| The Taj Mahal
Agra, Dec. 1: The Taj Mahal is being saved from the corrosive effects of industrial pollution by an ancient face-pack recipe, multani mitti — a blend of soil, cereal, milk and lime once used by women to beautify their skin.
The sticky brown mixture is smeared on the smut-stained marble surfaces of the 17th Century tomb and washed off with warm water after 24 hours.
The formula — based on a method discovered in a 16th Century journal, Ain-i-Akbari — has proved to have such restorative qualities that it is now being exported to Italy to clean grimy monuments there.
Archaeologists here found to their astonishment that multani mitti drew black and yellow impurities from the Taj Mahal’s marble and left its surface gleaming white for the first time in decades.
K.K. Muhammed, the head of the Agra branch of the Archaeological Survey of India, who is in charge of combating the effects of pollution on the Taj Mahal, said tests had shown that the substance restored the marble to its former sheen.
“We have analysed the marble and feel quite happy now that it is withstanding pollution,” he said. “This breakthrough has attracted attention from other archaeologists looking for ways to preserve their monuments.”
Multani mitti, which means mud from Multan, an area of Pakistan where the lime-rich clay was originally found, was used for thousands of years as a face-pack until the advent of bottled lotions.
A similar absorbent clay, known as fuller’s earth, was used in the early English wool industry.
Archaeologists hit upon the idea of using the mudpack when examining ancient records of buildings. They discovered that in the 16th Century, it was common to use a mud mixture to clean and preserve marble.
There was no record of the recipe, so they adapted the formula for multani mitti, sterilising the ingredients to kill live bacteria that could damage the stone.
The mud, brushed on in layers until it is an inch deep, draws out the polluting sulphates and carbonates as well as the grease from the hands and feet of the tens of thousands of visitors drawn to the Taj Mahal each year.
Scientists from a Rome institute specialising in the study of building preservation travelled to Agra to see the process for themselves. They are now developing similar “face-packs” to treat blackened marble statues in Rome and Florence.
The mixture has so far been used to clean interiors of the Taj Mahal as well as parts of the gateway and the four surrounding minarets. Work will soon start on the main structure’s outer surfaces.
It will cost less than £100,000 to clean the entire Taj Mahal, say officials.
Archaeologists have long battled against pollution to defend the tomb’s beauty. Acid rain and fumes from nearby coke-fuelled factories and a large oil refinery have been blamed for eating into the surface of the marble and turning it the colour of neglected teeth.
Some polluting factories have been closed on the orders of the Supreme Court, but the fundamental problem remains.
In June, 300,000 dead fish — killed by industrial pollutants and raw sewage — washed up on the banks of the Yamuna.
The Daily Telegraph