Taj Mahal, Agra

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Taj Mahal, Agra

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'A teardrop on the cheek of time'

By Dr Syed Amir, Dawn, 2006


British royals William and Kate in Taj Mahal: The Diana Bench; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, April 17, 2016

The celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore allegorically referred to the Taj Mahal in one of his verses as ‘one teardrop, glistening spotlessly bright on the cheek of time.’ Classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj is a testament to the eternal and enduring love of a man for his wife. It is visited by more than three millions tourists annually, up to 300,000 of them coming from outside India. In 1983, Unesco designated it a world heritage site.

More than three and half centuries have elapsed since the monument was built by Emperor Shah Jahan; however time has not been kind to this Islamic architectural masterpiece. Especially the decades since independence have witnessed a noticeable deterioration in its sparkling white appearance. In addition to the physical stress imposed by millions of visitors trudging on its delicate floors and through its spacious pavilions, atmospheric pollution and corrosive gases spewed by the iron foundries of Agra have inflicted major harm. Persistent exposure to pollutants in the air has dulled the brilliant shine of the porcelain-like marble, imparting a yellowish tinge to some sections of the facade.

The government has been concerned about preserving the beauty and mystique of the Taj that has become a symbol of national pride and a source of much revenue. However, combating the menace of air pollution eating into the marble surface poses a challenge far greater than maintaining the structural soundness of the building. The Indian Supreme Court, more than 10 years ago, had decreed the closure of factories and industrial units in the proximity of the Taj in a desperate attempt to reduce the level of pollution and retard discoloration of the marble surfaces. The decree had only marginal success. After much experimentation, Indian scientists have now come up with an ingenious and inexpensive solution. Application of Fuller’s earth (locally known as Multani Mitti) has long been recommended by Unani and Ayurvedic physicians for facial and skin rejuvenation. Scientists have discovered that briefly applying a thin coat of this to the Taj’s exterior, and then washing it off, can effectively restore much of its original glitter. The natural substance has the ability to extract and absorb the impurities and pollutants that have become embedded in the marble over a period of time.

The Taj Mahal’s current problems are not entirely recent in origin. In a recently published book entitled Taj Mahal, authors Diana and Michael Preston narrate in exquisite detail the planning, construction and completion of the magnificent monuments and its subsequent deterioration. With the decline of Mughal power and the disintegration of the central authority in the 18th- and 19th-century India, the Taj suffered many acts of vandalism at the hands of unruly bands of Jats and Marathas. Its precious and semi-precious floral inlays were chiseled away; lavish carpets, expensive wall hangings and an ornate door made of silver were removed and carted away.

British suzerainty brought no relief. Once Agra was captured by General Lake in 1803, the Taj Mahal became a playground for soldiers and employees of the East India Company. They would use its marble floors and terraces for late night dancing parties, while the mosque and tasbih khana on the two sides of the tomb were rented out to newlyweds to be used as weekend cottages.

Lord William Bentinck who served as the Governor General, first of Bengal and then of India from 1828-1835, had a reputation for stinginess and little appreciation of India’s cultural heritage. He is reported to have contemplated demolishing the Taj and auctioning off the rubble to raise money. The plan was, however, abandoned as it was estimated that the cost of demolition would exceed the amount of cash that could be raised by sale of the marble slabs. Although the story is repeated in several chronicles, its authenticity has been disputed by Bentinck’s biographer, John Rosselli and it might be only apocryphal. Regardless, it does reflect how little appreciation of the monument existed at the time.

Scientists have discovered that briefly applying a thin coat of this [Multani mitti] to the Taj’s exterior, and then washing it off, can effectively restore much of its original glitter.

The Taj remained in a state of neglect and disrepair for many years. Its once lush gardens, attractive water fountains and luxuriant flower beds were all withering away. Its fortunes were reversed with the appointment at the turn of the century of Lord Curzon as the viceroy of India (1898-1905).

An aristocrat educated at Oxford and appointed to one of the most powerful positions in the world at the young age 39, Curzon was reputed to be a supercilious person with an exaggerated sense of superiority. Fortunately, he also had a deep interest in the preservation and restoration of historic buildings of the Mughal era, especially the Taj Mahal.

