In commemoration of World Heritage Day, the aesthetically constructed garden tombs of Isa Khan Niyazi and Bu Halima, located at the entrance of Humayun’s Tomb, were on Thursday re-opened to the public after a gap of two years.

Apart from soaking in the grandeur of the majestic Humayun’s Tomb, a large number of students from schools of Delhi and the National Capital Region accompanied by their teachers were taken around the two reconstructed tombs. During the guided heritage walk, the historical and architectural significance of the tombs were explained.

Craft demonstration workshops in ceramic tile and paper cutting were conducted by the youth of Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.

Built in the style developed in the early 16 Century in Delhi for royal tombs of the Sayyid and Lodhi dynasties, Isa Khan’s Tomb predates the building of Humayun’s Tomb. With its glazed tiles, plasterwork, stone elements such as finials and lattice screen, the structure is an architectural marvel. Isa Khan Niazi was an Afghan noble in the court of Emperor Sher Shah Suri.

According to National Commission for Minorities chairman Wajahat Habibullah, earlier the Archaeological Survey of India would simply do the repair work whenever there was leakage in these tombs, but it did not carry out any restoration. “The Aga Khan Trust for Culture began the exercise of restoring the damaged part and has done its best to bring back the tombs to their original glory. Interestingly, the tombs predates the Humayun’s Tomb. While the Humayun’s Tomb has Central Asian influences, these tombs have Indian influences. On the dome there is an inverted lotus which is a prominent feature in temples.”

Socio-economic changes

Apart from conservation and landscape restoration work, the AKTC is also working on improving the socio-economic conditions of the local people living in the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti.

“The AKTC has been restoring traditional artistic skills of the local craftsmen and integrating them with the national mainstream. It is providing livelihood opportunities by working in the field of education. Those who had encroached on the baoli of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya have also been rehabilitated by AKTC,” says Mr. Habibullah, who is also in the committee of the Aga Khan’s Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Project.

World Monuments Fund president and chief executive officer Bonnie Burnham said her New York-based organisation was in partnership with AKTC for working on the preservation of the two tombs. “We financed this phase of the project because we wanted to support the restoration work. We want to bring alive these magnificent monuments which the world had forgotten.”

Pointing out that the tombs were in a dilapidated condition before the restoration work started on a war-footing, Ms. Burnham said AKTC is also supporting the local community. “It was involved in conserving the well and installing the rain harvesting system at the Humayun’s Tomb and then expanded its project.”

Pointing out that the ornamental ceiling of Isa Khan Tomb had suffered decay due to neglect and water ingress, AKTC project head Ratish Nanda said restoration of the ornamentation has been carried out by master craftsmen. “Major roof repairs and stitching of cracks in the dome were required to halt water penetration from the roof. The internal wall surface had to be re-plastered in lime mortar after removal of cement plaster. The two collapsed internal bays have now been reconstructed on the basis of the surviving western bay. Thankfully, the missing column was discovered embedded in the earth.”

The sunken garden was revealed during the ongoing work. It has been planted with a citrus orchard.

ASI Joint Director-General B. R. Mani said the walls of the two tombs were earlier bulging out and required plaster.

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