HYDERABAD: In a major embarrassment to the city, a chunk of lime plaster from one of the four minarets of the iconic Charminar fell down late on Wednesday. As though that wasn’t enough, the 500-year-old Mecca Masjid too stares at a grave mishap, with a newly-discovered structural crack.
As for Charminar, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials said the portion fell due to ageing of the lime, coupled with the effect of unseasonal torrential rainfall with strong winds a few weeks back. They also confirmed that the damage was restricted to the lime plaster, and no structural damage was sustained.
The incident happened at 11.30 pm on Wednesday, when a part of the ornamental stucco work of the minaret, measuring about 2.5 m by 0.8 m on the southwest side of the monument came crashing down. Thankfully, no one was injured.
“The original plaster was replaced by the Nizam in 1924 at a cost of `1 lakh. Lime has a life of 700-800 years. We are now looking into analysing the materials used during the time of Asaf Jahis and comparing them with the original ones made during the time of Qutub Shahis,” superintending archaeologist of ASI-Hyderabad Milan Kumar Chauley said.
“Also, from my experience, I’ve seen that it is very difficult for artisans to work at that height — 56 m. This keeps happening because during the time of Asaf Jahis, reinforcements were not used. People used bamboo or wooden sticks for support,” Chauley added.
Interestingly, the same minaret, on the southwestern side, suffered similar damage when a chunk of lime plaster fell in 2001. The ASI then restored it using brick jelly lime in three layers. Since that technique had been successful till now, ASI officials on Thursday evening decided to use it again to restore the structure.
Meanwhile in Mecca Masjid, the situation is getting graver by the day, with contractors questioning each other on the methodology being used to fix the 8-inch deep and 10-inch wide structural crack, which is at a pivotal place on the arch, which holds up a substantial part of the ceiling.
And the sky comes falling down on ASI
As a portion of Charminar’s Southwest minaret fell off late on Wednesday, ASI officials scurried into action, taking exigency measures to prevent the damage from escalating; meanwhile, investigations are on and speculations on the reasons behind mishap are rife within the city’s conservation community
With countless restoration works in line at Charminar, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is at its hapless best after it the jolt from Wednesday night, when a chunk of lime plaster from one of the monument’s minarets, detached itself from the structure.
Scurrying to action, starting at day break, ASI officials have implemented exigency measures so that the situation does not exacerbate further. Earlier in the day, Charminar was closed off to visitors but was reopened before noon. In the evening, Superintending Archaeologist Milan Kumar Chauley, who was in Delhi, returned to the city for a quick inspection of the site.
Weather plays spoilsport
A close look at the spot from where the lime chunks fell off, showed tiny, thread-like cracks. “When it rains, water seeps in through these cracks, making the portion heavier. For instance, if that portion was 1 kg in weight, after absorbing the water, it increases up to 5 kg,” said Chauley.
A few weeks back, there were a series of thunderstorms that kicked the city out of balance. ASI officials have claimed that the thunderstorms played their part in intensifying these cracks. “On one particular day, the rain blew in from the north-east direction which meant that the south-west minaret took the direct brunt of the force of the gale,” they explained. Officials also said that they had discovered a hairline crack following the storm.
Asaf Jahi minaret, not Qutub shahi
But can we blame everything on the winds? Not quite. In the 19th century, a lightning had struck the Charminar, damaging one if its minarets. Officials said that one of the minarets had even collapsed and rebuilt by the Asaf Jahis. This was the same south-west minaret, from which the lime plaster fell off in 2001, and the same one from which it fell on Wednesday night, Chauley said.
“In 1924, the entire monument was re-plastered by the Nizams using lime plaster. It is important to note that with the advent of technology, sometimes it is not possible to replicate the original lime mortar completely. For instance, lime mortar needs country eggs and not normal eggs. Where do you get country eggs now?” Chauley explained while adding that there was a need for analysis between the mortar used during the Qutub Shahi era and the new one.
‘No surity that it won’t happen again’
During the inspection on Wednesday evening, a number of cracks were discovered, which were not observed earlier -- on small turrets, on the flooring of the mosque above Charminar and in myriad other places. “No one can assure you, that a similar thing would not happen again. You never know what’s going on beneath those cracks. And these things keep on happening,” he added.
The majority of the extent of ASI’s work on Charminar has been to apply sibara coating and take on minor repair works. To re-plaster the whole monument again, it would need considerable investment, in terms of time and money -- both of which the ASI is in short supply of.