Crowning glory: How Delhi’s heritage emblem had its original pride restored

Crowning glory: How Delhi’s heritage emblem had its original pride restored

By PREETI SINGH | | 23 April, 2016
Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb, the first of the many magnificent mausoleums built by the Mughals in India, which is now seen as an icon of Mughal creativity and architectural prowess, suffered a minor setback in the summer of 2014. The gold finial that capped the main dome of the monument was knocked out of place by one of those severe Delhi thunderstorms whose severity becomes evident only in the aftermath.

A temporary replacement to the original finial was put in its place. And while the substitute was certainly better than nothing, it rid the monument of what many considered its majestic glow and Delhi’s heritage lovers were far from impressed.

Earlier this week, our heritage lovers would be glad to know, the lost glory of Humayun’s Tomb was finally restored as the main dome of the monument was crowned by a brand-new 18-feet-long finial — an exact replica of the original — carrying six layers of 24-carat gold.

The new finial weighs some 300 kilograms, and is made of 99.4% pure copper and plated with a whopping 3.5 kg of 24-carat gold. An exhaustive and in-depth analysis of the destroyed finial revealed that the Mughal builders had finished the copper finial with pure gold. In an effort to preserve the authenticity of the World Heritage Site and in strict adherence to UNESCO guidelines for preservation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture approached the watchmaking firm Titan for funding as well as the technical support required for the finial upgrade.

Sharing his thoughts at the unveiling of the new finial, Bhaskar Bhat, managing director, Titan Company Limited said, “With the expertise offered by our jewellery manufacturing capabilities and our compassion towards preserving the cultural heritage of our nation, we at Titan Company Limited are delighted to have been a part of this important conservation project. We are proud to partner with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and also with the Archaeological Survey of India in restoring the gold finial of the Humayun’s Tomb. We have taken up this project with a focus on not only restoring the monument to its authentic form but also on enhancing the quality of the structure to ensure its survival for generations to come.”

The new finial being installed on Humayun’s Tomb.

Also present at the occasion was Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister for Culture and Tourism. “It is a historic moment as after two years of hard work, the finial or kalash of Humayun’s Tomb has been restored to the monument. For two years, carpenters, copper smiths, gold smiths and masons have worked with traditional tools, traditional techniques and in traditional manners that have stayed alive in India for centuries to create an authentic replica of the original finial for this UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Sharma said.  

The team of craftsmen responsible for the design and structuring of the new finial was also honoured at the unveiling ceremony in Delhi. The restored finial comprises a tall octagonal log of wood, 300 kilos of copper, a brass inscription and at least six layers of gold foil gilding, completed by brushing glass beads. A multimedia exhibition of the overall restoration project was also hosted at the site during the main ceremony.

In 2014, the Ministry of Tourism sanctioned a grant of Rs 49 crore to the Aga Khan Trust for setting up a state-of-the-art Interpretation Centre, which will showcase some of the more prominent symbols of Delhi’s heritage. The original finial of the Humayun’s Tomb will also find a permanent home as an exhibit at the Interpretation Centre.

The finial restoration programme was one of its kind in Delhi, and has been hugely appreciated by local historians. Yasser Arafath, who teaches history at the Delhi University said, “Humayun’s Tomb, described as ‘one that emerged before its time’, represents a new paradigm in the history of Mughal architectural style. Its complex design and rich use of materials are far removed from the location of a deeply stable empire with extensive global connections. The restoring of the gold finial and an audio visual show comparing Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb and snippet descriptions at important places at the tomb will be useful for tourists. Humayun’s Tomb also heralds a period in which a millennial empire sought to reflect its significance, greatness and immense potential through burial places. Providing an immediate model for Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb represents an entrenched feeling in the Mughal ruling psyche of the eternity and sacredness of emperors’ physical body. A treasure of this magnitude should be preserved with all rigour that it requires.”

Humayun’s Tomb

  • The construction of Humayun’s Tomb was commenced by Hamida Banu Begam also known as Haji Begam. She was the widow of Humayun, emperor of Mughal dynasty during 15th century.
  • It was built in 1569 fourteen years after Humayun’s death in 1556.
  • Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian, was the architect employed by Haji Begam for building this tomb.
  • The red sandstone tomb proper stands in the centre of a square garden, divided into four main parterres by causeways (charbagh), in the centre of which ran shallow water-channels. The high rubble built enclosure is entered through two lofty double-storeyed gateways on the west and south. A baradari (pavillion) occupies the centre of the eastern wall and a hammam (bath chamber) in the centre of the northern wall.
  • The mausoleum is a synthesis of Persian architecture and Indian traditions often being compared with the architecture of Taj Mahal at Agra. 


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