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Sunday Special » Kaleidoscope

Posted at: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 13, 2017, 2:25 AM (IST)IMPRESSIONS

Wah Taj!

An open-ended restoration work of the magnificent marvel is on. The Taj Mahal is being given every possible scientific and traditional treatment to keep its splendour. The Tribune’s photographer S Chandan profiles the painstaking work

Shahira Naim

You knew, Shah Jahan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove, therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart...Let the splendor of diamond, pearl, and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow. Only let this one tear-drop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever. 

(Excerpts from Shah Jahan, a poem by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore)

TO preserve this “tear drop on the cheek of time” forever, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is in the middle of a massive exercise: reclaim what is lost to environmental pollution and the vagaries of nature.

Over the years the ivory white marble of the tomb Shah Jahan built for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal had turned a shade yellow. In some patches it had become an ugly brown, even black, largely due to increased levels of pollution. 

The key culprits were sulphur dioxide, released by the industries and Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM).

The Taj Mahal was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1983. This led to concerns about preserving its beauty. A milestone Public Interest Litigation by advocate MC Mehta resulted in the Supreme Court delivering a judgment on December 30, 1996. It ordered the setting up of the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) which is a 10,400 sq km trapezium-shaped area covering five districts neighbouring Agra. ASI’s Superintending Archaeologist (Agra Circle) Dr Bhuvan Vikram says two types of restoration work are going on at the Taj: structural and cleaning.

Vikram explains that the technique being used to give the Taj Mahal a facelift is a time-tested household recipe used across the world as a home-based beauty treatment — using a Fullers Earth or multani mitti facepack!

The thick layer of multani mitti paste absorbs the dirt, grease and animal droppings. The pack is then washed off with distilled water leaving the surface flawless. “The difference is clearly visible to the naked eye,” says Dr Vikram. Explaining the slow process, he says while the technique is simple it becomes time-consuming as the setting up of the scaffolding takes time and then the treatment is done in small patches. During the last year and half, ASI has completed work on the minarets and most of the vertical surfaces.

Dr Vikrama says a team of seven scientists is on the job. “It is very difficult to set a deadline,”  he said.

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