The Archaeological Survey of India, which is responsible for the upkeep of the Taj Mahal has plans to use 'multani mitti' or Fuller's earth, to restore the yellowing monument to its white pristine beauty.
Multani mitti, a lime-rich clay takes its name from a place in Pakistan where it is abundant. For ages, it has been used by Indian women as a beauty treatment.
In a couple of months, ASI officials say, a sterilized version of this mud will be applied to the mausoleum, left to dry for a couple of days till it flakes off and then the Taj washed clean with salt-free water.
The officials hope the result will be a sparkling white Taj without the years of polluting build-up that has changed its color. "It's a non-abrasive formula that won't do any damage to the monument and will remove accretionary deposits," says a senior ASI official. The ASI has opted for the mudpack treatment as it successfully absorbed impurities the first time when it was tried on the Taj mausoleum and its octagonal arches in 2002.
Yet, the idea is not original. It is based on a method used to clean marble monuments in the 16th century. In addition, the Taj is not the only monument in recent times to get a mud makeover.
Michelangelo's David, a symbol of youthful beauty and athletic perfection, got his good looks back in 2004 after decades of grayish grime were stripped off with a mudpack comprising clay and pulp.
The move to restore the Taj's color comes after a parliamentary committee report in May noted the slowly changing color of the monument. "The deposition of suspended particulate matter (SPM) on the shimmering white marble of the Taj Mahal imparts yellow tinge to the marble surface," the report quotes.
Though a Supreme Court order limiting the number of vehicles allowed within 500m of the Unesco world heritage site has helped reduce emissions, a vehicle and construction boom in Agra has led to a rise in SPM levels.
Says M C Mehta, lawyer and environmental activist who has spent many years fighting to check pollution around Taj Mahal: "Green cover is disappearing, high-rises are mushrooming in Agra and illegal constructions on the riverbed are on the rise. This is not the way our country's heritage can be preserved for posterity."