- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

AGRA, India The Taj Mahal is being saved from the corrosive effects of industrial pollution by an ancient face-pack recipe: a blend of soil, cereal, milk and lime once used by Indian women to beautify their skin.
The sticky brown mixture is smeared on the smut-stained marble surfaces of the 17th-century mogul tomb and washed off with warm water after 24 hours.
The formula based on a method discovered in a 16th-century mogul journal, Ain-I-Akbary has proved to have such restorative qualities that it is being exported to Italy to clean grimy monuments there.
Archaeologists at India's most popular tourist site found to their astonishment that the substance, known as "Multani mitti," drew black and yellow impurities from the Taj Mahal's marble and left its surface gleaming white for the first time in decades.
K.K. Muhammed, the head of the Agra branch of the Archaeological Survey of India who is in charge of combating the effects of pollution on the Taj, said tests had shown that the substance restored the marble to its former sheen.
"We have analyzed the marble and feel quite happy now that it is withstanding pollution," he said. "This breakthrough has attracted attention from other archaeologists looking for ways to preserve their monuments."
Multani mitti which means "mud from Multan," an area of Pakistan where the lime-rich clay was originally found was used for thousands of years as a face-pack until the advent of bottled lotions. A similar absorbent clay, known as fuller's earth, was used in the early English wool industry.
Archaeologists hit on the idea of using the mud pack when examining ancient records of Indian buildings. They discovered that in the 16th century it was common to use a mud mixture to clean and preserve marble.
There was no record of the recipe, so they adapted the formula for Multani mitti, sterilizing the ingredients to kill live bacteria that could damage the stone.
The mud, brushed on in layers until it is an inch deep, draws out the polluting sulfates and carbonates as well as the grease from the hands and feet of the tens of thousands of visitors drawn to the Taj Mahal each year.
It will cost less than $155,720 to clean the entire Taj Mahal, officials say.
Scientists from a Rome institute specializing in the study of building preservation traveled to Agra to see the process for themselves.


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