A major conservation exercise that took over two years to complete has just been concluded for two iconic Mughal-era tombs in Delhi.
The conservation project was undertaken by the Archeological Survey of India in conjunction with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and involved the restoration of the tomb of Isa Khan Niazi as well as Bu Halima. Both tombs are located in the immediate periphery of the Tomb of Humayun, the second great Mughal emperor, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Speaking about the challenges of the restoration project, Mr. Ratish Nanda, Project Director, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture stated, “For conservation to be successful in our country it is necessary that we return to a craft-based approach where master craftsmen are empowered to match the work of their forefathers using traditional materials, tools and building craft traditions.”
Mr. Nanda elucidated on the level of meticulous planning that went into the two year conservation exercise. He explained how the original skills set was used to replicate the broken pieces of the tombs and that a lot of research went into making the restoration exercise look in line with the original construction of the tomb.
Furthermore since a lot of the skills required for re-building the tombs are located in former Mughal imperial realms that now are located outside the borders of modern India, a team of specialists had to go to countries as far afield as Uzbekistan and Iran to get things like the tile work required for the restoration exercise.
Apart from the restoration of the tombs themselves, there was extensive landscaping that was done to restore the old garden tombs to their previous grandeur under the Mughal Empire. More than a million cubic feet of earth was removed from the premises so that the original orchard trees could be replanted at the site. Also a road that was built by the British and had demolished the outer peripheral wall of the Bu Halima tomb was dismantled, so that the wall could be restored according to the original design.
The successful completion of the restoration exercise is being hailed as a great victory for the cross functional team of archeologists, historians, artisans, craftsmen as well as the government bodies and international donor agencies involved.
There is however a growing realization that more needs to be done to protect these priceless skills in India that have been passed from generation to generation and made the building of these iconic structures possible.