A sepulchre for the emperor's barber

Last Updated 27 May 2014, 15:41 IST

Delhi’s historical landscape is scattered with several monuments for Islamic emperors, their patron saints, extended family members and ministers.

But ever heard of a tomb for the royal barber, that too, in such close proximity to the emperor’s mausoleum that you would suppose the former can still service him in the netherworld?

Humayun’s Tomb is, undo­u­­btedly, one of the most popular historical spots in Delhi visited by thousands every year. But most often, tourists miss out on the significance of the Nai-ka-maqbara, literally mea­ning the barber’s tomb, in the same complex.

Even if you overlook the inviting name, the tomb itself is striking. The tomb of the royal barber of Humayun is many a photographers’ den for its beautiful architectural features and abs­o­rbing tranquillity.

It is said that in the medie­val times, in the royal Mughal household, barbers had a special position and respect.

The reason, actually, being quite obvious, yet interesting: They were the only ones who could bring a blade close to the emperor’s throat and get away with it! However mighty the emperor may be, when in need of a haircut or shave, he would have to duly bow before the barber. That made the barber a peculiarly powerful entity himself.

This tomb has no inscriptions, or related documentation, to prove that it is indeed the sepulchre of Humayun’s barber.

It is only word-of-mo­u­­th, amazingly carrying on to this day, which has titled it Nai-ka-maqbara.

Only a figu­re, 999, is carved inside which gives a clue as to the date of this monument, possibly representing the year of the Islamic Hijra calendar that corresponds to 1590-91 AD. It is the only structure standing inside the large square (char­bagh) complex, other than Humayun’s tomb itself, speaking volumes on its import.

A board put up by the Arch­aeological Survey of India rea­ds: “Folklore refers to the buil­ding as Barber’s Tomb. The red sand stone facade, tilted canopies, minarets and sandstone screens give the tomb its striking character. The tomb contains the ornamental cenotaphs of one male and one female. The water channels around the tomb were added between 1905 and 1909.”

It is speculated that the female cenotaph may belong to the barber’s wife, though, ag­ain, available historical rec­o­rds are silent.

The nai’s wife, nain, was herself a very useful personality in the royal Mug­hal circle.

The nain would ke­ep an eye on eligible bachelors in the city and arrange matches for royal princes and princ­esses.

Even till date, the­re is a saying in north India that if you want to spread a word, nain is the one to go to.

For a nai and nain, the to­mb is remarkably beautiful.

It is a single compartment cove­red with a double dome. The outer dome is crowned by an inverted lotus finial base.

The structure is surrounded by small minarets again topped with lotus motifs. At each corner is a pavilion (chhattri) whi­ch still bears sparkling blue, green and yellow tile inlay work.

Look out for Arabic verses on the graves, and the sandstone screens which create fascinating patterns of sunlight on the ground. Nai-ka-maqbara is worth visiting.

(Published 27 May 2014, 15:41 IST)

Follow us on