The Taj Mahal will collapse within five years unless its foundation is re-worked, say local leaders and green activists.
The 358-year-old marble mausoleum attracts four million visitors a year and was an architectural wonder constructed by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in the city of Agra. It was also a symbol of love as the emperor built it in memory of his beloved wife who died giving birth to their 14th child.
Quoting campaigners and local leaders, reports said the foundations have become brittle and are disintegrating. Cracks appeared last year in parts of the tomb, and the four minarets, which surround the monument, are showing signs of tilting.
“If the crisis is not tackled on a war-footing, the Taj Mahal will cave in between two and five years,” the Daily Mail quoted Ramshankar Katheria, Agra member of parliament (MP) as saying.
The main reason for their concern was that the fast depleting water levels in the river Yamuna and the wooden foundation beneath the minarets may cave in. Since the doors to the foundation were closed for over three decades, noboy knows the damage being done to the foundation, they said. “No one has been allowed to go into the foundations for the last three decades. If everything is fine, what have they got to hide?”
Professor Ram Nath, a historian, says, “The river is a constituent of its architectural design and if the river dies, the Taj cannot survive.”
Its romantic image has attracted film stars and royalty, including Princess Diana, who spent hours here after the break down of her marriage to Prince Charles.
‘If the crisis is not tackled on a war-footing, the Taj Mahal will cave in between two and five years,” says Katheria, who is leading the campaign to restore the Taj Mahal. The water level is down at an alarming rate of five feet every year, he says.
The restoration project requires about Rs 5 billion, he estimates.
How was the Taj built?
The Taj is built on a raised platform on top of a hillock, which is based on wells underneath.
The four 40-ft high minarets balance the platform, and are designed to tilt slightly outwards, so that they don’t crash on top of the central tomb in case of an earthquake.
The underneath wells were dug 40-50 feet into the ground at regular intervals along the Yamuna and filled with bricks and lime, rammed tightly. The entire weight of the 243-ft high Taj Mahal rests on these wells. Since the soil along the river is of low ‘bearing capacity’, the wells take the immense pressure.
Added to this is the sinking of thick planks of sal wood into the foundation or base as the tensile strength and lifespan of sal is known nearly to double when it is soaked in water.
But a dry Yamuna would weaken the wood-based foundation of the Taj Mahal, which requires moisture, point out campaigners.
This apart, there are references to ebony shafts, which hold together the Taj Mahal’s stone and mortar foundation.
Following the reclamation of the Yamuna, they fear the tensile strength of the sal planks would have weakened threatening the super structure.