Restoring Humayun's Tomb: Arduous labour of love

Last Updated 19 September 2013, 11:27 IST

Craftsmen had to apply 21,000 square metres of lime plaster, reset 5,400 square metres of sandstone on the terrace and lift 3,700 square metres of stone plinth to reconstruct the collapsed arcade and dome of the 16th century tomb of Mughal emperor Humayun - a World Heritage Site that is one of the biggest tourist draws in the Indian capital - over six long years to restore it to its original glory.

The refurbished Humayun's Tomb complex was inaugurated Wednesday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The restoration the largest and most ambitious conservation project undertaken in India, and the only one by a non-government body, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The most challenging part of the process was attending to water seepage into the dome, according to Ratish Nanda, the conservation architect heading the project.
"The people who built it weren't that advanced (in techniques) so the first thing we had to address was the water seepage problem that had resulted in considerable deterioration of the mausoleum's condition," Nanda told IANS.

"Craftsmen were required to remove a million kilos of concrete from the roof and thousand of square meters of cement from the walls, ceilings and floors of all structures within the garden enclosure," he added, saying craftsmen had to restore stone joints in the dome with lime infill to make it watertight.

Humayun's Tomb was built in 1565, nine years after the death of the emperor, close to the Yamuna river which then used to flow through that area. Humayan was the second emperor of the Mughal dynastry in India, that began with Babur in 1526 and ended with Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857, when the British colonial rulers put down the first Indian War of Independence.
The restoration work, which began in 2007, was divided into phases.

"The first phase was to examine the challenges and see how we could restore the original form," Nanda said.

The restoration of the tile work on the canopies on the roof required a four-year phase of experimentation and training. During this, mastercraftsmen from Uzbekistan trrained young artisans in the art of tile-making, which has been lost in India," he added.

With this initiative, the project took a craft-based approach to conservation that offers a model for reviving the art of tile-making. Many youths from the adjoining Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti have earned a livelihood by becoming a part of the project. Even the prime minister lauded the public-private model and said that communities of the Basti now benefit from improved urban infrastructure in health, education, water and sanitation as a by-product of the initiative.

"The Humayun's Tomb project, I believe, has provided 200,000 man-days of employment for mastercraftsmen," Manmohan Singh noted.

The Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, World Monuments Fund, Ford Foundation and other organisations were partners in the restoration project.

Along with the tomb, a number of adjoining monuments like Nila Gumbad, Isa Khan's garden tomb, Bu Halima's garden tomb, Arab ki Sarai gateways, Sundarawala Mahal and Burj, Batashewala group of monuments, Chausath Khambha and Hazrat Nizamuddin Baoli - Delhi is littered with archaeological marvels - have also been restored.

(Published 19 September 2013, 11:27 IST)

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