“For conservation to be successful in our country it is necessary that we return to a craft-based approach where master craftsmen are empowered to match the work of their forefathers using traditional materials, tools and building craft traditions,” said Aga Khan Trust for Culture project director Ratish Nanda, who has been associated with the restoration work of the two Mughal era garden tombs of Isa Khan Niyazi and Bu Halima over the past two years.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Nanda said traditional materials were used while carrying out the restoration work on the two tombs. Restoration was a daunting task as it involved in-depth research, and experts from India and abroad had to be roped in. It was a challenge to produce authentic parts which could fit in the broken areas of the tombs. “It was driven by the understanding of the multi-disciplinary project team that the outstanding universal value of the Humayun’s Tomb world heritage site – of which these monuments are a part – lies in it being an ensemble of 16th Century garden-tombs,” said Mr. Nanda.
The conservation work was undertaken to successfully restore the dignity of the Mughal era garden tombs and create an understanding of these sites as well as to establish a model conservation philosophy.
According to landscape architect of the project Mohammad Shaheer, during the Mughal period the ground around the tomb was used for maintaining orchards. “The produce would be sold and used for the upkeep of the tomb.”
Since an orchard existed around the garden tomb of Isa Khan “citrus species have now been planted”. “After two years, the trees would make the monument look even more beautiful. A lot of earth had been put on the ground. So the correct level had to be restored. Since the ceramic tiles used in the tomb were from Central Asia, a team from Iran and Uzbekistan researched and produced tiles of the original colour. Similarly, traditional material like lime plaster have been used.”
For team comprising archaeologists, conservation architects, engineers, stone carvers, landscape designers, urban planners, graphic designers, glazed tile makers, masons and plasterers it was important to remove the 20 Century accretions to the structures and their setting.
According to AKTC chief engineer Rajpal Singh, his team manually removed a million cubic feet of earth laid here in the 20th Century as well as dismantled a British era road that was built after demolishing portions of the Bu Halima enclosure wall. “Cement was removed from the dome of Isa Khan’s tomb causing significant damage while also appearing unsightly. It is important for craftsmen to use traditional building traditions and materials as these skills also need to be preserved and conservation projects such as this create significant though rare employment opportunities for craftsmen.”
Apart from working on the conservation of the two tombs, the AKTC also involved the local community of Hazrat Nizamuddin basti in the conservation work which has been carried out on these tombs and the garden setting with co-funding from the World Monuments Fund and in constant dialogue with the Archaeological Survey of India.