Facelift for Humayun

The Mughal emperor's tomb has been restored. Could it herald more conservation projects?

The fabled seven cities of Delhi hold, in their ruins, pieces of the unfinished story that is India. Every time an old haveli crumbles into rubble, never to stand again, we lose a part of that history for ever. And sadly, in our teeming metropolises, monuments fall from neglect and disrepair far more often than they are rescued. That is why the restoration of Humayun's Tomb, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is such a happy departure. The 16th-century tomb is significant as the place of burial of the second Mughal emperor and a hundred other royals, including Dara Shikoh. It is now also the most high-profile example of a successful restoration project in the country in recent memory.

Humayun's Tomb showcases Mughal architecture in its formative stage, being, according to Unesco, the first Mughal garden tomb in the subcontinent — a style perfected in the Taj Mahal. The restoration, carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with the ASI, took six years. Tonnes of concrete had to removed from the roof, the dome leaked, arched cells on the outer wall had collapsed. Now, the tomb has been returned to a measure of its former glory, using era-appropriate techniques and guided by contemporary accounts.

If a prominent monument like Humayun's Tomb could be allowed to become so dilapidated, how dire must the conditions of lesser known heritage buildings be? Indeed, a CAG report submitted to Parliament last month found that 92 monuments are missing nationwide, after a survey of only a fraction under ASI protection. They are portals to another time and world, and by our inattention and neglect, we fail in our duty as temporary custodians of a heritage that should be passed on to future generations.

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