Taj mahal, the world monument for love at Agra, is turning brown of late and now the move to illuminate the monument in the evenings or throughout night has evoked strong objections from environmentalists and archaeologists alike, who said the 17th century mausoleum is not one to experiment with.
Otherwise, night viewing of Taj Mahal has been in vogue since 28th November, 2004 for 5 nights in a month including the Full Moon night and two days before and two days after except Fridays and in the month of Ramzan as per the order of the Supreme Court of India.
The night viewing is open from 8-30 p.m. to 12-30 a.m. for only 8 batches of 50 persons for half an hour duration and the entry is allowed from the Eastern Gate of the Taj Mahal only after security check and no video camera is allowed in side the monument during the night viewing.
But going beyond 5 days in a month to almost daily would amount to bringing the subtle damage to a quickened pace is what historians and archaeologists are up in arms against.
From the tourism ministry viewpoint, it is a good money churner as the rates vary from Indian (Adult)- Rs 510 to a foreigner (Adult)- coughing up Rs 750.
The main objections was that the illumination of the Mughal-era mausoleum jeopardizes its marble surface due to defecation on it by insects attracted by the lighting. However, this is not the first time the mausoleum is being illuminated as in the past several times it was done though for few hours.
A browny wall of Taj Mahal
Already the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which is in-charge of the monument, has put up few lighting posts for security reasons at the World Heritage Site both for illuminating the Taj and attracting foreign tourists at night. But the grass-sapping insects which throng the floors and walls of the illuminated part discharge their excreta on the surface, leaving a pigment on it that has made the Taj turn brown of late.
“The direct illumination of the marble monument has brought with it, a big problem – insects. And, these are grass-sapping insects which sit on the floors and walls of the illuminated part and discharge their excreta on the surface, leaving a colored pigment on it, thus spoiling the flawless beauty of the architectural icon,” Superintending Archaeologist (Science Branch) M K Bhatnagar told PTI recently.
The lighting arrangement is under the security that has been entrusted to Central Industry Security Force (CISF) and ASI has sent them a letter to switch off the lights immediately, he said. Defending the move, B.R. Mani, former Additional Director General of the ASI, said Taj Mahal requires no lighting.
"It is a marble structure and can be seen in all its glory in natural night. It is absolutely unwise to illuminate it with artificial lighting, which attracts insects… I am sorry to say this, but Taj Mahal is not a monument to experiment with,” Mani said. Apparently, the pressure is coming from the Tourism ministry, which is keen to attract foreign tourists to witness the splendour of an illuminated Taj in the night. But more than the revenue or footfall, the safety of the monument should be given priority, he said.
Another archaeologist and former Agra Circle chief K K Muhammed echoed similar views citing several studies undertaken in the mid-90s. "Even in Europe, Italianate marble structures are not subject to such lighting, and proper care is taken. We can’t do things just in the name of tourism,” he said.
The Taj is facing threat from environmental pollution and has undergone mud pack treatment several times in the past four decades to combat the ill-effects of air pollution. The local administration has taken steps to clear the surroundings and allowing only eco-friendly vehicles in the vicinity of the monument.
The marble marvel was built for over 20 years since 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a monument of love for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal and it has gained as a relic of love all over the world.