The Effect of Air Pollution on the Taj Mahal

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The effect of air pollution on the Taj Mahal
As said by Mark Twain, ‘’ The world is split into two parts, those that have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not’’. The Taj Mahal of Agra is one of the Seven Wonders of the World for reasons more than just looking magnificent. It’s the history of the Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence. It depicts a clear example of how deeply a man loved his wife, that even after she remained but a memory, he made sure that this memory would never fade away. This man was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who was head-over-heels in love with his wife Mumtaz Mahal fig.1. She was a Muslim Persian princess and he was the son of a Mughal Emperor. It was at the age of 14 that he met Mumtaz and fell in love with her and five years later in 1612, they got married 1.

Fig 1

Mumtaz Mahal, an inseparable companion of Shah Jahan, died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. It was in the memory of his beloved wife that Shah Jahan built a glorious monument as a tribute to her, which we today know as the "Taj Mahal". The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year of her death, 1631. Calligraphers, painters and carvers were a few of the many artisans requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from Central Asia and Iran to build this historic monument. This epitome of love took approximately 22 years to build and made use of the services of 22,000 labourers. The mausoleum was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia. After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees (approx US $68000), Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653 the complex consisted of 6 main parts; Gateway, Pavilions, Gardens, Rest House, Mosque and the main Mausoleum and is 22.44 hectares in size 2.

It was soon after the completion of Taj Mahal that Shah Jahan started on the construction of another similar mausoleum for himself, out of black marble. He was imprisoned and put under house arrest at the nearby Agra Fort by his son Aurangzeb who thought that the money could have been better used to benefit the people of his empire. Shah Jahan who died a few years in imprisonment, also lies entombed in the mausoleum along with his wife. Moving further down the history, it was at the end of the 19th century that British Viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908, as a measure to restore what was lost during the Indian rebellion of 1857 where the Taj was blemished by British soldiers and government officials who also deprived the monument of its immaculate beauty by chiselling out precious stones from its walls. Also, the British style lawns that Industrialisation caused the exponential growth of India’s economy over the recent years; people are now shifting from urban areas to cities in search of work leading to overcrowding in cities and dense pollution. Agra is no different, and has been identified as a ‘pollution intensive zone’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 3. Located in Agra the Taj Mahal is found 253km south-west from India’s capital Delhi. As it is not far from the capital, it’s not difficult to reach Agra. It takes 3 hours to reach by rail, nearly 4 hours to reach by road and 40 minutes by air. The pollution in and around Agra has greatly affected this wonder of the world, in that it is turning this historic monument, once made of shimmering white marble to impart a yellow tinge Fig2,3. The outbreak of this news caused a quite a stir around the world 4,5,6, causing even former U.S. President Bill Clinton to pay a visit to the monument. Upon seeing it he commented, “Pollution has managed to do what 350 years of wars, invasions and natural disasters have failed to do. It has begun to mar the magnificent walls of the Taj Mahal,”

Fig2 Fig 3
The change in the colour has been found to be due to the increased levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen...
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