Soon after his arrival Lord Curzon initiated a major restoration project of the Taj which he cherished. The work continued even after he left India and was completed in 1908. He ordered the construction of a brass hanging lamp; a replica of an antique lantern which he had originally seen and much admired in a mosque in Cairo, Egypt. He gifted it to the Taj where it still hangs from the ceiling of the interior chamber above the cenotaph.

Lord Curzon was extremely proud of the contribution he had made to the restoration of the Taj. In his speech delivered from the plinth of Taj Mahal — one of the last ones he gave as viceroy and cited by Diana and Michael Preston in their book — he proudly announced: ‘If I’d never done anything else in India, I have written my name here and the letters are a living joy.’

It may not be widely known that this mausoleum at Agra is not the first resting place of the young queen Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal. Although Mumtaz Mahal was not Shah Jahan’s only wife, the relationship between the two had been exceptional. They had been intensely devoted to each other and the emperor never travelled without her by his side.

The Mughals had been battling the kingdoms of Deccan for several generations in an attempt to subdue them. On one such occasion in 1629, Shah Jahan left the capital for Burhanpur on the Tapti River in present-day Madhya Pradesh at the head of a mighty Mughal army to suppress a local insurgency. The city at the time served as the capital and military headquarter of the Mughal Empire in the South.

In the summer of 1631, Mumtaz Mahal, pregnant with her 14th child, went into labour at the royal palace at Burhanpur. She gave birth to a stillborn baby and died of resultant complications, while the distraught Princess Jahan Ara, her daughter, and Shah Jahan were at her side.

It has been recorded by chroniclers that the emperor went into a period of deep mourning following the death of his beloved wife; his beard reportedly turning grey in a matter of days. He never took serious interest in the conduct of the state business thereafter.

Mumtaz Mahal’s body was temporarily interred in a tomb at Burhanpur for about six months and later moved to Agra in a golden casket arriving at the capital in regal splendour. Today, it reposes in the monument built in her memory, so ethereal and majestic that it has had no rival. The Taj Mahal provided succor and comfort to Shah Jahan during the final nine years of his life which he spent as a prisoner at Agra Fort from where he was permitted to gaze at the Taj, but never to visit it.

Blend of Islamic, Hindu, European traditions

Dipankar Gupta, November 4, 2017: The Times of India

Is it beautiful because a powerful ruler ordered it be made or because of the magic that craftspeople created? These workers had gathered from different parts of India, as well as from Central Asia and Turkey and it is here that Islamic and Hindu motifs merged. In none of this was the throne involved.Makrana marble came from Rajasthan, jade and crystal from China, jasper from Punjab, and sapphire from Sri Lanka.

Notice the mix of Hindu and Islamic traditions in the red sandstone carvings of Jehangiri Mahal of Agra Fort, or in the colonnades of Mughal courtyards whose balconies are supported by brackets. Or take the Deccan Sultanate period (15001700), when Asia and Europe met in the plateau and promiscuously reproduced. This fusion was not ordained from above, but crafted from below where skills and talents met in camaraderie and not in a cage fight.

The kalamkari of that period carried Hindu, Islamic and European motifs and the Deccan standard (or alam) displayed the Chinese dragon. If 17th century Jaipur carpets showed European designs up front, Venetian paintings reciprocated by depicting Turkish “Ushak“ carpets with intricate borders and geometric cartouche patterns. Heritages, everywhere, unite vast territories that histories and kingdoms divide.

We all know of the enmity between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, but that is history telling at its best. Behind its back, heritage was at work in the Mughal court itself. Dara Shikoh's wife, Nadira, painted Mary Magdalene in a style that deliberately imitated Tintoretto, the great 16th century Italian artist.That is how deeply European art was appreciated in medieval India.

Apparently , European motifs and paintings from the New and Old Testament were also doing the rounds in Akbar's court.None of this was of any consequence, however, when Akbar made history and captured Chittor. Nor did this grand historical event change the course of heritage.That proceeded with combinations and re-combinations, linking past and pre sent, near and far, in perpetual sympathy .

