Humayun’s garden-tomb is built on a monumental scale, with no precedence in the Islamic world. The garden-tomb truly represents Mughal innovation with its monumental scale, and its garden setting representing the Quranic ideal. The monumental scale achieved here was to become the characteristic of Mughal imperial projects, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Within the complex also stand seven Mughal era garden-tombs which together form a unique ensemble of 16th century garden-tombs.
Following the successful garden restoration undertaken here, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture commenced conservation works on the mausoleum in 2007 with co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and in partnership of the Archaeological Survey of India.
In the latter years of the 20th century, the Humayun’s Tomb site suffered from a condition that had befallen many World Heritage Sites. Its gardens were worn, its masonry cracked, and the stonework broken or incomplete, the ruinous appearance resulting in few visitors to the site. Conservation works have aimed at enhancing the cultural significance of the World Heritage Site by restoring the architectural integrity and authenticity of craftsmanship.
In the latter years of the 20th century, the Humayun’s Tomb site had suffered from a condition that had befallen many World Heritage Sites. Its gardens were worn, its masonry cracked, and the stonework broken or incomplete, the ruinous appearance resulting in few visitors to the site. The competition for resources made restoration of cultural sites an unpalatable position for many authorities. Unfortunate use of cement mortars during earlier repairs accelerated the decay process.
All the monuments in Humayun’s Tomb Complex including the Barber’s tomb, west and south gateways, North, east and north east pavilions, enclosure walls have been scanned using 3D Leica scanner. Detailed architectural working drawings including plans, elevations, sections etc are prepared for each monument. The exhaustive archival and historical research programme coupled with a condition assessment of the structure has recorded individual stones, to enhance our understanding of the site and thereby establish the significance.
Humayun’s Tomb and the other contemporary 16th century garden tombs within the property form a unique ensemble of Mughal era garden-tombs. Humayun’s Garden-tomb is built on a monumental scale, grandeur of design and garden setting with no precedence in the Islamic world for a mausoleum. Conservation works therefore aimed to ensure that the significance is retained or even enhanced by restoring authenticity of material and integrity of the site.
Key conservation charters and guidelines such as the ASI’s Conservation Manual, Venice Charter, UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter, the Nara Charter among others informed the conservation decisions at Humayun’s Tomb. The procedure included exhaustive documentation and research to establish the RSOUV for the World Heritage Site, with the focus on long-term preservation by ensuring stability, integrity and authenticity.
Since conservation of Humayun’s Tomb has the potential to impact its significance, decision-making needs to based on wide consultation. The ASI Core Committee held 43 reviews in which 41 individual ASI officers inspected the ongoing works and provided instructions to the team. Similarly, several formal reviews were conducted by noted international and national experts including Mr. Francesco Bandarin, Mr. Herb Stovel, Mr. A.G.K. Menon, Dr Ebba Koch, Dr Neils Gutchsow, and Prof. Vasavada.
In view of the scale of work to be carried out and with a major departure from a ‘preserve as found’ approach, a Conservation Plan detailing the all proposed works was prepared by the team in 2008. The conservation approach was informed by national and international conservation philosophies, ensuring that all conservation efforts would guarantee long-term preservation while respecting the intention of the Mughal builders. The plan was shared with ASI, UNESCO and conservation professionals.
For the Humayun’s Tomb, the conservation plan outlined the intention to depend on master craftsmen not only to implement the conservation works but also be part of the decision-making systems. The craft-based approach to conservation was advocated after the condition assessment led to the realization that in order to ensure long-term preservation, the 20th-century alterations would have to be carefully removed and replaced with the traditional materials by master craftsmen using traditional tools.
The conservation of Humayun’s Tomb has been carried out in a unique set of circumstances wherein the role of traditional building craftsmanship is paramount as is the role of a multi-disciplinary team in the research, documentation, establishing the conservation policy, planning, supervision, dissemination of proposed works and learning. The works were supervised on a full-time basis by trained and experienced conservation architects, engineers and archaeologists from both ASI and AKTC.
Never before had Independent India seen such a major effort as was being planned here. Also, unlike similar effort in other parts of the world, where public access to sites is stopped for the duration of conservation works, putting a stop to public access could not even be a consideration at Humayun’s Tomb owing to the almost 2 million annual visitors.
This was also the first instance of a private agency undertaking conservation works on any of India’s protected monuments with all conservation works commenced only on a formal approval of the ASI Director General. Lack of precedent for public-private partnerships was itself a significant challenge as systems needed to be developed to ensure timely and informed decision-making.
The conservation of Humayun’s Tomb has been carried out in a unique set of circumstances wherein the role of traditional building craftsmanship is paramount as is the role of a multi-disciplinary team in the research, documentation, establishing the conservation policy, planning, supervision, dissemination of proposed works and learning. With the Mughal details uncovered, conserved, and restored where these had been obliterated by 20th-century repairs, the Mughal intention has been once again revealed in parts.Click here to see the list of conservation works carried out
Large blocks of quartzite stone had unequally settled and later been covered with cement
The architectural integrity of the chambers and alcoves restored to original glory
Repairing deep cracks running perpendicular to the vaults in almost all cells
Age, neglect, inappropriate repairs and water seepage from roofs led to facade
Tilework on the canopies was mostly lost and in parts covered over with cement plaster.
1 million kilograms of cement concrete was removed
760 sq. m of the external marble dome surface was repaired
Water seepage from the roof, discolouration of the 20th-century cement plaster and repetitive coats of lime-wash had led to its historically inappropriate architectural character
Original patterns and slopes had been altered and many of the sandstone blocks had disintegrated or very thin stone slabs were used in earlier repairs.
The damaged finial was replaced with a new finial
The Humayun’s Tomb Conservation is the first ever conservation initiative undertaken by any non-governmental organization in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India at any of India’s World Heritage Sites. Working on a World Heritage Site where integrity and authenticity had been compromised by past repairs posed a significant challenge as did the need to reconstruct collapsed portions of structures that had partially collapsed a century ago. Similarly, major works have been undertaken to halt the accelerated deterioration that had set in as a result of past repairs with modern materials. With the Mughal details uncovered, conserved, restored where these had been obliterated by 20th century repairs, the Mughal grandeur has been once again revealed in parts.
Aga Khan Trust for Culture, with co-funding of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India undertook the conservation of Humayun’s Tomb and associated structures during 2007-2013 and provided an opportunity to establish a model conservation process.
The conservation effort undertaken at Humayun’s Tomb had no precedence in terms of scale and scope in Independent India. It has also been India’s first ever privately funded and implemented conservation programme at any of our national monuments. The success of the project has demonstrated that conservation of our nations built heritage can thus be leveraged to fulfill development and economic objectives. For this to have a significant impact, conservation action needs to become more main stream and civil society involvement through public-private partnerships - to ensure our monuments and sites receive both the required funding and expertise and conservation action aids in meeting development goals.
The partnership with Tata Trusts made possible this major conservation effort. Similarly, the restoration of the gold finial on the dome was possible due to the partnership with Titan Company.