Humayun’s Tomb aerial view
Any visit to Delhi for me is not complete without a trip to Humayun’s Tomb and the neighbouring Nizamuddin Basti. The awe-inspiring Mughal emperor Humayun’s garden mausoleum can transport you to the Mughal era – and the romance of the time. Interestingly, what one sees today is a result of a unique restoration project which has taken the locality and livelihood of the community into consideration and not just the restoration of the monument. It’s a public-private partnership (PPP) success story.
Unfortunately, the Archaeological Survey of India lacks the skills and funds to adequately care for the country’s heritage. The answer is the PPP model. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has been carrying out conservation work in the Humayun’s Tomb area for nearly 15 years. Its engagement began with the Humayun’s Tomb Garden revitalisation project, a gift to India made by His Highness the Aga Khan on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence.
Through a subsequent PPP created at the invitation of the Government of India, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s engagement in the area expanded. Under the partnership, a broader urban revitalisation project was created to encompass an urban renewal initiative in Nizamuddin Basti, the redevelopment of the Sundar Nursery.
The aim of the PPP is to revitalise historic urban centres in ways that can spur social, economic and cultural development. As part of its continued efforts the Trust and its partners will begin construction on a museum and visitor’s centre in Delhi.
The site of this monument is representative of the confluence of Persian and Indian architectural synthesis. It also has spiritual associations to the Sufi Hazrat Nizamudin and the presence of Mirza Ghalib and the qawwali of Amir Khusro. This Dargah, that of Sufi Nizamuddin Auliya who lived in Delhi during the time of Mughal Emperor Akbar, is visited by people from all faiths. Hazrat Nizamuddin was rooted in his belief in the essential truth of all religious traditions. At the dargah, ritual significance was given to feeding the hungry.
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I. Humayun’s Tomb
Designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyath a Persian architect and built by Indian and Persian workers, this monument is one of the first to employ Persian architecture and also the first to use Red sand stone and White marble in such a huge quantity. In 1993 it was declared a UNESCO World heritage Site.
The perfectly proportioned and captivating of Delhi’s mausoleums, Humayan’s tomb seems to float above the gardens that surround it.
Humayun’s Tomb is one of the most beautiful monuments in Delhi but you don’t see it as often as you see India gate or Qutub Minar. It is located right in the heart of the city but the spacious compound surrounding the monument hides it away from the glare of public eyes. Sandwiched between Yamuna River and Nizamuddin Dargah, Humayun’s Tomb was the first garden tomb on the Indian Subcontinent. It is the Tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun and it was commissioned by his wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562 AD. In recent years both its gardens and the monument have been restored and revived by Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
THE RESTORATION OF THE GARDENS
“These restored gardens are the first chahar-bagh, or four-part paradise garden to surround a Mughal tomb on the sub-continent. Built nearly a century before the Taj Mahal, the Tomb and its gardens were an expression of the love and respect borne towards the Emperor Humayun by his son, Akbar and widow, Haji Begum. The chahar-bagh was more than a pleasure garden. In the discipline and order of its landscaped geometry, its octagonal or rectangular pools, its selection of favourite plants and trees, it was an attempt to create transcendent perfection – a glimpse of paradise on earth.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, April 15, 2003.
“Conceived in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of India’s independence, the restoration of the gardens of Humayun’s Tomb was formalised two years later. Implementation began in 2001 and was completed yesterday [April 15, 2003].
“The task has been a vast one. Water channels were re-laid to such exacting standards that their beds rise only one centimetre every 40 metres. Over 2500 trees and plants were introduced in accordance with our knowledge of the original palette of landscaping. Wells were re-excavated and incorporated into a rainwater harvesting and irrigation system. Sixty stonecutters prepared 2,000 meters of hand-dressed red sandstone slabs.
“The hues and scents of these gardens, the varied sources of the design elements and of the chosen construction materials, make this monument an important reminder of the power and elegance of diversity, while the sentiments that moved its patrons, united them in a shared virtue.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, April 15, 2003.
THE RESTORATION OF THE MAUSOLEUM
“This inauguration ceremony marks the accomplishment of a great goal; the gardens and now the Mausoleum are fully restored. The fact that so many people want to share this extraordinary experience – as you do today – is a heartening affirmation of the Monument’s continuing importance.