Europe too was inspired by the Orient.Renaissance Italian drapery openly copied Chinese patterns, just as Gothic builders transformed Saracenic and Islamic architecture. The dazzling silk drapery in St Mary's Church in Danzig, a revered Christian place of worship, is clearly Arabic in style. Tin-glazing earthenware, in particular Venetian Majolica, drew heavily from the Orient, especially its blue enamel and flower tendril designs.

17th century Chinese weavers learnt about the Sehna knot from Persia and used it extensively to make their very distinctive carpets. Even Buddhism did not travel alone from India. It impacted textiles in China with a proliferation of patterns featuring bulls, elephants and tropical trees.

The patriarchal aspect of history and the feminine tone of heritage can also be gauged from another perspective. Deborah Tannen, best selling author and sociolinguist, pointed out that while men engage in “report talk“, women are better at “rapport talk“.

For example, observe a party scene.Men tend to crack the loudest jokes, provide the definitive answers and generally strive to be the life and soul of the evening. Women, on the other hand, make connections through everyday issues, quotidian dilemmas, information about illness and health, securities and insecurities of jobs and marriages. In none of this conversation are voices raised or attention demanded, as in the case of masculine “report talk“.

History and heritage are analogous to masculine report talk and feminine rapport talk, respectively . While the former studies successes and failures of singular projects, the latter unites little deeds of some of the smartest people who have gifted us the wisdom of the ages.They have done this in unobtrusive, peaceful exchange, without bells and whistles. How else did we get high art, delicate crafts and majestic constructions, such as the Taj Mahal? Even the heaviest lifter is powered by gentle heartbeats.

To make our past reveal its humanity our attention must shift from history to heritage, and from documents to monuments.

Was it a temple

2017: No, says ASI

Taj is a tomb, not a temple, ASI tells court for first time, August 26, 2017: The Times of India

For the first time, the Archaeological Survey of India has stated in a court hearing that the Taj Mahal is a tomb and not a temple. According to officials, a 1920 notification to protect Taj Mahal has been made the basis for the affidavit filed by the body here.

The Union culture ministry in November 2015 had already clarified in the Lok Sabha that there was no evidence of any temple at the Taj.

In April 2015, the Agra district court had admitted a suit filed by six lawyers that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple (Tejo Mahalaya) and Hindu devotees should be allowed access inside the premises. The court had issued notices to the central government, Union ministry of culture, home secretary and ASI to file their replies.

The ASI submitted its reply. It once again challenged the jurisdiction of the local court to hear and decide the case. The court, while giving time to the plaintiffs in the case to file their reply , fixed September 11 as the next date of hearing.

The ASI also challenged the locus standi of the plaintiffs in the matter, arguing that while the Taj is an Islamic structure, the plaintiffs were from other religions, and no practices of these religions had ever taken place at the monument.


Fee for international tourists

The Times of India, Apr 2, 2016

Foreigners’ Taj fee hike: 5,000 times in 50 yrs

Aditya Dev

The entry fee to see the Taj Mahal has risen in real terms by 200 times for Indians and 5,000 times for foreigners since 1966, when the ASI had first imposed a levy to see the 17th century mausoleum. However, when inflation rates are taken into consideration, the ticket price don't seem quite as steep.

The 20 paisa entry fee of 1966 is equivalent to Rs 5.7 in 2016. By this yardstick, there has been a seven-fold increase in price. In terms of affordability for the average Indian, a glimpse of the white marble monument has become only marginally expensive as the per capita income has increased manifold unlike the jump in entry fees, which was hiked after a gap of 15 years. In 1967-68, India's per capita annual income was Rs 622 which increased 150 times to Rs 93,231 in 2015-16.

An analysis of the historical data on ticket prices shows that it has been revised 11 times over the past 50 years and that differential pricing for Indians and foreign nationals is a recent phenomenon. For the first 34 years, 1966 to 2000, since introducing the entry fee, the price was same for both Indian and foreign tourists. Then in January 2000, the ticket price for international tourists was increased from Rs 15 to Rs 505. The prices were further revised in October 2000, when the rates were hiked to Rs 20 for Indians from the existing Rs 15 and Rs 970 for foreigners. Bucking the trend, 2001 witnessed a downward revision of ticket prices as the fee for foreigners was dropped to Rs 750. However, when inflation rates are taken into consideration, the ticket prices don't seem quite as steep. The 20 paisa entry fee of 1966 is equivalent to Rs 5.70 in 2016

’No dress restrictions’

Aditya Dev, ASI: Tourists at Taj are free to sport any colour, symbol, April 23, 2017: The Times of India

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) announced on Saturday that visitors to Taj Mahal were free to sport any colour or symbol, following days of protests triggered by foreign models being denied entry over scarves with Hindu symbols.

