By Scott Sullivan
The Taj Mahal, that shining white monument to love, is turning green, black and yellow. And India’s Supreme Court isn’t happy.
Pollution and insect dung are discoloring Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan’s 17th-century temple built for his favorite wife.
“You all appear helpless,” a judge told government leaders last week. “Money should not be the consideration. We need to save it.”
Lawyer M.C. Mehta, who brought the case to the court, said authorities have not complied with earlier orders to protect the Taj by shutting down nearby factories.
Instead, reports the Associated Press, they are coating parts of it with a special clay that, when removed, also takes away most of the discolorations. The judge gave them a deadline last week to come up with a better plan.
This begs questions. For instance, what did Shah’s other wives think?
“You built her the Taj and I only get a privy? I hope it gets buried in bug s#*!”
Is defacement the way of all love?
It’s good to know governments aren’t only helpless in America. Think we’re jaded after 242 years? Multiply that by 10 in India.
The Taj Mahal, or “Crown of the Palace,” was built in Agra between 1632 and 1653 by some 20,000 artisans as a mausoleum for the Persian princess Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to Shah’s and her 14th child.
Its 42-acre complex includes a mosque, guesthouse and formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. It cost roughly 32 million rupees, which today equates to about $1 billion.
The Taj could no more survive humanity than we can. Soon after its completion, Shah was deposed by his son Aurangzeb before he could build a black Taj across the river. Instead, he was put under house arrest.
In the 18th century, Jat rulers of Bharatpur invaded Agra, attacked the Taj and made off with two chandeliers — one of agate, the other silver — which hung over the main cenotaph. While the Jats were in town they also plundered a gold and silver screen, plus the gold shield which covered the 15-foot-high finial atop the main dome.
During the Indian rebellion of 1857, British soldiers chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from the shrine’s walls. During World War II and the Indian-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, the government erected scaffolding to disguise love’s monument from enemy fighter pilots.
Pollution and bugs aren’t the only current threats to the Taj. A drop in the Yamuna River groundwater level has caused cracks to appear in part of the tomb. The four minarets which surround the monument are tilting, as the wood foundation may be rotting due to lack of water. In 2011 the tomb was predicted to collapse within five years.
It hasn’t yet. But if the Taj changes hues like a 17th- century disco ball, then crumbles, what fate will befall the monument my wife’s sure to build for me?
“Honey,” I asked. “Have you thought about my mausoleum?”
“About you dying? Nonstop,” she said.
“Good. So you’ve already contacted the world’s finest architects and 20,000 artisans to design it. What will it look like?”
“A hand with a minaret in the middle rising high to the sky.”
“I see. Have you set aside 32 million rupees?”
“For you, money is no object.”
“And a sacred setting?”
“Dung heaps attract lots of insects,” she said. “Zabol, Iran is the world’s most-polluted city, according to CBS News.”
“You’ve been doing research.”
“Anything for you,” she said.