Taj Mahal, the ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of Yamuna River in the northern Indian city of Agra that was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife – Mumtaz Mahal, is in real danger.
Experts have warned the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that the use of mud packs to remove the harmful surface deposits from the wall of one of the Seven Wonders of the World is doing more harm than good for the most perfect jewel of Muslim art in the South Asian country. Experts have also criticised the Parliament Standing Committee for allowing the use of mud packs for restoration of Taj Mahal. Although the Standing Committee has claimed that the use of mud packs is the safest and most-popular method to clean monuments across the globe, experts have advised the ASI not to repeat the cleansing process in every 6-7 years, saying that frequent therapy might rob the Taj Mahal of its original colour and texture.
As the monument’s north wall has undergone mud pack therapy thrice in the last 14 months, senior Professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur Dr S N Tripathi said: “At the rate it is being conducted, scaffolding will cover the monument most of the time.” He also said that black and brown carbons, along with dust, caused the monument to turn yellow. “With regular cleaning, the original colour, texture and shine from the marble surfaces will be gone forever,” added Dr Tripathi.
Meanwhile, ASI officials have explained that the cleaning treatment is based on a traditional recipe that is based on ‘Multani Mitti’ or ‘Fuller’s Earth’, often used in India to restore a natural glow to the face, as the clay material has the capability to decolourise oil or other liquids without chemical treatment. A 2mm-thick layer of the lime-rich clay is plastered over the affected areas of the monument and left overnight to dry. When it dries, the flakes are removed from the surface with soft nylon brushes and washed with distilled water to remove impurities sticking to the surface.
Experts, who are against the mud therapy, have prepared a report on the side-effects of this cleaning treatment. In the report, they tried to explain the cause of discolouration. As per the report, air pollutants, especially Suspended Particulate Matters (SPM), react with marble and mask the monument’s original colour and sheen. A 2015 study revealed that 3% of the deposits were black carbon, 30% were organic or brown carbon and most of the rest were dust. While black carbon is emitted by vehicles and other machines that burn fossil fuels, brown carbon is released through burning of biomass and garbage, a common practice in South Asia, which has been banned.
In May, India’s iconic monument also faced an attack from insects, which left green spots on the white marble. Archaeologists have identified the pests as Goeldichironomus, a species that grows near polluted water bodies – the Yamuna River in this case.