Humayun’s Tomb: An iconic example of Mughal architecture

The mausoleum of the second Mughal emperor is a must-visit for history and architecture buffs or for those who simply want to stroll through its beautiful gardens.
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The Humayun’s Tomb later inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal

Delhi is a city of cities which has lured men for centuries. While some came to plunder it others fell in love with it and made it their capital. Thanks to the various dynasties that ruled from here, the city is full of historical sights. But none is as charming as the Humayun’s Tomb –the mausoleum of the second Mughal emperor, built in 1570. The tomb is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb in the Indian subcontinent and later inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal.  

Commissioned by Haji Begum, Humayun’s first wife in 1565, the location of the tomb was carefully selected. It was chosen for its proximity to the revered Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah (around 650 m to the east) and to Dinpanah (Old Fort which was Humayun’s capital and where he died when he slipped from the steps of the library — around 1 km to the north). It was also close to the Yamuna River, which has since changed its course. Today, it stands amidst the Nizamuddin basti, surrounded by other Mughal monuments.

Over the years the beautiful monument has seen many dark days. In 1857, when the British captured Delhi and attacked the city of Shahjahanabad, the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar had to leave Red Fort. He took refuge at Humayun’s Tomb and was taken prisoner by the British from there.

In 1947, during the partition of the country, the Humayun’s Tomb again witnessed pain and brutality. The tomb and it’s gardens were used as refugee camps for almost five years. A lot of the structure and the gardens got destroyed during that time.

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The Humayun’s Tomb is a ‘garden-tomb’ and an example of the classical charbagh, (a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented).

An architectural marvel, the Humayun’s Tomb has many striking features. It was probably the largest tomb in the entire Indian subcontinent at that time. The tomb stands on a raised plinth, which has 56 cells or small chambers on all four sides. It is a ‘garden-tomb’ and an example of the classical charbagh, (a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented). The tomb stands right in the middle of this garden, which is spread across 30 acres.

Besides Humayun’s remains, the tomb serves as a kind of dormitory for later Mughal prince and princesses. There are more than 150 graves of the Mughal dynasty at the Humayun’s Tomb including that of Dara Shikoh, Shahjahan’s son who was killed by Aurangzeb. However, his grave has not been identified yet.

Over the years the monument and the gardens were destroyed. It was only in the late 1990s that the Agha Khan Trust for Culture undertook a major restoration project to revive the gardens along with the historic water fountains. Around 2,500 trees and plants including mango and neem were planted.

Post the garden, work started on the monument itself. It took six years and 200,000 work days by expert craftsmen to restore the Tomb’s Mughal finery.    

According to the Agha Khan Trust for Culture, “To restore the original designs of the Mughal builders of Humayun’s Tomb — many of which had been compromised by 20th century works — craftsmen were required to remove a million kilos of concrete from the roof and thousands of square metres of cement from the walls, ceilings and floors of all structures within the garden enclosure. Craftsmen also had to restore stone joints in the dome with lime infill to make the dome watertight; restore the tile work to the roof canopies while reviving tile making skills in India; apply 21,000 square metres (225,000 square feet) of lime plaster, mainly to the inner surface of the double dome and to the 68 small mausoleums on the ground level; reset 5400 square metres (58000 square feet) of sandstone on the terrace following the original patterns and slopes; and lift the 3700 square metres (40,000 square feet) stone plinth, which was buried under 20th century cement, amongst other works”.

But thanks to their hard work, in 2013 the Humayun’s Tomb was reopened for the public to admire the monument in all its Mughal glory.

Today the gardens and the monument itself is seen teeming with people either strolling the gardens, admiring the architecture or simply clicking selfies. It’s also very popular for pre-wedding shoots.  

Visitor Facts:

Timings: 6am to 6pm on all days

Entrance ticket: Rs 10 for Indian citizens

Tip: One of the best ways to explore the Humayun’s Tomb is through a heritage walk organised by Intach or any of the historians.