The announcement followed threats by members of two right-wing groups, Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), to storm into the monument on Saturday wearing attire with Hindu symbols.

ASI and CISF officials, who have been on the back foot ever since the controversy broke out, said that there was no ban on wearing religious clothing at Taj Mahal unless the symbols and clothing were being used for any kind of promotion or demonstration or in violation of customs and practices followed at the monument.

ASI superintending ar chaeologist Bhuvan Vikrama said, “...There is no restriction. Our preliminary probe has revealed that the models were neither stopped by ASI nor CISF .“

He added that Union cul ture minister Mahesh Sharma had also clarified that people were free to visit the Taj in clothes of any colour.

Hours after the ASI clarification, over 200 members of BJYM, Bajrang Dal and VHP assembled near Tajganj and entered the monument in saffron attire and scarves.Earlier, they blocked the road leading to the Taj Mahal's east gate for more than two hours demanding the suspension of ASI and CISF officials who they alleged got the models to remove the scarves

Air pollution

2002-16: Constant at (PM) 10 

AmitAnand Choudhary, Pollution at Taj constant for 15 years: UP govt to SC, November 20, 2017: The Times of India

The pollution level around the Taj Mahal has remained the same since 2000-onwards and the 17th century monument is completely safe, the UP government has told the Supreme Court. It, however, said Particulate Matter (PM)-10 around the monument was above the fixed standard.

In an affidavit filed in the SC on Friday by UP’s additional advocate general Aishwarya Bhati, the state government informed the court about the measures taken over the years to protect and preserve the monument.

The government filed a Comprehensive Environmental Management and Action Plan for maintaining the eco-system in Taj Trapezium Zone — a 10,400 sq km area covering over five UP districts and one Rajasthan district.

The state said, “According to data received from 2002 till 2016, yearly average at all four places of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are almost stable... Only in industrial areas, NO2 is more than standard and on four places, the quantity of PM-10 is more than the standard.”

The environs: court judgements, govt. decisions

SC orders demolition of multi-layer parking

AmitAnand Choudhary, SC orders UP to demolish parking lot near Taj Mahal, October 25, 2017: The Times of India

The Supreme Court ordered the demolition of a multi-layer parking being constructed near the Taj Mahal after it was alleged that it may adversely impact the monument.The order came ahead of Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Aditya Nath's visit to the monument on October 26.

The state government planned to construct the parking lot to ease traffic snarls caused by inadequate space, and construction was going on for basement lots with two parking levels near Taj's east gate.

Alleging that the construction was illegal and could have an adverse environmental impact, advocate M C Mehta urged the SC to restrain the government from building the lot, located just a kilometre from the Taj. He said no prior approval was taken by the state government from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the SC before construction was initiated.

Accepting Mehta's plea, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta ordered the structure's demolition within four weeks. The court was hearing a plea filed by the UP tourism department seeking its permission to cut 15 trees for constructing the lot.The counsel for the state government was not present and the court passed the order for demolition.

The government is proposing to construct a Taj Orientation Centre in the premises to create facilities for tourists with a parking lot in the basement. The total cost of the project is around Rs 231 crore. “It is respectfully submitted that without cutting 15 trees, the construction of Taj Orientation Centre is not possible. These 15 trees need to be felled on urgent basis so that the construction of the said project can be continued and completed. Facilities and amenities are required to the said area considering the massive traffic and congestion in the area of Taj,“ the state government said in its application.

After the demolition order was passed, the state government's counsel rushed to the bench to get a stay on the order. Advocate Aishwarya Bhati pleaded that all statutory permission had been taken by the government from authorities before launching the construction.The bench, however, refused to stay the demolition and asked Bhati to file an application for recalling its order.

