"... the architects of the Taj Mahal derived their inspiration, from two buildings at Delhi which predetermined it in certain aspects of its conformation. These are the mausoleum of Humayun and the Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan I Khanan ... the later one is proof that the type of architecture they represent had not been forgotten during this interval...
Rahim, as one of Emperor Akbar’s navratans, a reputed military commander and a renowned poet whose couplets continue to be taught even today, was one of the Mughal era’s most respected personalities. Together with Hazrat Amir Khusrau and Mirza Ghalib, both of whom lie buried in close proximity, Rahim is counted amongst India’s foremost poets. His mausoleum thus has great historical significance. The conservation initiative was thus coupled with research and dissemination of Rahim’s contribution to the development of Hindustani culture and will lead to a greater interest amongst visitors especially school children.
Khan I Khanan’s tomb is a significant expression of Mughal architecture, it is inspired by the grandeur of Humayun’s Tomb, and architectural innovations were also developed here which informed the design for the Taj Mahal. Clad in red sandstone and marble, the interiors of the mausoleum are profusely decorated with ornamental incised plasterwork, and decorative motifs which were also used at Humayun’s Tomb, such as the six sided star and lotus medallions, continued to be used here. In addition, water tanks on the upper plinth indicate of an elaborate water system.
The tomb was originally built by Rahim for his wife, making it the first ever Mughal tomb to be built for a woman, with the more celebrated Taj having been built later. As with other tombs in Nizamuddin, Rahim was buried here due the close proximity to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, as it was considered auspicious to be buried near a saint. Along with other poets such as Amir Khusrau and Mirza Ghalib who were buried in close proximity, the area became well known for being a cradle of Hindustani culture.
Following the revered Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, being buried here in Nizamuddin in the early 14th century, the area has seen seven centuries of inhabitation and tomb building, making it a significant ensemble of medieval era. Rahim’s Tomb stands at the edge of the buffer zone of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site, within an area of high archaeological significance. It stands within a dense ensemble of 16th century medieval monuments, a complex of extreme significance, and sits on the Mughal Grand Trunk Road, modern day Mathura Road.
Abdur Rahim Khan I Khanan, popularly known as 'Rahim’ is one of the nine important ministers of Akbar’s court, known as the navratnas or nine gems, and had close association with scholars of eminence. He has been attributed as an important figure in development of India's composite culture, a culture of shared values. The legends of his munificent patronage to the men of learning, irrespective of sectarian consideration or creed provided cultural reference points afterwards.
The Celebrating Rahim Programme is focussed on documenting Rahim's cultural legacy with the support of InterGlobe Foundation. As part of the cultural revival programme, heritage walks, research and documentation, and theatre plays have been conducted on the life and works of Rahim.
Despite the historical, architectural and archaeological significance of the structure, by the 21st century Rahim’s Tomb was in a ruinous condition with a risk of complete collapse. Though an estimated six million people drive past the mausoleum annually, very few are aware that the ruin is the tomb of the legendary Rahim.
The marble and sandstone cladding on the dome, facade, flooring of the terrace and the tomb, the parapets, lattice screens have largely been stripped of the building over the years including significant loss of fabric in the 20th century. Conservation works commenced with the financial support of InterGlobe Foundation in late 2014 following approval of the Conservation Plan by the Director General, ASI as well as approvals of the ASI Core Committee.
Rahim’s grand mausoleum would have been a garden tomb as with Humayun’s Tomb and the later Taj Mahal; it is quite probable that the stone of the garden enclosure walls was itself quarried in the 19th century when marble and sandstone were stripped off the tomb structure.
Scientific clearance of earth will be carried out in an effort to reveal any foundations of enclosure walls, remains of garden pathways, water features, amongst other aspects. It is understood that a significant amount of earth will require to be removed from the garden to restore original levels.
Landscape elements will include benches, wheelchair access, appropriate lighting and signage’s to replace unsightly elements found here at present.
In 2014, on the completion of the conservation effort at Humayun’s Tomb, AKTC was requested by the Secretary (Culture), Government of India, to also undertake the conservation of Rahim Khan-i- Khanan’s tomb – a grand structure standing in close proximity to both Humayun’s Tomb and the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
AKTC approached InterGlobe Foundation for co-funding who then came forth to fund and collaborate with AKTC and ASI to undertake this conservation effort as well as to undertake an exhaustive effort to document and disseminate Rahim’s legacy as a poet.
The collaboration with InterGlobe Foundation allowed the conservation effort to be considered. The project has demonstrated a successful model of public-private partnership for conservation. Unlike in the developed world where there is significant civil society engagement with conservation effort, conservation of national monuments has to date been restricted to the government agencies. The ongoing Rahim Tomb’s conservation and cultural revival project is the first such initiative where monuments of national importance are being conserved by a private philanthropic group.
Conservation works are being carried out in keeping with the conservation plan and are guided by Engineers with over three decades of conservation experience and by experienced conservation architects. A conservation architect and a jr. engineer are present at all times during conservation works and are assisted by field supervisors.
