They say that the tomb looks different every time you visit. This time the visit was on a hot and sunny September morning, not the best time for venturing outdoors. The experience, however, was worth the trouble because of the compelling story behind the fading red sandstones, the story of a man who worked and fought hard but died too young -- the story of an emperor.

It was at the Humayun’s Tomb that the motley crowd of heritage enthusiasts, history buffs, eager school children armed with notebooks and curious on-lookers gathered on a bright Sunday morning. They were following heritage consultant Navina Jafa on a heritage walk through time and cultures, and trying to see the human story behind the ruins.

The first stop was a small tomb, a little distance away from the western gates. “This is the tomb of a noble from the court of Sher Shah Suri, it was here some 20 years before the greater tomb was built. Sher Shah Suri sat on the seat of Delhi, while Humayun suffered untold misery travelling through Kabul, Lahore, Iran and Persia fighting battles, overcoming betrayals and finally coming back to Delhi to capture his rightful place in history after the death of Sher Shah Suri,” says Dr. Jafa, before telling the story of how his little son was born when the king was a man without a kingdom or a roof over his head.

“When his son was born, he opened the kasturi flower and inhaling the sweet smell emanating from it, blessed his son and hoped that his life would be like the pervading scent of the flower, that goodness would follow him everywhere. That son was later to become the greatest emperor of the Mughul dynasty, Akbar the great, and he would also be responsible for building this final resting place for his father.”

Although, the tomb was done with the money and power of Emperor Akbar, the idea was all Hamida Begum’s, the mother of Akbar and Humayun’s beloved wife. “Hamida wanted to build an enclosed Paradise Garden surrounding the tomb, which would reflect the concept of paradise according to Islamic cosmology. This had never been done in India, although it was a common practice in the Arab world.”

Next on the list was “Arab Sarai” – a housing colony to keep the hoards of artisans brought by Hamida Begum to build the tomb. There are wells and remnants of a horse stable. “Water” played a key role in the fortunes in many an empire and the Mughuls were no different. There are several water channels all over the tomb, some of which appear to be disappearing beneath the tomb and appearing on the other side. Natural water-courses from the Yamuna have been cleverly utilised and water was said to have been flowing throughout the gardens many waterfalls, without the help of modern technology.

“There are four squares or water channels that intersect in the “Paradise Garden” and are meant to reflect the four rivers said to be flowing in the Islamic heaven.”

The entrance-way by the western gates is entrancing. “Look, the last window of Humayun’s tomb can be seen from here,” says Jafa.

The tomb is not meant for Emperor Humayun alone, he is surrounded by at least 100 unnamed souls and only after many chambers are traversed that one can reach the innermost chamber. The ceiling work is still being restored, so one cannot see the stunning inlays and paintings that are said to be there. There are elements of Rajasthani handiwork in the marble canopies that surround the central dome. “See here the latticed windows, a window to heaven perhaps?” says Ms. Jafa, before ending the tour.

The walk was organised by the Delhi Government’s Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation for free. The organisation also takes school children on regular heritage walks and even has a Facebook page.


When history got pushed aroundJuly 28, 2012

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