Calling Taj Mahal as “not a monument to experiment with”, top heritage experts have raised objections to the illumination of the famed Mughal-era mausoleum, saying the step jeopardizes its marble surface due to defecation on it by insects attracted by the lighting.
According to senior officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), few low-level security lighting posts were installed a few months ago at the 17th century World Heritage Site, with a twin purpose of illuminating the Taj and wooing tourists at night.
“However, 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 said.
Located about 20 m from the base of the monument, the lightings on the Yamuna side are attracting maximum insects on that side. While the monument falls under the Agra Circle of the ASI, its security has been entrusted to Central Industry Security Force (CISF).
“We (Science Branch) have already sent a letter to the Director General, ASI, Director, Science Branch (ASI), Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Agra Circle and to the CISF requesting them to switch off the lights immediately,” Bhatnagar told PTI over phone from Agra.
B R Mani, who recently retired as the Additional Director General of the ASI, expressed surprise over the move to install lighting at the world famous heritage site.
“First of all, Taj Mahal does not need lighting at all. 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. On full moon day, one can see Taj in all its splendor. And, if the government thinks by putting up lights they can attract more tourists, then I am sorry to say this, but Taj Mahal is not a monument to experiment with,” Mani said.
“And, having the monument lit up and so many people coming to see it at night, also is a potential security threat. Tourists can come once in a while to admire its beauty at night, but not on a regular basis,” he added.
Sources at ASI said that there was “pressure” from the tourism ministry to install the lights, even though previous studies on the subject have suggested against it.
“There were departmental studies done around mid-2000s and these explored the impact of illumination, saying the insects attracted by the light, drop excreta on the surface, which leads to pigment deposition on the marble. Unless there is no conclusive study on this subject, Taj Mahal should definitely not be illuminated,” Superintending Archaeologist, Agra Circle (ASI), Bhuvan Vikram said.
Bhatnagar said that in 2013 there was a meeting in this regard but no progress was made on that front. Built over 20 years starting 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a monument of love for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, it has romanced for more than three centuries as “the tear drop on face of eternity”.
Constructed with Makarna marble, the Taj and the neighboring Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, nicknamed ‘Baby Taj’, are considered two of the finest marble wonders of India, and experts are of the view that, one “should not meddle” with these architectural icons.
Noted archaeologist and former Agra Circle chief K K Muhammed has also disapproved the decision to light the Taj.
“In the mid-90s, there was a study done on the illumination of the monument and it had rejected any proposal to do so, citing consequent harm to the surface of the monument… And, we don’t need illumination anyway at the Taj. 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.
According to Mani, there were also proposals earlier to allow people to see the Taj at moonlight from Mehtab Bagh side opposite the riverbank, but priority should be on the monument’s safety and security than revenue or footfall.
“There should first be a debate first as to why we need illumination. And, there should be a conclusive study which should tell us the effects of the lighting, but without it, one cannot just put them up, in the interest of tourism,” he added.
The Taj is already facing threat from environmental pollution and experts believe that one should not risk the “marble marvel” with other sources of tarnishing. Mud pack treatment for the Taj has already been used by them to combat the ill-effects of air pollution.
Considered one of the greatest monuments ever built, it attracts 7 to 8 million visitors annually. The local Agra administration and the Uttar Pradesh government too have taken measures like introducing eco-friendly vehicles to reduce the pollution in the heritage zone.