The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings on Earth and among the finest examples of Mughal architecture.
The mausoleum was built on the orders of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor of India, as a tomb for his beloved third wife, Empress Mumtaz Shah, who died in childbirth in 1631 at the age of 39 after blessing her husband with 14 children.
The Taj Mahal has become not only the very symbol of India, but a timeless monument to one man’s love for a woman, while attracting some 2 million foreign visitors a year.
But not everyone is happy with its existence, much less with the enormous cost it took to construct.
According to the Indo-Asian News Service, Muhammad Azam Khan -- the urban development minister for the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, is located -- has suggested the masterpiece of architecture should be razed.
"Shah Jahan had no right to squander [millions] from the public coffers on his sweetheart," he said at a function in the city of Muzaffarnagar, hundreds of miles north of Agra.
"Had people decided to demolish the Taj Mahal … I would have led them,” adding that the cost to build the tomb was “unjustified.”
IANS noted that Azam Khan is regarded as one of the most powerful lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh and very close to the chief of the opposition Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Indeed, the Taj Mahal took the labors of more than 20,000 workmen (and an estimated 1,000 transport elephants) more than two decades to finish.
Imahal.com estimated that it today’s currency, the cost of construction was more than $200 million.
However, Aboutcivil.org estimated the full cost of building the Taj Mahal is closer to half a billion dollars – based on the price of gold.
Of course, given the uncounted hours of backbreaking labor required to build such a magnificent structure (and the impossibility of gauging such labor costs of the 17th century), the actual expense may be significantly higher.
In addition, while Shah Jahan may be revered for memorializing his love for his deceased wife, he was in reality a brutal and cruel leader. He seized power in 1622 – after murdering his brothers, executing other potential rivals for the throne and even imprisoning his own stepmother.
Some reports claim he had a harem of some 5,000 women and may have an incestuous relationship with one of his daughters.
Shah Jahan’s treachery came back to haunt him – in 1657, his son Aurangzeb plotted a coup against his father and eventually defeated and overthrew him. Aurangzeb imprisoned his father at the Fort of Agra for nine years, never once visiting him.
The Taj Mahal is controversial for another reason – some Hindu nationalists claim that the tomb was actually a former Hindu temple (designed for the worship of Shiva) which the Mughals, who were Muslims, redecorated and replaced as an Islamic tomb.
In 2005, a former MP for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party named Vinay Katiyar claimed that the Taj Mahal was built by Mirza Raja Jai Singh (a Hindu ruler and a contemporary of Shah Jahan) and that it was called "Tejo Mai Mahal."
"This fact is mentioned in the book 'Badshahnama' by Abdul Hamid Lahori, a close associate of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan,” Katiyar said., according to Times of India.
Moreover, an Indian author and historian named P. N. Oak claimed that Hindu ornaments and designs were removed from the Taj Mahal and that Mumtaz Shah was not even buried in there.
Oak, whose petitions to have the Taj Mahal declared a Hindu monument were rejected by the government, claims the state is engaged in a conspiracy to appease the Muslim public.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.