The Taj Mahal hasn’t always had it easy. Since being built as a monument to love over 500 years ago it has sustained attacks by various assailants: it was attacked by the Jats, looted by the British and discoloured by air pollution. But the latest threat is more nefarious: insect excrement.
Swarms of insects breeding in a polluted river near the Taj Mahal are of “serious concern” to the intricate marble inlay work at the 17th century monument.
The insects, a type of elongated fly that resemble a mosquito, are leaving green and black patches of waste on its walls, archaeological experts have said.
The Yamuna River, on which the Taj Mahal sits, has stagnated to the point that it no longer supports fish that once kept the insects in check, environmentalist Yogesh Sharma said.
Workers were scrubbing the walls clean every day but over-cleaning will damage the floral mosaics and shiny marble surface, said Bhuvan Vikram of the Archaeological Survey of India.
“A series of marble panels depicting plant motifs on the walls or reflective tiles used in this part of the monument are becoming disfigured” Vikram said.
In addition, heavy algal growth and deposits of phosphorus from ash dumped by a nearby cremation ground “are the primary source of food for this particular species of insect”, said Girish Maheshwari, who heads the Department of Entomology at St John’s College in the northern city of Agra.
Indian authorities are looking for a permanent solution to the problem. The Taj Mahal is known the world round and is one of the country’s most cherished tourist attractions, bringing millions of visitors to Agra every year.
Archeologists are also struggling to protect the monument from air pollution, which turns the marble yellow and brown.
“Officials have been asked to investigate as why there is sudden increase in number of these insects and how to control their population,” Uttar Pradesh state spokesman Navneet Sehgal said.
The Taj Mahal was built as a monument to love by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan between 1632 and 1654 for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and houses their graves and a mosque.