The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has never minced words about his dislike for minarets and domes.

Insiders recount how Adityanath views the monument as a historical folly and a reminder of the perceived brutalization of India by Muslims. Adityanath also reportedly believes that gifting replicas of the Taj Mahal to foreign dignitaries is against Indian culture.

Three months ago at a public function in the northern state of Bihar, Adityanath made his displeasure known.

"Foreign dignitaries visiting the country used to be given replicas of the Taj Mahal and other minarets which do not reflect Indian culture," Adityanath told an audience. In his view, visiting dignitaries should instead be given copies of the Hindu epics, "Bhagavad Gita" and the "Ramayana." 

The BJP government has also not allocated funds for the Taj Mahal in the 2017 budget under a special scheme called "Hamari Sanskritik Virasat" (Our Cultural Heritage), which promotes other Hindu pilgrimage towns instead.

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Nationalism in Prime Minister Modi's India

Just a misunderstanding?

"We have been misunderstood. How can you ignore the Taj? We are just putting emphasis on other sites and religious tourism which will be a big draw in Uttar Pradesh," Tourism Minister Rita Bahugana Joshi told DW.

Bahugana said that the current controversy was "cooked up" and the BJP government's focus was to give an impetus to ongoing and new tourism projects that would highlight the state's cultural heritage.

"Our younger generation is gradually distancing itself from the places of cultural and historical importance. Our government has formulated schemes to maintain places of cultural and historical importance to promote tourism," Finance Minister Rajesh Agarwal said in a statement.

"This is a deliberate move and an attempt to play the communal card. Politics of polarization are being played out only to garner more votes and create more division among communities," veteran journalist and commentator Sharat Pradhan, told DW.

Read more: Hindu nationalists promise 'superior' Indian babies

Read more: Indian Muslims who support Hindu nationalism

A beautiful source of controversy

This is not the first time that the Taj Mahal has been drawn into controversy. In April 2015, a district court admitted a suit filed by six Hindu lawyers asserting that the Taj Mahal is a Lord Shiva temple (Tejo Mahalaya) and Hindu devotees should be allowed access inside the premises.

The government was dragged into the case and finally the Archaeological Survey of India, tasked with the maintenance and conservation of the monument, asserted that such claims were frivolous and the Taj Mahal is officially classified as a tomb and not a temple.

Claims that the Taj is a Hindu temple have surfaced occasionally since 1989, when the book "Taj Mahal: The True Story" by P.N. Oak was published, claiming it was built before Muslim invaders came to India.

The white marble mausoleum, often called the monument of love, is one of the seven wonders of the modern world and is a world heritage site. It is on the list of the world's top tourist destinations and is located in Agra, a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) from New Delhi.

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