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Humayun’s Tomb, a jewel in the Mughal crown

IMG_2852 copyLast month, The Humayun’s Tomb – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of three in Delhi – got its much-awaited a gold crown. A 24-carat gold finial was installed atop the tomb’s majestic dome on April 18, World Heritage Day.

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The ultimate resting place of Mughal Emperor Humayun, located in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi, is perhaps the first ever specimen of distinctive Mughal architecture.

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It is said that the architecture of this mausoleum inspired the design of the Taj Mahal, a century later. Humayun’s widow, Begum Hamida Banu, hired Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, also known as Mirak Ghiyathuddin, a Persian architect for the project, which began 14 years after Humayun’s death (on 20th January 1556).

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Unfortunately, before the structure’s completion, Mirza Ghiyath passed away, and his son, Sayyed Muhammad ibn Mirak Ghiyathuddin completed his father’s design in 1571. While there is no formal record, the tomb was built at an approximate cost of 15 lakh rupees.

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A British trader, William Finch, who visited the tomb in 1611, noted the rich interiors and furnishing of the central chamber – rich carpets, shamiana, a small tent above the cenotaph, which was covered with a pure white sheet and with copies of the Quran in front along with Humayun’s sword, turban and shoes.

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Once the Mughal capital shifted to Agra, the glory days of the monument began to recess into history. Not only was the upkeep expensive, but there was also no one to supervise it. By the early 18th century, the once opulent floral gardens were replaced by vegetable gardens of people who had settled within the walled area of Delhi.

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The main garden was rented out to distant royal descendants who planted tobacco, potatoes and cabbages in the gardens that once smelt of mogra and roses. The monument’s worst days began with the capture of Bahadurshah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor. The gardens were adapted to British style and trees were profusely planted in the flower beds. But Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy, began a restoration drive in 1903 to restore the original glory of Humayun’s Tomb.

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During the Partition of India, the Humayun’s Tomb, just like other historical structures such as the Purana Qila, became the site of refugee camps for Muslims migrating to the newly founded Pakistan. Needless to say, these camps caused a lot of damage to the structure. It was with Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention that the main cenotaphs of the mausoleum were enclosed in brick.

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The Islamic inscription on the recently installed finial translates as: “Khuda jo hay wo barkat rakhe, kisi bhi aapda se bachahye (May God always maintain prosperity and protect from any calamity).” Considering the history of this majestic structure, one couldn’t wish for more.

Text by Aarti Kapur Singh
Images by Supriya Aggarwal