SC: "No harm in visitors walking up to the monument"

SC maintains status quo on Taj parking, November 21, 2017: The Times of India

The Supreme court refused to vacate for now its status-quo order on construction of a multi-level parking near Taj Mahal, saying there was no harm in visitors walking up to the monument.

The court rapped the UP government for not coming out with a comprehensive policy to protect and preserve the beauty of Taj Mahal, saying “we need sustainable development”. The court said it first needed to examine the comprehensive action plan to protect the historic structure. Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for UP, said it had approvals to build a multi-level parking a kilometre away from the Taj and it would be difficult for tourists if this wasn’t allowed. “Why don’t you construct the parking lot beyond 1.5 km? Tourists can walk up to the monuments,” the bench said. It posted the matter for further hearing on December 8.

SC: "Taj Mahal turning brown and green"

Asks government whether it has expertise to conserve monument, May 1, 2018: The Hindu

The Taj Mahal was yellow and now turning brown and green, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta found from photographs handed over to them by noted environmental lawyer M.C. Mehta in open court on Tuesday.

Mr. Mehta said the upkeep of the UNESCO World Heritage site was in a shambles. River Yamuna, which used to flow nearby, has dried up. Encroachments and industries have cropped up in the neighbourhood of the white marble mausoleum. CCTVs hardly work. The government merely views the Taj as a money-making venture.

“Perhaps you do not care,” Justice Lokur addressed Additional Solicitor General A.N.S. Nadkarni.

‘Seek help’

Looking at the photographs repeatedly, Justice Lokur wondered whether the Taj Mahal in its present discoloured form would end being the “eighth wonder of the world.” Justice Lokur asked the government whether it has or not the expertise to conserve the 17th century monument.

“Even if you have the expertise, you are not utilising it,” the court observed. It urged the government to get help from international conservation experts, if required, to restore the monument to its pristine glory.

Foreign dignitaries

The court observed that foreign dignitaries are still given a tour of the Taj Mahal. This would surely mean that the government is interested in its preservation.

Mr. Nadkarni submitted that the maintenance is done by the Archaeological Survey of India. He said there were also expert bodies like the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which has worked to preserve an ancient fort in Goa.

“These photographs show a lack of will... when was the last time you visited the Taj?” Justice Lokur asked the government lawyers. When they replied that it has been over a decade, Justice Lokur replied, saying “well, you better go and take a look again.” ASG Mehta, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, said the State could assure the court that steps to protect and preserve the monument would be accelerated.


Mud therapy

NDTV, April 5, 2017

A kind of mud therapy is being used on Taj Mahal as the white marble structure is changing colour, the government told the Rajya Sabha today after members voiced concern over the maintenance of the world famous monument.

Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said efforts are also being made to reduce the impact of insects on the 17th century structure.

During the Question Hour, members voiced concern over the maintenance of Taj Mahal, while referring to change in the colour of the marble structure and the damage caused by insects.

Mr Sharma said a kind of mud therapy, involving application of a paste of 'multani mitti', was being undertaken to preserve the colour of the monument.

It has been applied on three-fourths of the structure and is "showing results", he added.

He added that the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has also submitted a report about the upkeep of the Taj.

To another question, Mr Sharma said the irrigation department had proposed creating a barrage to raise the water level of the Yamuna which has been approved by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Now it is for the state government of Uttar Pradesh to take a further action, the minister said. Mr Sharma also said that his ministry was planning a tourism circuit in Western Uttar Pradesh which would include the 'Dalit Prerna Sthal', F1 circuit, night safari, Kasna temple etc.

He said a proposal related to construction of national highways and overhead bridges etc near the protected monuments was under the consideration of the Law ministry.

DMK member Tiruchi Siva wanted to know whether the government had rejected the findings of a previous committee on 'Ram Setu' as it has set up a new panel.

Mr Sharma responded by saying that the government had not rejected the earlier findings.

He added that if there are any suggestions, there is a procedure and a new committee of experts may in the right perspective carry out a review.

Mud therapy harmful?

