The Taj Mahal not a Hindu temple, court rules

The Indian government has denied that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.

Narendra Modi recently visited the UK amid large protests against the rise of religious extremism in IndiaReuters

A team of lawyers filed a lawsuit claiming there was "substantial evidence" that the Taj Mahal was originally a Hindu temple and as a result should be transferred to Hindu ownership. However culture minister Mahesh Sharma said the government had found no evidence to support the claim.

The six lawyers were from the city of Agra, where the monument is located. They told the court the famous site, which attracts about 12,000 visitors a day, was originally a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

They urged the court to declare the monument a Hindu temple and bar Muslims from praying there.

The Taj Mahal is a 17th century mausoleum completed in 1653 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. He was a Muslim and built it for his third and favourite wife who died giving birth to their 14th child.

The lawsuit follows comments from a politician in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's governing party who claimed the Taj Mahal was part of an ancient temple. Laxmikant Bajpai alleged the site was "purchased" by Mughal emperors.

However these comments have been dismissed by archaeologists and are indicative of the rise in Hindu nationalism since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained control. The BJP have significant links to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS are a Hindu extremist group connected to growing levels of violence and religious intolerence in India against all non-Hindu groups, in particular Christianity.

The Taj Mahal is inlaid with semi-precious stones and carvings and is considered to be the finest example of Mughal art in India. In 1983 it became a Unesco world heritage site and in 2007 became one of the new seven wonders of the world.