Taj Mahal’s history of repair and restoration

Tuesday, 3 July 2007 - 9:54pm IST
The earliest record of repairs to the main mausoleum is found in a letter, dated 1652 AD, where Aurangzeb points out cracks in the main dome.

The earliest records of repairs to the Taj can be traced back to Shahjahan’s son Aurangzeb

The Taj Mahal remains unsurpassed as a jewel in the world’s architectural heritage. Like other famous monuments, the Taj Mahal is common world heritage and needs to be treasured as unique testimony to an enduring past. The disappearance of these monuments would be an irreparable loss for humanity…the preservation of this common heritage concerns each and every one of us.

The recognition of the Taj Mahal as a World Heritage site in 1982 has resulted in increased awareness and concern about the monument. The main mausoleum itself and the Taj complex in its entirety are in a fairly good state of preservation, but the history of repairs, restoration and other conservation actions taken to prevent its decay, reflects upon a wide spectrum of approaches, methods and practices engaged over a time span of about 350 years.

The earliest record of repairs to the main mausoleum is found in a letter, dated 1652 AD, where Aurangzeb points out cracks in the main dome, the four semi-domed portals, the four small domes, the four northern vestibules and the seven arched underground chambers, to his imperial father, Shah Jahan.

Since then, conservation activity at the Taj Mahal, has been carried out fairly regularly, though documentation is available only of those works undertaken after the arrival of the British. The first Taj Committee to oversee the repairs and maintenance of the Taj Mahal was established early in the 19th century by Lord Minto, and funds were initially obtained by selling the produce from the Taj gardens and later the income of the revenue villages attached to the Taj, were appropriated for the purpose.

A great deal of restoration was undertaken with the arrival of Lord Curzon, in the early twentieth century. He ordered the restoration of the entire complex with original material.

Post independence, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the legal custodian of the Taj Mahal complex and is responsible for the conservation and maintenance of the monument.

The ASI in its endeavour to preserve the monument has tackled all the natural processes of deterioration. The nature of repairs carried out varies from the replacement of large marble slabs that have worn out, to replacement of tiny inlay pieces vandalised by tourists. Sections of red sandstone that have worn out have been replaced with new stone matching the original in colour and design of the carving. Other recurring maintenance problems like leaking roofs are taken care of by the ASI.

The main mausoleum, with its once pristine white surface is very vulnerable in its present urban context. Environmental pollution has long been known to be guilty of staining the spectacular white marble dome and minarets. Thanks to environmental advocacy over the past two decades, the threat of industrial pollution has receded slightly. Hundreds of coal-burning factories have closed or converted to cleaner fuels. Conventional cars are banned within a 500-meter radius of the monument. 

In 1984, the government of India constituted a committee of experts, to examine aspects relating to the structural stability, aesthetics and tourism impact on the monument. The committee after due deliberations expressed its satisfaction about the condition of the monument, and the conservation measures adopted by ASI.

There is however, a conflict of interest between the conservators and the tourism industry. The ASI works within the confines of its scope, while the tourism industry disgorges an increasing number of visitors and entertainment into the site.

Today, the Taj Mahal complex is overburdened with the influx of tourists. Uncontrolled crowds pose as much a danger to the monument as airborne pollution. With some 6,000 visitors tramping through each day, the paving stones suffer wear and tear. Wandering hands leave acid residues that corrode the marble.

The Taj Mahal continues to draw people from all over the world. On a visit to the Taj Mahal you will encounter eternal romantics who have travelled half way across the globe, just to have a glimpse of the eternal beauty of this magnificent monument. It is because of this everlasting charm that the Taj will always remain one of the most popular world heritage monuments.

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