Never mind Taj Mahotsav, Agra to be hub of Shiv bhakti

Uttar Pradesh Tourism determined to present a 'new face' for Agra—Shiva instead of the Taj Mahal; make a 'spiritual' destination of it

The Taj Mahal, Agra (photo: IANS)
The Taj Mahal, Agra (photo: IANS)


This year's Taj Mahotsav gave a big boost to tourism, officials claimed—nothing unusual there. More footfalls and more business for locals from tourists can only be worth celebrating. However, a plan to present a 'new profile' of Agra with a "spiritual" focus—that may be more contentious.

The ongoing 14th annual event 'Agra Beyond Taj' event—organised by SPHEEHA (Society for Preservation of Health Environment and Ecology and Heritage of Agra), in partnership with the Tourism Guild of Agra and Uttar Pradesh Tourism—is focused on the 'Chronology of Shiv Temples in Agra and Bateshwar'.

While it is part of the ongoing Taj Mahotsav (17–27 February), the event's entire point seems to be to take the spotlight off the mausoleum (too Mughal, too Muslim?).

Of course the Taj's allure for visitors remains undeniable, so the venue of the 'Chronology...' is still attached to the UNESCO Heritage site, its east gate to be precise, which points towards Shilpagram.

It involves a series of cultural activities being organised across the city to highlight the importance of Hindu temples here, and a "high voltage" daily Yamuna Aarti organised by the Agra Municipal Corporation. A symposium of hoteliers, travel guides and "green activists" has been organised to highlight the Hindu cultural traditions and relics in

The Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh has also changed the name of the Jama Masjid metro station to Sri Mankameshwar now, to help the shift of the city's identity, doubtless.

Meanwhile, hoteliers, guides, green activists who joined the symposium on Agra beyond the Taj, demanded recognition of Agra as a heritage city with rich Hindu cultural traditions and relics.

Apparently, the organisers felt that if Tamil Nadu could be known as the "temple state of India" and Bhubaneshwar as the "temple city of India", then Agra too can be described as the "hub of Shiva temples".

Media invitees have highlighted that Agra is 'not just a grand Mughal city, but its antiquity is also defined by a string of centuries-old Shiva temples, which rightly give it a new profile as Shiva's own land' and 'many people believe that the Taj Mahal itself was a Rajput Shiva temple' (per news agency IANS)—never mind that the idea, entered as a PIL by a BJP member in 2022, has been laughed off by historians).

There are, yes, hundreds of Shiva temples in Agra district—not all antique—and yes, the incumbent government clearly counts Agra as part of its vaunted Braj Mandal pilgrimage circuit, based around the land of legends revolving around Shri Krishna.

As for the Shri Mankameshwar temple, near the Agra Fort, which is now lending its name to the metro station, it was believed to have been built by Raja Man Singh and renovated by Akbar. (Another of the same name in Allahabad, now Prayagraj, was most recently in the news last summer for barring 300-odd devotees from its garbha griha for violating a newly instituted dress code for 'decency'.) However, Mahant Yogesh Puri, who now oversees the temple as the 28th generation of its caretaker family, claimed it was over 5,500 years old.

At the symposium, Puri shared his conviction that Agra was indeed the "city of Lord Shiva", based on the presence of four "famous" Shiva temples at the four entrances of the city, as well as four "famous" temples to Lord Bhairav in the city (whom some consider a form of Shiva himself and others believe to be his child).

Academic Shabd Mishra seemed to agree with the seer, hoping that in future the "city of the Taj" would also be recognised as the "hub of Shiva bhakti"—and that it would be given a "makeover" (a somewhat worrisome prospect) to attract "spiritually inclined tourists".

Former president of the Agra Tourism Guild, Arun Dang, highlighted the claim purportedly important to Hindu pilgrims that Mahadji Scindia and Ahilyabai Holkar during the heyday of the Maratha empire helped resurrect many Shiva temples in the Bateshwar region (in which he included Agra), famous for its 101 Shiva temples in a row along the bend of the Yamuna. He also appealed to the authority of Muslim poet Nazeer Akbarabadi on how Shiva temples "shaped the character of Agra".

Pankaj Gupta, secretary of SPHEEHA, spoke on spiritualism and environmental consciousness—and managed to draw a tenuous connection between these concerns and the inclusion of camels in the Dayalbagh barns in alignment with the 'Year of Camelids' declared by the United Nations. Some of us less spiritual beings remain mystified.

Anu Dhillon Singh of Mela Kothi and the Chambal Safari put together a presentation of the various temples with their brief history, and yes, of course Agra is a decent enough base from which to explore them, with its several excellent hotels, including the Double Tree by Hilton, playing host to the symposium.

With IANS inputs

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