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The emperor’s new tomb

LAKSHMI KRUPA
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PROJECT The restoration of Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi is a brilliant example of its kind

Parrots, parakeets, eagles and sparrows in dozens head home into the bushes at the newly restored Humayun’s Tomb’s gardens, singing all at once, as if in a sweet, chaotic symphony orchestra. A golden sunset is in the offing, as I take in the breathtaking details that have been recreated at the Isa Khan Tomb, also on the same grounds. A restored section of the tomb’s roof sits gloriously next to one that hasn’t been worked on, offering us a peek at the kind of labour that has gone into the project.

The Aga Khan Foundation, in a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India, has set a new benchmark in restoration in the country with this project. The preservation process has been meticulously recorded and the entire story is told with pictures and words on the walkway that leads to the tomb. “A million kilos of cement concrete was removed and lime plaster applied” a board at the venue explains. The dome was carefully repaired with lime mortar as was the six metre finial with its golden finish. The tiles on the canopies of the tomb’s roof have also been repaired. The result of this monumental effort: an awe-inspiring sight, one that befits the status of Humayun’s Tomb as the first Mughal structure of its grandeur to have been built in the sub-continent.

The gardens and the tombs are now remarkably spotless, having been rescued from the fate that many an Indian monument has suffered. You can appreciate the details in every wall and every stone. It is here that I realise what walls without the marks of vandals, who carve their initials inside a heart, can do for a monument’s image. The reds and whites of the tomb sit pretty with the intricate blue and green tile work.

Inside, in front of Humayun’s tomb, an old man dressed in white prays, even as the evening sun’s rays form beautiful patterns through the jalli window with its intricate carvings. The ceilings of Humayun’s as well as Isa Khan’s tombs are sights to behold. At Isa Khan’s, the beautiful white on the roof forms the perfect backdrop for an exquisitely intricate pattern in which verses, colours and shapes come together. On Humayun’s Tomb, the ceiling is the pièce de résistance.

It adds drama and grandeur to the already stunning space. Zigzag patterns in red run in from all directions under the dome, leading to the central, more elaborate, part in blue. The restoration process allows us, now more than ever, to truly appreciate the wonders of Mughal architecture and craftsmanship.

As the sun begins to set, I take in the view of Delhi from the tomb. Here a bird, there a child playing, and further away a family on vacation clicking pictures… all under the watchful eyes of the security guards who ensure that the building is clean and no damage is done to any part of this stupendous effort.

As I prepare to leave in the darkness of the late evening, I am left with a deep sense of calm.

The ‘new’ Humayun’s Tomb, one hopes, will help the next generations to understand heritage and value the efforts of craftsmen, both from the past and the present, a lot better.

Local communities of craftsmen were employed in large numbers for this project.

One hopes that this is the beginning of more such collaborations in the field of restoration.

LAKSHMI KRUPA

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