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No idols in Taj's locked rooms: Top ASI officials

Agra: Contrary to claims made in a petition to the Lucknow high court seeking unlocking of the Taj Mahal's "22 permanently locked rooms", many in its basement, "as they could be housing Hindu idols from ancient times", top Archaeological Survey of India officials told on Thursday that the contention in the plea is wrong on both counts. One, these rooms-officially called "cells"-are "not permanently closed" and they were only recently opened for conservation work. And that all records scrutinized so far over the years "have not pointed to the presence of any idols".
A senior official privy to the restoration work done just three months ago said, "Various records and reports that have been reviewed till now haven't shown the existence of any idols".
'Petitioner's claim of 22 rooms being locked factually incorrect'
If those with the deepest access to the Taj are to be believed, there are over 100 cells in various parts of the mausoleum complex- which have remained closed to the public for reasons of security and safety- and none have thrown up any such findings.
"The petitioner's claim of 22 rooms being permanently locked is factually incorrect as conservation work- including filling of cracks, replastering, and anti-aging treatments-are periodically done. In fact, the most recent work cost us Rs. 6 lakh," a senior ASI official told.
Another senior ASI official added that 100 cells in the monument's complex that remain locked to the public are located in the basement, the upper stories of the main mausoleum, the corner 'burjs', the four minarets, inside the baolis (near the mosque) and on the Chameli floor on east, west and north sides.
Besides these, several portions of the other world heritage sites in the region-Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri- have also remained closed to the public for years due to security reasons.
Controversy over the Taj Mahal was first stirred by historian PN Oak who in a 1989 book claimed that the monument was the original 'Tejo Mahal', He argued that the monument was originally a Hindu temple and a palace built by a Rajput ruler. However, his theory has been repeatedly debunked by several historians. In fact, in 2000, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by Oak to declare that the Taj Mahal was built by a Hindu King. 
Prof M K Pundhir from the history department, Aligarh Muslim University, said that the Taj Mahal was built on the land where Mirza Raja Jai Singh (Shah Jahan's Mughal official) had a mansion. In lieu of that land, the Mughal emperor had given another mansion loftier than the one he had acquired. "The theory of erecting Taj Mahal at a site which was earlier a temple cannot be substantiated," he said.
On Wednesday, BJP MP and erstwhile princess of Jaipur Diya Kumari had claimed that the land on which the Taj Mahal was built originally belonged to her family.
The MP asserted that she has documents to substantiate the Jaipur royal family's claim on the land.
Prof Syed Ali Nadeem Razavi of the AMU history department said no one should "push absolute myth as history". He said, "Why did Sawai Jai Singh, the descendant of Mirza Raja Jai Singh who gifted the land, not speak when he held Agra as its governor in the 18th century?"
A plea was filed in 2015 when a group of seven petitioners urged an Agra court to allow Hindu devotees to perform puja in the monument, where only Muslims are allowed to offer prayers at a mosque inside the Taj. They, too, had asked for the opening of all the locked rooms there. However, the plea was not successful and is still pending in court.

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