Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Humayun's Tomb - A metaphor for Indianization of Mughals

Emperor Humayun
Humayun was son of Mughal emperor Babur. He died on 19th January 1556 after falling from the steps of his library in Sher Mandal which is a monument inside what is today called Purana Qila in Delhi. Humayun was originally buried in Purana Qila. According to some scholars his remains were removed from there to a temporary tomb in Sirhind when Hemu invaded Delhi and Mughals had to vacate the city in 1556. He was re-buried in the Sher Mandal again when Akbar defeated Hemu. In 1569 his widow Haji Begum also known as Bega Begum erected the mausoleum that we know today as Humayun's Tomb at an estimated cost of 15 lakh rupees where his remains were finally buried. Later several other Mughals were also buried in the Mausoleum.

Significance of Humayun's Tomb in Indian history

Humayun's Tomb
Humayun's mausoleum introduced purely Persian features to the subcontinent.But it also drew several features from the land it was built in. The red sandstone and white marble, for instance, was a common feature of the 14th century architecture of Delhi Sultanate.
No other mausoleum contains so many distinguished dead of Mughal dynasty as the mausoleum of Humayun. Although his three immediate successors (i.e. Akbar, Jahangir and Shahjahan) were buried elsewhere, most of the later emperors, princes and princesses as well as their attendants lie buried close to him. The identification of individual graves is uncertain as all are uninscribed. The headless body of Dara Shikoh, the unfortunate son of Shahjahan who was murdered by the ruthless Aurangzeb and a string of later Mughal emperors including Jahandar Shah, Farukkhsiyar and Algamir II are buried here. 

Humayun's Tomb architecture

"The symbolic qualities of Humayun's Tomb reflect a bold attempt to create an architecture that grows out of, but is distinct from, earlier Islamic buildings in India and Iran, the two poles of the Mughal world." - Glenn D Lowry, 1987

Renovated inner view of the Humayun's Tomb dome
Humayun's Tomb is the first mature example of Mughal architecture in India. It is also the first mausoleum for a Mughal emperor in India. The architecture of this monument drew inspiration from 15th century Timurid architecture. Some of the key features that it inherited from Timurid architecture were:

  • Meticulously symmetrical plan.
  • Garden setting
  • The Bulbous double dome on a high drum.
  • A high portal in the front elevation.
  • Colored tilework arranged geometrically.
  • Arch-netting in the vaults.

But many pre-Mughal elements like

  • Combined use of red sandstone and white marble inlay
  • Lotus bud-fringed arches
  • Perforated stone jali screens
  • Wide chajja eaves etc.

have also been combined with the Timurid architecture in the monument's architecture. Therefore it has become an architectural metaphor for the Indianization of Mughals.
Humayun's Tomb is said to have been built under the supervision of Mirak Mirza Ghiyas who was an architect of Persian descent. It was him who gave India its first dome in the Persian tradition. The dome is also remarkable in the sense that it is the first major full dome to be seen in India. Earlier domes were not full in the sense that their shape never traced a full semi-circle.

How Timur's invasion helped Indian masons in learning Persian architecture

Emir Timur
Timur was the warrior chieftain of Mongolian army which invaded the Indo-Gangetic plains in 1398 by marching through the winding and narrow Khyber Pass in the snow-sheathed mountains of Safed-Koh. Cultured court life was an integral part of Timurid ideal. Timurid princes were fond of books, manuscripts and pleasure gardens. Architecture too was a passion as can be seen in the magnificent building at great cities of Samarkand and Herat. From Indo-Gangetic plains Timur took back booty, a herd of elephants and a team of stone-masons to Samarkand, Uzbekistan. These masons of India soon became part of a community of artists and artisans in Samarkand which already included painters, calligraphers and architects from Persia. Mughals followed the Timur's ideal that there should be intertwining of aesthete and warrior in a king. Therefore the Mughals combined political and military genius with scientific and artistic qualifications of highest order.

Date of construction of Humayun's Tomb

Graves of other Mughals in the mausoleum
Scholars have disagreed over the date of construction. Sayyid Ahmad Khan in his book Asarus-Sanadid (1846) gives the date of its construction as AH 973 (AD 1565) and this date has been followed by all later writers. But an older manuscript of Siyarul Manazil by Sangin Beg (late 18th century), at present in Delhi's Red Fort Museum, states that the foundation of the tomb was laid in the 14th century of Akbar's reign, that is, AD 1569.

Some other monuments in and around Humayun's Tomb Complex

  • Barber's Tomb
  • Nila Gumbad
  • Afsarwala Mosque
  • Arab-Sarai
  • Bu Halima Garden
  • Tomb and mosque of Isa Khan
  • Sabz Burz
  • Tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan

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