The Project at a Glance
The unveiling of a new gold and copper finial on top of Humayun's Tomb
in New Delhi on 19 April caps the closure of a long and complex
restoration project of this monument from the Mughal era. A
public-private partnership model, a multi-disciplinary team, the use of
latest technologies, and extensive archival research and documentation
came together to put the shine back on this 16th century mausoleum that
had laid in a derelict state for decades.
It took five years of intensive planning and painstaking restoration
works, 200 craftspeople, and 200,000 work days to restore this monument
to its original glory, that was constructed by emperor Akbar in his
father's honor. Work on the 18-feet tall, 300 kg finial was taken up
later as a separate project after a severe sandstorm brought it down in
umayun's Tomb had set a precedent in Mughal architecture of building a
tomb within a "paradise garden" and served as an inspiration for the Taj
Mahal. It sustained years of neglect as the Archaeological Survey of
India (ASI), which is the custodian of historical monuments in the
country, did not have the resources to carry out the large-scale repair
and rebuilding work it required. In 2008, the Government of India
invited the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to take up the restoration
of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The AKTC was entrusted with this responsibility because of the success
of a conservation project that it had undertaken during 1997-2001, that
of the Charbagh gardens adjoining Humayun's Tomb. The restoration of the
gardens was a part of the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative of the
Government of India. It was the first instance of a private organization
taking up conservation of historical sites in India.
Setting the GoalsArchana Saad Akhtar, senior programme officer, design and outreach,
AKTC, said the project had three broad objectives: heritage
conservation; environment development, and restoring historical urban
landscapes; and improving the quality of life of the residents of the
adjoining Nizamuddin Basti through socio-economic initiatives.
"Work started with a detailed conservation plan by compiling archival
research on the site and the monument, high definition surveys,
structural assessments, and reviews of proposals by national and
international experts. The team referred to national and international
conservation charters to ensure the solutions proposed were in line with
them," explained Ms. Akhtar. As part of the project, AKTC sought to
establish a conservation process, conduct peer reviews by experts and
professionals, carry out conservation works that meet international
standards, create detailed documentation, and encourage traditional
Some of the Major Works
The Crown RestoredThe finial on top of the tomb's dome is 18-feet tall that sits on a
wooden base. It comprises of 11 vessels of pure copper crowned by a
brass inscription. The vessels are covered with layers of pure goldfoil
work. An analysis revealed that the Mughals had used copper sheets of
99.42 percent purity, which is not commercially available anymore. The
plating was of pure gold.
The restoration involved architects, engineers, scientists, carpenters,
coppersmiths, and gilders. The works undertaken were to procure and
carve the wooden core, commissioning of copper and beating it to the
required profile, casting the crowing brass inscription and finally, the
gold plating work.
Titan Company Ltd. commissioned the manufacturing of copper sheets of
the required 99.4 percent purity. A traditional workshop in
Shahjahanabad in Delhi was employed to prepare the 11 copper vessels,
matching them exactly in profile and weight to the original.
Master craftspeople skilled in the traditional process of gilding gold
onto copper were identified, and after several rounds of experimental
gilding and durability tests, the gilding work was completed. Finally,
the re-produced finial was mounted on the dome that matches the weight
and profile of the original piece.
Project Implementation: Key Components
Strong PartnershipsThe conservation project was co-funded by AKTC and Sir Dorabji Tata
Trust, and carried out in partnership with ASI. Titan Company Ltd.
provided the 3.5 kg gold required to re-create the finial and supervised
the gilding of the copper vessels with gold foils. Titan's expertise in
jewellery and watch making came to good use to ensure quality and
longterm preservation of the gilding work in extreme weather conditions.
Another company that has joined hands with AKTC in the Nizamuddin Urban
Renewal Initiative is InterGlobe Foundation.
"This is one of the few heritage conservation projects to be undertaken
by a private agency in India. We strongly feel that a lot can be
achieved when government agencies, private organizations, and corporate
houses come forward to restore and revitalize our heritage," remarked
Control and Review Mechanisms
To put in place a model conservation process and facilitate smooth
decision-making, a core committee was formed, which was chaired by the
regional director of ASI. This committee oversaw the conservation works.
The rest of the core team members were senior ASI officials and the
AKTC project team. The committee met monthly on site, discussed new
ideas, and reviewed progress.
Day-to-day operation was supervised by a conservation architect and engineer, alongside the master craftspeople.
More than 200 craftspeople worked on the conservation of Humayun's Tomb.
The multi-disciplinary team comprised conservation architects,
engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers, historians,
geologists, designers, artisans, draftsmen, archaeologists, project and
heritage management experts, archivists, film-makers, and photographers.
The project initially faced a challenge in finding the right artisans to
work on the inlay works. They brought in Rajasthani artisans from
Dholpur for sandstone work and from Makrana area for marble work.
"Many of these craftspeople had left this work. On this project, they
not only found employment, but also got an opportunity to display their
skills," said Ms. Akhtar.
However, tile-making is a lost art in India. So to restore the tiles on
the roof canopies, the team flew in master craftspeople from Uzbekistan
who trained youth from the adjoining Nizamuddin Basti in this ancient
Modern TechnologiesThe project team relied heavily on new technologies besides
architectural and photographic documentation. "It was for the first time
that a high definition survey using three-dimensional (3D) laser
scanning technology was used in India (for a project of this kind). It
provided a stone-by-stone assessment of the entire façade, helping the
team conduct a detailed analysis and plan specific repairs," Ms. Akhtar
Besides documenting all the buildings in the monument complex with a 3D
laser scanner, the team used AutoCAD software to achieve higher accuracy
in the architectural drawings. With these technologies, the team was
able to not only present accurate architectural documentation and assess
the condition of the monument, but they also helped the artisans to
prepare the architectural elements for restoration.
"From the onset of the project, the project managers encouraged healthy
debate and discussions on the conservation works. They made a series of
presentations to the civic bodies, government agencies, and opinion
leaders to clear any doubts or apprehensions anyone might have regarding
this major conservation work," Ms. Akhtar said.
The monument, which was inaugurated by then Prime Minister, Dr.
Manmohan Singh, after its restoration, is also called, the "dormitory of
the Mughals," as there are over 150 Mughal family members buried in its
In 2010, a site exhibition was installed in the west gate to Humayun's
Tomb. The exhibition informed the public of the conservation works,
along with its historical and architectural significance. There were
information panels, which gave the public a fair understanding of the
works being undertaken on the site.
To achieve the mandate of improving the quality of life of the residents
of the adjoining Nizamuddin Basti, the project team inducted 15 youth
from the area as heritage volunteers in a program called
Sair-e-Nizamuddin. Over a period of 4-5 years, these boys were trained
in English, theater, and storytelling, and taken on trips to other
historical cities. These youngsters now organize heritage walks for
school children, other organizations, and tour operators.
"This program has not only provided them a livelihood but has also
created a sense of ownership and appreciation in them for their own
heritage and neighbourhood," she said.
The restoration of Humayun's Tomb with the help of private organizations
sends out a positive message for heritage conservation in the country.
It makes a strong case for saving hundreds of historical monuments that
are in a dilapidated state across India by combining the resources and
expertise of government and private agencies.
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