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Stains on Taj Mahal Prompt Urgency

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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AGRA, INDIA—Exterior spotting and yellowing on India's iconic Taj Mahal will require the attention of a team of international experts, according to reports.

A recent inspection by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment discovered black spots on a number of the 17th-century monument’s minarets, The Times of India reports.

The massive structure is also yellowing due to pollution, despite ongoing cleaning efforts.

Taj Mahal
Yann / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Built between 1631 and 1648 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum with a massive marble dome 115 feet high and minarets that reach 130 feet.

Critical of the local administration’s restoration and pollution-control efforts, the committee has ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to seek international help and to immediately remove the black spots from the structure.

Built between 1631 and 1648, by the order of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum with a massive marble dome 115 feet high and minarets that reach 130 feet.

The monument is located in the growing industrial city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Study Prompts Inspection

The 16-person committee visited the Taj Mahal in the wake of a recent study on the cause of the mausoleum’s discoloration.

In the 1970s, observers began noting that the gleaming, white marble was turning shades of yellow and brown, causing many scientists to question why.

Pollution was the suspected culprit, but a systematic study had not been done to determine the specific cause.

That is, until last year, when researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin, the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur and the Archeological Survey of India concluded that light-absorbing carbon particles and dust floating in the air from vehicle emissions and burning of biomasses (such as dung and trash) in the area were responsible for the discoloration.

Nemonoman / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Local authorities have been cleaning the marble structure with lime-rich clay every few years since 1994.

To arrive at this determination, the team placed small samples of pristine marble on the Taj Mahal, left them there for two months, and then analyzed the particles on their surfaces. They also conducted air sampling to measure what was in the air at the complex from November 2011 to June 2012.

“Some of these particles are really bad for human health, so cleaning up the Taj Mahal could have a huge health benefit for people in the entire region,” according to Michael Bergin, a professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“The health of humans and the health of the Taj Mahal are intertwined.”

Unsatisfied Officials, Orders Given

Rajya Sabha MP Ashwani Kumar, who led the recent inspection of the famous structure, accused the local administration of not doing all it could to protect the Taj Mahal.

"We are not satisfied with the quality of restoration work that is being claimed to have been done for the Taj,” Kumar told the India Times.

“ASI [Archaeological Survey of India] officials have assured us that whatever remains to be done will be done urgently,” he said.

“[…] They have been further directed to formulate a comprehensive restoration plan and implement it in a time-bound manner.”

Dcastor / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Archaeological Survey of India was ordered to ensure the control of pollution on the banks of the Yamuna River, near the Taj Mahal.

In addition, the committee ordered Uttar Pradesh’s pollution control board to curb pollution in the nearby Yamuna River, expressing grave concern over untreated water flowing directly into the river, according to the India Times.

The ASI was ordered to ensure the pollution on Yamuna banks is controlled.

The committee wants a status report on the restoration and pollution efforts every three months, the report noted.

The Taj Mahal Treatment

Since 1994, local authorities have removed stains on the monument by using mud treatments—a sort of monumental facial.

The process involves plastering the Taj Mahal’s surface with lime-rich clay and then peeling it off. However, experts have said that this method of cleaning could have unwanted side effects.

Officials hope that restoration experts from France, Italy and the U.K. can help shed light on a safe way to keep the marble brilliant, reports say.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts millions of visitors each year.


Tagged categories: Architectural history; Building facades; Color; Historic Structures; Maintenance programs

Comment from Richard Atkins, (4/21/2015, 10:23 AM)

My Brother in Law was involved in a restoration project on the Taj MAhal back in the 1990's. He was part of a team from 4-5 Countrys that helped India to preserve the various components on the building. He was employed by the US Park Service at the time and this was the last project he was on before retiring. The Park service has a training center in Shepardstown MD that bears his name, "The Jim Askins school for Historic Restoration and Preservation", I think that is the correct name. I am in the pressure washing business and believe that smearing mud on the surface may not be the way to clean Marble!!!!

Comment from peter gibson, (4/21/2015, 11:34 AM)

Great...so you tell us what is the best way then. Your expertise is pressure washing, not marble restoration.

Comment from Karl Kardel, (4/21/2015, 8:19 PM)

Not smearing on mud, it is an age old accepted method 'poultice' which pulls pollution stains out (works on human infections too). Power washing drives in stains. Prevention: managing pollution is the ultimate solution. Having lived there it will require community action which is scarce to say the least.

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