By Somali K Chakrabarti
‘A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time.’ is how Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj Mahal. The beautiful mausoleum on the bank of river Yamuna in Agra, made by emperor Shah Jahan, in 1631, in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal has a dreamlike quality, and showcases the art and culture of the Mughal times.
Though much has been written about the splendor of Taj Mahal on moonlit nights, tourists no longer have the privilege to visit the Taj Mahal at night.
Even so, early in the morning, the Taj Mahal, with its shadow on water, almost appears like a floating pearl and presents an intriguing picture.
The opulence and grandeur of the marble wonder is so mesmerizing that it is difficult to take your eyes off it. The finesse of the carvings on marble is captivating, as are the symmetrical arches.
Due to the timelessness of its beauty and its ethereal quality, nearly four centuries after it was constructed, Taj Mahal still attracts a large number of tourists from all over the world, thus bringing up a relevant question:
What is the Economic Value of Taj Mahal?
It is said that it took 22 years and more than 20000 workmen to build the Taj Mahal at a cost of Rs 3.2 cr approxiately. The cost of gold, in that period, was Rs 1.25 /gm approx (derived from Rs 15/tola, where 1 tola = 12 gms), as compared to Rs 2700/ gm today. That amounts to an increase in the price of gold by 2160 times from the mid 17th century upto the present times.
Using the rise in the price of gold as a yardstick, the bare cost of construction of the monument would be minimum of 2160 times the original cost of construction.
However, it is not really meaningful to calculate the value of Taj Mahal only in terms of its cost of construction or cost of building materials, using an inflation scale of 2160, as one must take into account the massive heritage value associated with the monument.
A more pertinent means of valuing the monument would be to answer the question –
- What is the revenue generated due to the existence of the monument, or
- What would be the loss of national revenue if the monument not existed in first place?
Though measuring the economic value of cultural monuments such as Taj Mahal is a complex exercise (involving mathematical modelling and econometric techniques), yet it is easy to say that the key driver for economic value of the monument is the revenue generated from cultural tourism attributable to the monument.
Earnings of local inhabitants at Agra are driven by the tourists – both local as well as foreign. More than 58 lakh visitors came to see Taj Mahal in 2013. This year, 42.5 lakh visitors came to see the Taj Mahal till September. On the Diwali weekend around 1.5 lakh tourists visited the Taj Mahal, causing a chaotic situation. As per a Press Information Bureau report of Ministry of Culture of Govt of India, the tourist revenue generated through the entry ticket fees amounts to Rs 21.84 cr for 2013-2014.
Hotels, rest and recreation areas in the vicinity of the monument benefit from tourism. Guides, who speak multiple languages take you around the monument, and are willing to double up as photographers whenever you need them to click snaps with your cell. Photographers click you on the coveted seat in front of Taj. Horse carts ferry you to Meena Bazar and other short distances.
Tourism also gives a boost to the sale of local handicrafts including clothes, leather goods, curios made of marble, stone carving and inlay work. Handicrafts made by prisoners are sold in emporiums.
Though Taj Mahal is the main nodal point for tourist travel, some of the other monuments such as Agra Fort, Itmad-ud-daula’s tomb, Sikandara, Fatehpur Sikri etc play a crucial role in contributing towards the economic activities of Agra.
State patronage made possible the creation of such monuments that showcase the countries art and culture and have been a source of value for years or centuries together.
In the present times too, state and corporate patronage can be used to promote India’s art and culture in a way that has a long bearing effect on the country’s economy. Investments in cultural development would also include construction of access highways, hotels and recreation facilities. The financial viability of investments in cultural development can be evaluated by quantitative techniques to determine the revenue generation capacity and debt service capacity of the projects.
Whether Shahjahan would have envisaged the long lasting economic impact of Taj Mahal when he ordered for building the monument, is hard to tell.
Lei: A wreath for your soul is a string of short poems reflecting on nature, life, illusion and inspiration.
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A Proposed Methodology for. Measuring the Economic Value or Cultural Monuments, by Thilan Wijesjnghe, Engineerfng Consultant