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HUMAYUN'S TOMB IN A NIGHT SKY

Ace architectural photographer Ram Rahman captures the illuminated and recently-restored Humayun’s Tomb that stands as a proud testimony to the historic passages of time, also reflecting the harmony in sacred geography.

HUMAYUNS TOMB IN A NIGHT SKY

A Delhi dweller who loved its history and monuments was my friend Khushwant Singh. Once in a while, I would accompany him on his walks. No one knew the history of the Moghuls like Khushwant did. Most of the time, we would walk in the gardens at Lodhi Road. But, one day in autumn, we went to Humayun's Tomb. The year was 2007 and he was delighted to learn that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) with co-funding of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had undertaken the conservation of Humayun's Tomb and associated structures. Khushwant was a great believer in the preservation of heritage. It was his love for heritage that made him research and write about the Sikhs.

Everything I knew about the Moghuls came from my friendship with him. He believed that conjoining of the government agencies and the AKTC could become a catalyst for the revitalisation of historic districts and focussed developmental work could become an example of such historic sites sustaining themselves. The debacle of Taj Mahal today becomes the truth of Khushwant's words.

In a world where corporate houses are wanting Government money, the history of AKTC is an eye-opener. In India, AKTC began by restoring the gardens of Humayun's Tomb, as a gift to India by His Highness the Aga Khan on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Independence. Following the completed garden restoration in 2004, AKTC expanded its activities to encompass an urban renewal project that comprises the adjoining areas of Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, Sundar Nursery and the Humayun's Tomb complex.

Humayun's Tomb enjoys the distinction of being the first monumental mausoleum in the country. Its introduction to the night skyline in the capital city comes as a welcome inclusion. The sight of its magnificent dome from the Barapullah flyover bridge is a vista to behold. To see the white marble dome of Humayun's Tomb towering 100 feet over the Delhi skyline in the night sky is a signature of architectural splendour and the power of history.

Synthesis of design

The AKTC provided a set of stunning photographs of Humayun's Tomb at night taken by India's ace architectural photographer Ram Rahman. Rahman shared his experience: "An exceptional building like the Humayun's Tomb is very important on many levels. It was an amazing synthesis of Persian design and its fusion with local design and craft genius. It was the first Char-Bagh garden tomb in India with a huge scale. A building like this is a treasure of that moment in history and culture and it has inspirations and lessons for future generations."

Speaking about the inherent charm of architectural splendour and depth of cultural ethos in Moghul monuments, Rahman added: "Whether it is an older building like the Mughal Humayun's tomb, or the Sultanate Qutub complex in Delhi, or a modern masterpiece like the demolished Hall of Nations by Rewal and Mahendra Raj – they embody the highest cultural aspirations of a society at the time they are conceived and built. They are markers of social, political and technological progress. The earlier ones were tombs or religious sites. The Hall of Nations was a public building which symbolised the egalitarian and democratic ambitions of a young nation."

Sacred geometry

The photographs present Humayun's Tomb as a study in space and the perfection of geometry. The gilded finial that glistens in the night sky is an emblem of the science of sacred geometry – which lies in the perfection of its reflection of the physical world and its representation of how strongly humanity is governed by geometry. The goal of sacred geometry is to create a space which is in physical harmony. This attempt at environmental harmony is intended to be a reflection of the divine concept of the harmony of humanity. The photographs frame universal thoughts of harmony – it is thought that when humans live in an environment that visually declares harmony they are also more likely to be in harmony.

LED Luminaires

This grand dome has been lit by 800 energy saving lamps, LED luminaires, in a manner that mimics and enhances the effect of moonlight. As the majestic dome stands like a surreal epitaph of one woman's love for her husband, it becomes a testimony to the architectural spectacles that Delhi is dotted with in terms of Moghul monuments.

"LED bulbs have replaced high energy consuming halogen light fixtures, which were installed at the sepulchre in 1999. New lights at the monuments will reduce the power consumption by 90 per cent," says Ratish Nanda, chief executive officer (CEO) of Aga Khan Trust for Culture – which restored the monument. He said that the illumination of the dome was a challenge because lighting had to be designed in a way to prevent any shadow on its surface.

Prof Ebba Koch, Mughal Historian has said: "The tomb of Humayun is the first of the grand dynastic mausoleums that were to become synonyms of Mughal architecture. Here, for the first time, the monumental scale is attained that was to become the characteristic of Mughal imperial projects."

Koch's words come alive when you see the incandescent aura of the dome, as if lit on a moonlit night. Rahman has captured not just the surreal splendour but fills us with a sense of awe when we see the geometric perfection as well as the play of elements and shadows of the minarets and the striking characteristics of materials and minute craftsmanship that harks back to the 16th century.

Preserving cultural heritage

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) functions to establish the transformative power of cultural heritage. The Humayun's Tomb becomes an example of restoration and adaptive reuse of landmark monuments. It is an example of how community-based conservation of cultural heritage has evolved over the years with increased outreach and experience making it more inclusive and multiplying its benefits. The upgrading and rehabilitation of historic settlements around heritage monuments has triggered a process of social transformation, enabling local communities to have an improved access to basic services. At the same time, the conservation of material culture has enhanced awareness of the immediate environment – incentivising an increase in local sourcing of various materials and placing an emphasis on environment and sustainability as important aspects of the area's cultural development.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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