Sabz Burj restored to its Mughal-era glory

3 years of scientific cleaning to remove plaster has revealed surviving painted ceiling

November 18, 2021 01:19 am | Updated 01:19 am IST - NEW DELHI

Hidden in plain sight, Sabz Burj in New Delhi.

Hidden in plain sight, Sabz Burj in New Delhi.

Hidden in plain sight on a traffic island on Mathura Road, with an estimated 60 lakh vehicles passing by annually, is one of Delhi’s earliest Mughal-era monuments— Sabz Burj. It has been conserved and restored over the last four years using traditional materials and building-craft techniques favoured by 16th Century craftsmen.

Immense significance

The tomb, which was built in 1530, does not have any markings pointing to the identity of those buried under it. However, it is of immense significance due to the ceiling on its double dome structure painted in pure gold and lapiz and revealed after conservation efforts began.

It is thought to be the earliest surviving painted ceiling for any monument in India.

Conservationists believe that the painting on the ceiling that has floral motifs predates similar work that was seen in miniature paintings and textiles from the Mughal era and was covered with plaster sometime in 20th Century, when the structure was used as a police station.

The missing glazed tiles on the dome and the tall, elongated drum on which it rests have been restored to its original turquoise-blue hue. The original tiles that remain have been preserved even though they have lost the glaze.

Original hue

Ratish Nanda, project director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, said that art conservators spent three years in scientific cleaning to remove plaster and chemical layers to reveal the extent of the surviving painted ceiling. “The conservation effort stopped at revealing the original painted surface and no effort to restore the missing portions was attempted for the inner dome. For the glazed tiles on the exterior of the dome, artists from Uzbekistan trained local craftsmen on how to get the exact hue of it,” Mr. Nanda said.

The monument stands at the entrance to Humayun’s Tomb and would have originally stood within an enclosed garden. The conservation works have been undertaken with the support of Havells by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with the ASI. It has been done in a way to ensure the authenticity of material, form and design while ensuring the integrity of the monument is retained for future centuries.

The tomb has been illuminated at night and is open for visitors.

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