The stone plonths being relaid at
the Humayun's Tomb
New Delhi: Early in
the morning, a posse of nearly 100 masons troop in with their
chisels to recast the weathered stones and crumbling lime facades
of the 16th century mausoleum of Mughal emperor Humayun, a family
tomb, which is home to 160 graves.
The tomb, one of the country's first garden mausoleum and a Unesco
World Heritage Site, is getting a makeover to resemble its
original state with a unique not-for-profit private-public
conservation project partnered by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture,
the Dorabji Tata Trust and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
"At the core of the structural renovation project is the
restoration of 42 arched bays on the enclosure (outer ramparts) of
the tomb which had collapsed with time, and 68 arched alcoves at a
lower level. The stonework of the terrace and the elevated plinth
in the forecourt have been relaid," Ratish Nanda, conservation
architect and project director of the Aga Khan Trust For Culture,
The tomb was known to be have been commissioned by Humayun's wife
Hamida or Haji Begum, who is also entombed in the mausoleum along
with five Mughal princes, including Dara Sikoh.
It was built by Persian architect Mirat Mirza Ghiyath.
The three-year renovation project of the tomb began with a
memorandum of understanding in 2007. The flowing water channels
were rebuilt to a 1:4000 slope, a large rain water harvesting
system coupled with desilting of Mughal wells brought the garden
back to original, he said.
"We planted 2,500 trees and plants like mango, lemon, neem,
hibiscus and pomegranate, which were favoured by the Mughals,"
The red-and-white tomb cast in sandstone and marble, built during
1565-72 AD on the bank of the Yamuna, is typical of the
symmetrical Timurid architecture. It is enclosed by high walls on
the northern, southern and western sides.
The eastern side opened to the river. A pavilion at the centre of
each wall allowed people to enter the tomb. The walls were
equipped with walkways and arcaded to look attractive.
The mausoleum has a bulbous double dome on a high drum, lotus
bud-fringed arches, latticed screens, wide terrace eaves and
corbelled ornamental brackets - combining elements of Persian and
ancient Hindu architecture.
"We removed nearly one million kilos of concrete laid here in the
20th century from the roof with hand tools to reduce excess weight
and restore the original slopes and levels of the roof," Nanda
On the lower plinth, 12,000 square metres of concrete was removed
and the original stone paving was reset in the same radial
alignment of the original plinth by manually lifting the red
sandstones blocks, some of which weighed up to 3,000 kilos each.
"It required at least 15 masons to lift one stone," the
conservation architect said.
According to Nanda, "the original Mughal builders used a contrast
of red sandstone and white marble to great effect".
Nanda's team has been inspired by a 19th century photograph of
Humayun's Tomb, which shows the original structure.
"The project has trained conservation professionals and craftsmen
from the countryside and has generated livelihood to nearly 700
people in the Nizamuddin neighbourhood," he said.
The restoration is part of a greater urban renewal project of the
Nizamuddin area that includes restoration of the Humayun Tomb
complex, the adjacent Sundar Nursery monuments and the Hazrat
Nizamuddin shanty town, Nanda said.
Under the renewal project, the Aga Khan Trust has built schools,
public toilets and a gymnasium for women in the surrounding
Muslim-dominated Nizamuddin area.
According to Additional Director General of ASI B.R. Mani, the
Humayun's Tomb conservation project also includes the restoration
of three smaller unnamed tombs in the surrounding area.
"Last year, we acquired 12 acres of archaeological land in the
vicinity from Bharat Scouts and Guides for restoration," Mani
said, outlining the sprawl of the conservation project.
The attractive Nila Gumbad (Blue Tomb) outside the complex has
also been added to the project, said superintendent archaeologist
of ASI's Delhi circle K.K. Muhammed.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)