The Taj Mahal, India’s iconic monument to eternal love, has taken a beating in recent years. Its attendance figures are down, and air pollution is slowly turning its ethereal white marble yellow.
Now, to make matters worse, some in India say that a staunch Hindu nationalist government recently elected in the Taj’s home state of Uttar Pradesh is starving the world-famous site of funds and support because, as it sees it, the mausoleum was built by Muslim invaders.
The state’s new chief minister, the saffron-robed Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath, set the tone early on when he lamented at a rally that tiny models of the Taj Mahal are often given to visiting foreign dignitaries, saying the monument “does not reflect Indian culture.”
The Taj, the country’s biggest tourism draw, was not allotted any cultural heritage funds in the state budget for the coming year. And the monument was omitted from the state’s official booklet listing all the important projects of the tourism department last week, prompting yelps of protest from the main national opposition party.
Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant sparked controversy when he described the poor conditions around the Taj Mahal in blunt terms after a visit there this summer while on an official National Basketball Association tour.
“As I was driving up to the Taj Mahal, like I said, I thought that this would be holy ground, super protected, very very clean. And as I’m driving up, it’s like, s—, this used to remind me of some neighborhoods I would ride through as a kid,” he told the Athletic website. “Mud in the middle of the street, houses were not finished, but there were people living in them. No doors. No windows. The cows in the street, stray dogs and then, boom, Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s like holy s—, this was built 500 years ago and everyone comes here. It’s just an eye-opener.”
Durant later apologized for his remarks on Twitter.
Officials in the tourism business in the city of Agra, where the Taj is located, said the monument’s neglect by the administration in favor of Hindu religious sites is unfortunate, given its needs.