The Times of India

Mud pack therapy used in the Taj Mahal, Agra; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, June 30, 2016

Aditya Dev  Experts have raised concerns over the frequent use of mud pack therapy on the Taj Mahal to fight perils posed by pollution and insects. The therapy is currently being applied for the third time in the last 14 months on the monument's north wall. It is worried that frequent therapy may rob the Taj of its original colour and texture.

Officials of the Archaeological survey of India (ASI), which maintains the Taj, said frequent therapy mars the monument's aesthetic value.“At the rate it is being conducted, scaffolding will cover the monument most of the time,“ a senior ASI official said.

Mud pack therapy was done for the first time in April last year when the parliamentary standing committee on environment inspected the Taj following an Indo-US study which claimed that black and brown carbons along with dust were yellowing the monument. It was carried out again in September 2015 after hordes of insects left green patches on the walls. “It is the state's responsibility to take measures to curb pollution“ a senior official said.

The therapy , however, is “the safest and most-used method to clean monuments across the world,“ said an official from ASI's science branch.

S N Tripathi, professor at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT-Kanpur, who was part of the Indo-US study , had earlier told TOI, “With regular cleaning, the original colour, texture and shine from the marble surfaces will be gone forever.“

2015: Chandelier falls down


1. The Times of India, Aug 22, 2015

2. The Times of India, Aug 23 2015, Aditya Dev

Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Aug 23 2015, Aditya Dev

Taj's British-era chandelier falls

ASI orders probe

A 60-kg British-era copper chandelier at the main entrance of 17th century Taj Mahal crashed down recently, prompting the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to initiate a probe into the matter. The six-feet high and four-feet wide chandelier, gifted by Lord Curzon and installed at the Royal Gate of Taj Mahal in 1905, fell down on August 19, 2015, sources said.

Conservation skills of ASI have come in doubt after a huge copper and bronze chandelier gifted by Lord Curzon in 1909 and hanging at the royal gate of the Taj Mahal fell on the ground, damaging it. Though tourists were milling around, no one was hurt. ASI officials now say they are looking to fix and reinstall it at the same place. According to an ASI official, the six-foot high and fourfoot wide chandelier was a gift from Curzon and installed at the royal gate. “It is believed that when Curzon visited Agra and Fatehpur Sikri in 1905, he ordered the installation of this chandelier. He also got a Dak Bangla built at Fatehpur Sikri Fort during that time,“ the official added.

ASI superintending archaeologist Bhuvan Vikrama said, “An inquiry is being done to know the cause of its fall. Anybody's involvement has already been ruled out and it seems the chandelier fell because of natural wear and tear. We will do a study to see if it can be rein stalled at the same place.“

“Curzon had great interest in ancient monuments and a lot of attention was given to preserve them during his time.It was during his time the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act was passed in 1904. A great attention should be given to preserve the relics,“ MK Pundhir, medieval archaeologist from the Centre of Advance Studies in History at Aligarh Muslim University , said.

April 2018: Storm damages minarets, dome at the gates

Anuja Jaiswal, Storm damages minarets, dome at Taj Mahal gate, April 12, 2018: The Times of India

Storm damages minarets at the South Gate and a small white dome at Taj Mahal also got hit in April 2018-I
From: Anuja Jaiswal, Storm damages minarets, dome at Taj Mahal gate, April 12, 2018: The Times of India
Storm damages minarets at the South Gate and a small white dome at Taj Mahal also got hit in April 2018-II
From: Anuja Jaiswal, Storm damages minarets, dome at Taj Mahal gate, April 12, 2018: The Times of India
Winds with velocity of over 130 km per hour that swept Agra toppled two minarets of the entry gates of the Taj Mahal. The Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri were also hit, in April 2018
From: April 13, 2018: The Times of India

In a freak storm which saw winds with velocity of over 130 km per hour sweeping the city on Wednesday evening, stone minarets on the south and royal gates of the Taj Mahal were damaged.

According to sources, the incident occurred around 7.30pm when one of the minarets of the south gate fell off and one of the small white domes was hit too.

No official of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was available for comment despite several attempts.

A 12-foot minaret with a metal finial, which is part of the main gate, also called Darwaza-e-rauza, was blown away by high-speed winds. It is from this royal gate that tourists get their first view of the 17th century Mughal-era monument.

