The first privately funded restoration of the garden of the tomb, which is a World Heritage Site, was completed last month. It was a joint effort of the Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the aegis of the National Culture Fund (NCF).
For the first-time in 400 years, water will flow through sand-stoned channels in the first chaar bagh (four-part garden) surrounding a Mughal garden with revitalised gardens, pathways and fountains.
“The objective of the project was to revitalise the gardens, pathways, fountains and water channels of the chaar bagh, or four-part paradise garden, surrounding Humayun’s Tomb,” says Ratish Nanda, project coordinator, AKTC. To ensure that the site was rehabilitated according to the original plans of the builders, site works encompassed a variety of disciplines, including archaeology, conservation science and hydraulic engineering.
The US$ 650,000 (appox. Rs 3.25 crore) project has featured the removal of 3,000 truckloads of earth (12,000 cubic meters), the planting of 12 hectares of land, the resetting and alignment of over 3,000 km of path kerbstones, the preparation by some 60 stonecutters of 2,000 meters of hand-dressed red sandstone slabs (to edge the channels), the creation of 128 ground water recharge pits, the creation of a site exhibition, and the planning and installation of a new water circulation system for the walkway channels. Over 2,500 trees and plats, including mango, lemon, neem, hibiscus and jasmine cuttings, were planted on the 12 hectare (30 acre) site.
Conceived on the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence, AKTC began work on the gardens in 2001 and work was completed last month. In addition to the implementing organisations —ASI and the AKTC—three other parties also played a role: the National Culture Fund of the Department of Culture, which is part of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Indo-British Fiftieth Anniversary Trust and the Oberoi group of hotels.
Inaugurating the first private funded restoration of a world heritage site in India, Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims said: “Whether through neglect or willful destruction, the disappearance of physical traces of the past deprives us of more than memories. Spaces that embody historic realities remind us of the lessons of the past. As we witnessed most poignantly across Afghanistan and now in Iraq, the very survival of so much of this heritage today is at risk.”
Referring to the multiplier effect of ancillary economic activity like tourism and educational benefits at the revitalised Humayun’s tomb, the spiritual leader said, “Investing in cultural initiatives represents an opportunity to improve the quality of life for the people who live around these remarkable inheritances of the past great civilisations.”
Joining him, Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan said the project would be extended covering other monuments and areas surrounding the tomb.
“All the surrounding monuments will be integrated into a large complex. I am sure, this will become a landmark not only in the history of Delhi but in the history of India,” the minister said.
He further said one of the ultimate objectives of the various policy initiatives of his ministry was bringing a cultural and national regeneration in the country.
The massive restoration project started in early 2001 and completed last month featured earth removal, rainwater harvesting, water circulation systems and replanting of a number of trees as per the Mughal tradition.
The revitalisation of the gardens required a variety of activities—from masonry to archival research. A series of systematic excavations were carried out to understand better the garden and its relationship to the building and adjoining features, such as the river.
Amongst key features discovered were aqueducts, terracotta pipes, fountain mechanism, wells, siphons and copper pipes. These features, among other factors, formed the brief of the project as they indicated original garden levels and water movement patterns.
Emperor Humayan’s tomb was built over nearly a decade beginning around 1565. It was the first Mughal tomb with a chahar-bagh, or a four-part paradise garden, on the Indian subcontinent.
Its construction was probably overseen by the Emperor’s widow, Haji Begum, during the reign of Emperor Akbar, at an estimated cost of Rs 15 lakh. It is thought to have inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal, among other buildings.