New Delhi : Extremists in India targeting all Muslim sites, even the masterpiece The Taj Mahal.

Thirty years after the mob demolished a historic mosque in Ayodhya, triggering a wave of sectarian bloodshed that saw thousands killed, fundamentalist Indian Hindu groups are eyeing other Muslim sites - even the world famous Taj Mahal.

Emboldened under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aided by courts and fuelled by social media, the fringe groups believe the sites were built on top of Hindu Temples, which they consider representations of India's ''true'' religion.

Currently most in danger is the centuries-old Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities, where Hindus are cremated by the Ganges.

Last week reports claimed a leaked court mandated survey of the mosque had discovered a shivalinga, a phallic representation of the Hindu god Shiva, at the site.

'' This means that is the site of a temple,'' government minister Kaushal Kishore, a member of Modi's BJP party, told local media, saying Hindus should now pary there.

Muslims have already been banned from performing ablutions in the water tank where the alleged relic - mosque authorities say it is a fountain - was found.

The fear now is that the Islamic place of worship will go the way of the Ayodhya mosque, which Hindu groups believe was built on the birthplace of Ram, another deity.

Some groups have even set their sights on UNESCO world heritage site the Taj Mahal, India's best known monument attracting millions of visitors every year.

Despite no credible evidence, they believe that the 17th-century mausoleum was built by Moghul emperor Shah Jehan on the site of Shiva Shrine.

''It was destroyed by Mughal invaders so that a mosque could be built there,'' said Sanjay Jat, a spokesman for the hardline Hindu organization Hindu Mahasabh, told AFP. 

This month a court petition was filed by a member of Modi's party trying to force India's archaeological body, the ASI, to open up 20 rooms inside, believing they contained Hindu idols.

The ASI said there were no such idols and the court summarily dismissed the petition.

''We respect the country but if needed we will demolish the Taj Mahal and prove the existence of a temple there.''

Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian history with Rutgers University, said the claims about the Taj Mahal are ''about as reasonable as the proposals that the Earth is flat.''

''So far as I can discern, there is not a coherent theory about the Taj Mahal at play here so much as a frenzied and fragile national pride that does not allow anything non-Hindu to be Indian and demands to erase Muslim parts of Indian heritage,'' she told AFP.

But while the demolition of the Taj Mahal remains - for now, at least a pipe dream of the fundamentalists, other sites are also in the cross hairs.


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