It was an interesting blend of historical narrative and knowledge on contemporary conservation work for all those who assembled at the Humayun’s Tomb, a world heritage site, on Saturday morning.
A group of people from different walks of life were explained the rationale behind certain architectural design patterns and gardens of the Mughal era. Most importantly, they were updated about the significant restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has also improved the socio-economic conditions of people living in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.
Part of The Hindu Lit for Life, the event aimed at shedding light on the Mughal era was thankfully not a monologue but an interactive one as curious heritage lovers bombarded with questions AKTC project director Ratish Nanda, who spearheaded the restoration work of the Humayun’s Tomb. Mr. Nanda succinctly explained the work done so far by his organisation.
The participants were first taken to the Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb, which pre-dates the Humayun’s Tomb. “We are standing within the large Humayun’s Tomb complex. It is an ensemble of the 16 Century garden tomb. How many of you have read the Baburnama? In his memoir, Mughal emperor Babur was critical of the lack of enclosed gardens in Hindustan. Isa Khan was a noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri. It is the only octagonal tomb surviving of that period,” said Mr. Nanda.
Reconstruction of the collapsed portions of the gateway, restoration of the finial on the dome and structural repairs to the garden retaining wall have been undertaken as part of the conservation work at the Isa Khan’s Garden Tomb.
While explaining the significant work carried out, Mr. Nanda was critical of the “nasty” reconstruction work undertaken during the past 150 years. He said using inappropriate construction material such as cement had led to deterioration of heritage buildings.
Pointing out that Aga Khan offered to restore the garden of Humayun’s Tomb on the 50 anniversary of India’s Independence, the AKTC project director said cement concrete laid in the tomb during the 20 Century to prevent water ingress was removed from the roof.
“As cement plaster was accelerating deterioration, we had to apply lime plaster. The conservation work was carried out to restore the architectural integrity. There were lightning conductors in canopies. The dome was leaking. So we had to fill the joint with limestone.”
As part of the conservation work, master craftsmen from Uzbekistan trained youngsters from the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti in the art of traditional tile making which had been lost in India.
During the interactive session, Mr. Nanda revealed that Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar had taken refuge at the Humayun’s Tomb thinking “the British would not dare to intrude inside.”
“But he was wrong. After his capture, it became important for the British since the Mughal emperor had been captured there.”
For one of the visitors, the field trip was an engaging exercise and a treat since the AKTC project manager explained comprehensively the challenges to restore the Humayun’s Tomb to its pristine glory. “In Europe, we have such sessions where the main supervisors explain the architectural work carried out. We should have more such events.” Senior citizens from Delhi and the National Capital Region and foreigners also participated in the nearly two-hour-long heritage walk.