Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Delhi – The Tombs, Part 1 Humayun and Safdar Jang tombs

The most magnificent of the tombs in Delhi is Humayun’s tomb which was the first large Mughal garden tomb and was built on the banks of the Jumana (as was) near the Purana Qila fort complex where he died.

Humayun was the 2nd Mughal ruler and reigned from 1530 to 1539 and 1545 to 1556.

The tomb was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas who was a Persian architect who based his design on Timurid tradition coupled with the ancient Persian vision of a spacious formal garden as a representation of paradise as described in the Koran.

Between my visits in 2001 and 2004 a great deal of work had been done on this site especially to the gardens that were a bit of a mess. The gardens include a complex of small fountains and sandstone lined water channels. These were extensively damaged in 2001 but by 2004 had been fully restored and were carrying (some) water once again.

Successive gateways open into the large char-bagh “quartered” garden where the marble domed tomb is of red sandstone with marble inlay and sits on a large red sandstone plinth that is similarly inlaid with marble. In 2004 the inner gatehouse contained a small exhibition about the remedial work that was being done on the site to try and return it to something like its Mughal glories.

The central chamber contains the grave of Humayun while the surrounding chambers contain a number of other graves including Bega Begum (Humayun’ senior wife), the “minor” Mughal emperor’s Farrukh-siyar (ruled 1713 to 1719) and Alamgir II (ruled 1754 to 1759) and Shah Jahan’s son Dara Shukoh.

This was the first Mughal tomb with a double dome, a large dominant exterior dome but a smaller well proportioned interior which is in any case very impressive with the Mughal arches rising through each floor of the central chamber to the dome.

Nearby is the earlier tomb of Isa Khan that was completed in 1547 and sits in its own compound that used to house a whole village within the enclosure.
The octagonal tomb is highly ornamented with lattice work screens although most of the glazed tiling has been removed.

Isa Khan was a prominent noble at the court of the Afghan ruler of Delhi Sher Shah (whose rule interrupted that of Humayun between 1540 and 1544). The western side of the compound has a three dome mosque with a grand central red sandstone bay and mihrab.

Some of the tile work on the mosque is still in place and gives some sense of what the tomb looked like in previous days.

Humayun’s Tomb photo collection:

More on Humayun’s Tomb:

On the way south out of central Delhi toward the Qut’b Minar is the last of the grand Mughal tombs, that of Safdar Jang.

The tomb of red sandstone with marble inlay work sits under a large marble dome which in this period is starting to develop towards a more “onion” shape in style. The inlay work is noticeably lesser than older tombs although this could be attributed to Safdar Jang not being an Emperor but a leading noble who was the Nawab of Oudh under  Emperor Muhammad Shah between 1719 and 1748 and then the Prime Mister under Emperor Sher Shah between 1748 and his death in 1754.

The tomb compound is in typical Mughal style with a "quartered" garden set inside a large rectangular enclosure.
The tomb was in good condition and the gardens very well maintained. The corner towers provide a slightly unusual feature and are very nicely decorated.
The central chamber has just the single tomb with some impressive decoration carved into the stone. There are no tombs in the outer chamber.
The ceilings throughout the tomb are in excellent condition showing the ornate plasterwork to good effect in the tomb chamber (as in the ceiling shown here), and the other chambers and over the balconies which being in good condition were all accessible on my visit in 2004.
Safdar Jang photo collection:

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