Earlier in 2016, too, one of the minarets of Taj Mahal was reportedly damaged. While reports had suggested that the minarets might have been affected during cleaning work which was underway, the ASI had then blamed monkeys for weakening it.

Several electricity poles and trees were also uprooted in the storm which killed four in Mathura and one in Bijnor. Three children and a 70-yearold woman were killed in two separate incidents in the storm that was accompanied by heavy hailstones.


2019: CISF given catapults

To fight monkeys at Taj, CISF given catapults, January 25 2019: The Times of India

To protect tourists from monkey attacks, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel standing guard at Taj Mahal will now arm themselves with ‘gulels’ (catapults) to tackle the menace at the 17th century monument.

A team of a dozen jawans has been deployed with catapults at east and west gates of Taj to protect tourists from the simians. Several incidents of monkey attacks have been reported earlier at the monument. On July 8 last year, an Australian tourist was attacked by a monkey inside Taj and similarly, two French nationals were bitten by monkeys on May 22.

“When we don’t allow tourists to enter the area with food items, they throw them in the dustbins at the security check point instead of putting it in lockers. Hence, the rise in monkey attacks. So we have now come up with the slingshot idea but it will be used mostly to scare away the simians,” CISF commandant Brij Bhushan told TOI.


2018: Only locals can offer namaz

Only locals can offer namaz at Taj mosque, January 26, 2018: The Times of India

To ensure foolproof security to the Taj Mahal, a world heritage site, the district administration has ordered that, from now on, only locals with valid identity proof will be allowed entry to the monument complex to offer Juma namaz on Fridays.

People entering the premises of the Taj for offering prayers on Fridays will have to carry identity cards to prove that they are residents of Agra. The Taj Mahal remains closed for tourists on Fridays.

The administration’s move comes following complaints that “outsiders”, including Bangladeshis and non-Indians”, enter the Taj Mahal complex on Fridays on the pretext of offering namaz.

The order also states that the district magistrate should be immediately informed in case any outsider tries to enter the mosque.

The order issued by additional district magistrate (city) K P Singh also states that entry of ‘outsiders’ can

adversely affect the security of the monument.

Agra district magistrate Guarav Dayal said, “Now, we will allow only residents of Agra city to offer namaz at the mosque located inside the Taj Mahal complex.”

Similar orders were issued in 2013 by the Archaeological Survey of India but these were not enforced properly, said an official.


2018: No 'namaz' by outsiders: SC

No 'namaz' by non-locals at Taj Mahal mosque, its preservation is paramount July 9, 2018: The Times of India

The Supreme Court (SC) refused to allow prayers by outsiders- that is, not locals - at the mosque on the premises of the Taj Mahal, saying the monument's preservation is paramount. The top court said the Taj is one of the seven wonders of the world and must be preserved. It added there is no need to perform prayers at the Taj Mahal.

To ensure foolproof security to the Taj Mahal, a world heritage site, the district administration on January 24 this year ordered that only locals with valid identity proof will be allowed entry to the monument complex to offer 'namaz' on Fridays. A petitioner had moved the SC against the district magistrate order.

In January, the district administration ordered that people entering the premises of the Taj for offering prayers on Fridays will have to carry identity cards to prove that they are residents of Agra. The Taj Mahal remains closed for tourists on Fridays. The administration’s move came following complaints that “outsiders”, including Bangladeshis and non-Indians”, enter the Taj Mahal complex on Fridays on the pretext of offering 'namaz.

The order also stated that the district magistrate should be immediately informed in case any outsider tries to enter the mosque. The order issued by additional district magistrate (city) K P Singh also states that entry of ‘outsiders’ can adversely affect the security of the monument.

“Now, we will allow only residents of Agra city to offer namaz at the mosque located inside the Taj Mahal complex,” said Agra district magistrate Guarav Dayal said,

Similar orders were issued in 2013 by the Archaeological Survey of India but these were not enforced properly, said an official.

