Humayun’s Tomb: a historic reverse Taj Mahal

Though it often may be overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors, including the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi is worth a visit.  As the first example of what we now consider traditional Mughal  architecture, Humayun’s Tomb is an important site in the history of the Mughal empire.

Gate to Humayun's Tomb

Gate to Humayun’s Tomb

When it was constructed in the sixteenth century, the builders were attempting to replicate paradise as it was described in the Quran inside the walls of the tomb.  The Quran promises gardens beneath which water flows to those are faithful, and that is the inspiration for the gardens found in many famous Mughal monuments.  Gardens at Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal have channels of water flowing through them as a symbolic representation of this Quranic paradise.

HISTORY

In its origin, Humayun’s Tomb is essentially a reverse Taj Mahal.  The Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz Mahal.  Humayun’s Tomb, on the other hand, was commissioned for the Mughal emperor Humayun by his wife Bega Begum.  The tomb sits in a park in Delhi, surrounded by a Charbagh garden, a typical Persian garden divided into four parts by small walkways or waterways.  Humayun’s Tomb is the first example of the use of this style of garden architecture in India, and it became a model for later Mughal architecture, including the Taj Mahal.

Layout of the typical Charbagh garden, with waterways separating the garden into four quadrants

Layout of the typical Charbagh garden, with waterways separating the garden into four quadrants

When the Emperor Humayun died in 1556, his first wife Bega Begum was so grieved by his death that she decided to dedicate her life to building him a magnificent mausoleum.  Like the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb was built on the banks of the Yamuna River, and at the time of construction, it cost 1.5 million rupees.  The construction took seven years.

Humayun’s Tomb has a strong presence in modern Indian history as well.  In 1857, when British rule finally conquered the Mughal empire, the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was taken prisoner at Humayun’s Tomb where he was hiding.  Nearly one hundred years later, after Indian independence in 1947, the countries of India and Pakistan were established on the Indian subcontinent during a period known as the Partition.  At this time, there was mass migration of Hindus living in Pakistan to India and Muslims living in India to Pakistan.  During the Partition, the grounds of Humayun’s Tomb were used as a refugee camp for Muslims migrating to Pakistan.  Its location in Delhi means makes it a very popular place for both tourists and locals to visit, and it is worth a stop on any Delhi itinerary if only to stand in the gardens and be surrounded by 600 years of history.

PRESENT

Humayun’s Tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Indian government has put some effort into restoring the tomb, so the buildings and gardens are well-maintained.

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb

Although the interior of the tomb originally contained rich furnishings, it is now very sparse.  The tombs of Humayun and his wife are located in the central structure, along with the tombs of a number of other officials of the Mughal empire.  Not all of the tombs have been identified, and there is a room full of largely unmarked graves that is known as the Dormitory of the Mughals.

The inlay work seen in the structure of the main buildings of Humayun’s Tomb is similar to the type of designs and inlay work that were used in the construction of the Taj Mahal nearly a century later.

Inlaid designs

Inlaid designs

The Charbagh garden has been through several incarnations, including a period during which it was a vegetable garden that was primarily used to grow cabbage and tobacco.  Now, the garden is a grassy green area that is cool and pleasant for walking around.

Humayun's Tomb gardens

Humayun’s Tomb gardens

To visit: Humayun’s Tomb can be accessed by the JLN Stadium Metro station.  It is open from sunrise to sunset and costs Rs. 10 for Indians and Rs. 250 for foreigners.

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