Every conservation effort should be supported by independent peer reviews. This need is however much greater for prominent, significant buildings and where major repairs are planned to be undertaken. It is planned to conduct at least 50 independent peer reviews during the course of the conservation effort – seeking opinion of diverse stakeholders – archaeologists, conservation architects, engineers, administrators, historians, authors, amongst others. 30 such reviews have already been held and have helped inform the conservation effort.Read reviews Core Team meetings
"The pool system on the platform is a remarkable feature and every effort needs to be taken to bring this to life. It will be a major attraction to the finished tomb. Similarly, the remains of the existing cenotaph do not seem worthy of the place or its significance. The opportunity should be taken to provide a sympathetic but clearly contemporary indication of the original, reflecting the lives of Rahim and his wife".
“I would like to congratulate the conservation team for the great efforts that are being undertaken to conserve this monument and set an example for conservation in India”.
“Rahim’s tomb gets back its old glory by a careful treatment of the red and white sandstone facing of the facades and the cleaning of the amazing stucco decoration of the inner hall. We can now see again and marvel about the wonderful patterns which decorate the walls and the dome. Your work changes our perception of Mughal monuments”.
“The monument is significant on account of the association with a great personality of Rahim – a minister, commander and poet…. I appreciate the conservation philosophy which is strictly based on the ASI’s National Policy of Conservation notified in 2014… and the ‘archaeological approach’ adopted here… in carrying stone-by stone documentation and analyses”.
“After the restoration, the Tomb will get a large number of visitors. I am happy to know that an alternative suitable entry-exit is being designed and tree plantation is being done along the peripheries to shelter the Tomb from heavy traffic....This major work is being done with sensitivity. It will bring out all that was hidden by decades of cement plaster, as has happened in Isa Khan’s Tomb. I will watch the progress with interest”.
“As an archaeologist I really appreciated the incredible attention to historical processes, rigorous documentation and state of the art recording and conservation techniques. The project stands out as exemplary, not only in India today, but globally”.
“The project has given many of us a sense of hope. Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan’s resting place emerges from its chrysalis - as not an outsize mausoleum of a battered soldier, but as the beautiful monument that he dreamed up for his wife”.
“One hopes the “model conservation project” will bring a new lease of life to this grand monument to one of India’s ablest sons; in the process if it draws attention to his poetry one can only rejoice. For, surely it is time for Rahim to step out from the shadows of long-forgotten Hindi textbooks and take his rightful place among the great poets of Hindustan”.
“The main tomb chamber exterior and interior need lot of conservation work. It is essential to provide missing red sandstone from arched sides and on the walls to protect and support the hanging pieces and architectural members. It will provide the strength to the fabric and appropriate look....The conservation measures initiated have prolonged the life of the structure and I compliment ASI, AKTC and InterGlobe”.
“Traditional Craft based conservation approach is being followed by utilising the skills of the traditional craftsmen to restore the architectural and artistic values of the monument based on the scientific evidence gathered. This approach is perfect in the Indian context, where traditional crafts are still practiced and heritage is very much part and parcel of the local community”.
“Had anyone from Rahim’s family been alive and in capacity of repairing their ancestor’s memorial, they would have definitely ensured that the cracks developed over time would have never occurred and the incident of stealing of stone from Tomb would have never happened. In absence of any such custodian, it is important that we try to restore its original glory from whatever accurate information is available”.
“The work completed so far is an example of desired coordination and interface between the traditional skill resource and modern architectural methodologies”.
“The mausoleum had reached this sorry state because many decades ago it had been cannibalised, stripped of its sandstone and marble cladding and left exposed to the elements. The restoration cannot, therefore, be a routine affair. The roof of the crypt had settled unevenly and was threatening to bring down the entire structure, the Chhatris were falling off, the parapet was gone and varied floral patterns on the spandrels of the arches had been badly damaged by the vandals. And so it is not merely a routine job of restoration and of arresting further decay...”
In overall effort the Restoration work significantly follow the principles outlined in the Document and has a very high level of standard for such project. There is great care taken in demonstrating the adherence to the principles of minimal intervention to the historic structure and restoring it as near state of originality as possible. In selection of materials including that of mortars and plaster there is a strict adherence to the standards of quality and practice in workmanship. The workforce in terms of craftsmen and supervisory staff are excellently trained and as result their output certainly measures up to the required levels of standards of excellence which is requisite for such a project.
“The work at Khan I Khanan’s tomb is most exciting…, a monument far more damaged has turned into a thing of beauty. I have passed the crumbling skeleton of the tomb and always regarded it as something of a wreck. Yet now it stands as one of Delhi’s most beautiful interiors containing some of the city’s loveliest decorative flourishes”.
Layers of soot and lime-wash had obliterated the 17th century patterns in most parts of the structure but especially in the main tomb chamber. In order to ensure no damage occurs to the underlying plaster patterns, craftsmen took over a year to clean the domed ceiling with soft and moist toothbrushes – with spectacular results.