Humayun’s Tomb: New Delhi

“Spectacular!” that’s what visiting US President Barack Obama said about the Humayun’s Tomb on his recent visit to India.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the grandeur and magnificence of the monument. This beautiful red-stone monument in Nizamuddin (South Delhi), built over 450 years ago is being looked after thanks to the major renovation exercise taken up by Aga Khan Trust for Culture and Archaeological Survey of India.

Humayun ka Maqbara or Humayun’s Tomb is one of the must see architectural sites in Delhi, especially since it was the inspiration for one of the Seven Wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal.

This tomb has also been a much loved backdrop of many film-makers in Bollywood. In Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Abhishek takes Preity to Humayun’s Tomb and tells her that since he didn’t have enough money to take her to see Taj Mahal, he brought her to see the tomb. A romantic song for the Kareena-Saif starrer Kurbaan was shot here. And even  Aamir Khan’s character in Fanaa takes Kajol and her friends on a Dilli darshan, and one of the places they visit is Humayun’s Tomb.

The entire complex is larger than what I had imagined; the first building one observes is the Isa Khan’s Tomb. This tomb is situated just outside the Humayun’s tomb. It was built in the honor of Isa Khan, a brave and valiant noble under Sher Shah, the Afghan ruler who had overthrown Humayun. It was built in 1547, and until the early 20th century, an entire village had been settled in the enclosure.

The actual Humayn’s tomb was commissioned a year before his death by his Persian wife Haji Begam and her son Akbar. The tomb was constructed from 1562-1572 by Mirak Mirza Ghiyuath a renowned Persian architect. He had previously designed buildings in Herat (now northwest Afghanistan), Bukhara (now Uzbekistan).

The muhgals built many architectural marvels in their times. Everyone from the Mughal Empire’s family tree left a bit of themselves in these buildings. It started with Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, who founded the Mughal Empire in Indiain 1494. In 1530, Babur’s eldest son Humayun succeeded him as the king. After his death the fourteen-year-old Akbar, under the care of Bairam Khan, took charge. Akbar died in A.D. 1605 and was succeeded by his son Jahangir. Jahangir, passed the expanding empire to his son Shah Jahan in 1627. Aurungzeb imprisoned Shah Jahan and took over in 1658. Aurungzeb’s three sons disputed over succession, and the Mughal empire crumbled, just as the Europeans entered the subcontinent.

Back to Humayn’s tomb. The plan of the building is simply brilliant and very mathematical, with symmetrical ground plan and chambers that are sure to wow you. Although the architecture of the tomb was designed by the Persian architect, one can observe the distinctly Indian aspects of the tomb, like the Hindu chattris, that surround the central dome. It follows the Indo-Islamic tradition that was already emerging at the time.

The beautifully carved stone screens are not only artistic but only practical for the ventilation and light. Another prominent features is the center of a garden in the classical Mughal char bagh (four gardens) pattern. High wall surrounds the garden on three sides, the fourth side being bounded by what was once the bank of the river Jamna (Yamuna), which has since been diverted.

We saw some bats having a slumber party in one of the rooms that was being restored. The complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, and since then has undergone extensive restoration work, which is still underway.

The recent attention from movies and foreign dignitaries visiting the tomb has helped increase the footfall among local as well as foreign tourists. We visited the tomb on a saturday and were surprised to see a large number of school Children on a field trip.

It is easy to get here, and if you are an avid photographer the visit will be well worth the effort. It is located on Mathura Road, near the Lodi Road crossing. No one can miss the Nila-Gumbad or the blue dome monument at this crossing. Also, an interesting story about the Nila-Gumbad is that, the architect who built the Humayun’s Tomb is buried underneath.

The monument is open for public all days, with parking available for busses, taxis and private vehicles. One has to buy a ticket for INR 10 for citizens and INR 250 for Foreigners.

(C) Photographs by Ritika Sabharwal