Except Fridays, ASI bans daily namaz at Taj mosque

Anuja Jaiswal, November 5, 2018: The Times of India

In a controversial move, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has ‘banned’ Muslims from offering namaz at the mosque in the Taj Mahal premises on all days except Fridays. While the ASI officials claimed they were implementing a July order of the Supreme Court, the apex court had upheld a local administration’s order barring non-residents from offering Friday prayers in the mosque on the grounds of security of Taj Mahal.

Since the Taj Mahal is closed for public on Friday, local residents are allowed to offer namaz between noon and 2pm without paying any entry fee. However, on the other days, any visitor, who had bought a ticket could visit the mosque and offer namaz until now.

In a surprise move, the ASI on Sunday locked the ‘vazu tank’, where namazis clean themselves up before offering prayers, leaving several tourists disappointed.

Even the imam and staff of the mosque have been asked to show up only on Fridays. Imam Syed Sadiq Ali, whose family has been leading prayers at the mosque for several decades for Rs 15 per month, said he was surprised by the order.

President of Taj Mahal Intezamia Committee, Syed Ibrahim Hussain Zaidi, told TOI that namaz had been offered at the mosque for the past many years and there was no reason to stop it. He said the present regime, both at the centre and state, has an “anti-Muslim” mindset and he will meet the ASI officials on Monday to raise the issue.

Superintending archaeologist, ASI (Agra circle), Vasant Swarankar said that it was “as per the order of the apex court”. He said, “Namaz can only be offered on Fridays and that, too, by local residents only.”

A January 2018 order by the Agra additional district magistrate (city) barred nonresidents from offering Friday prayers in the mosque. The administration’s move came following complaints that “outsiders, including Bangladeshis and non-Indians,” enter the Taj Mahal complex on Fridays on the pretext of offering namaz.

Tourist arrivals

International tourists, 2012-2017

Aditya Dev, Foreigners at Taj up 20% over '16 figure, October 5, 2017: The Times of India

Data available with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) suggests that compared to 2016 (from January to August), 20.4% more foreigners visited the monument this year during the same months. While 4.26 lakh foreign nationals came here in the first eight months of 2016, that number rose to 5.13 lakh for the same period this year.

Out of these 5.13 lakh tourists, 2.97 lakh (57%) stayed back in Agra for one or more days. Last year, 52% travellers had stayed back in the city after visiting the monument.

According to the data, the maximum number of foreign tourists who came here were from the USA (33,410), followed by UK (30,392), China (28,712), France (22,059), Sri Lanka and Japan.

There has, however, been quite a dip in the number of overseas tourists coming here after 2012. That year, 7.90 lakh foreigners had visited the Taj, the figure slipping to 7.40 lakh in 2013, 6.94 lakh in 2014, and 6.39 lakh in 2015.

Compared to 2016, there was a marginal decline of 3% in the number of domestic tourists visiting the Taj Mahal in 2017. While 3,749,066 Indian travellers came here between January and August 2016, their number fell to 3,630,039 for the same period this year. Industry experts have attributed the decline to demonetization, but have said that the numbers are likely to improve in future.

2018: pricier tickets reduce number of visitors

Anuja Jaiswal, Tickets cut Taj mausoleum rush, December 19, 2018: The Times of India

A week after the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) introduced a separate ticket of Rs 200 for entry into the main mausoleum of Taj Mahal, the number of tourists entering it has seen a 35-40% fall — from 10,000 visitors a day earlier to just 6,000 now.

According to the officials, only 6,000-6700 tourists are now visiting the main mausoleum daily. The main mausoleum of the 17th century world heritage site consists of artistic replicas of the graves of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and

his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Before the introduction of the separate ticket, the number of tourists to the Mughal-era building used to be all most twice, ranging between 12,000 and 18,000 every day.

Tourists, who only buy the Rs 50 entry ticket, can now move around the Taj, including visiting its rear side where the Yamuna flows. For entering the main mausoleum, the tourists have to shell out an extra Rs 200, which many are not doing now.

However, the decline in the number of tourists to the main mausoleum has made ASI officials happy. “It is a win-win both for our conversation efforts as well as revenue generation,” said superintending archeologist, ASI (Agra circle), Vasant K Swarankar.

Swarankar added that touristsdon’t have to stand in the long queue for the mausoleum and they can easily move around due to the lesser crowds there.

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