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India’s history through Humayun’s Tomb

A VIEW of the mausoleum made from red sandstone and white marble that houses Humayun’s Tomb.

NKOLE NKOLE, New Delhi
INDIA’S capital, New Delhi, houses different historical sites that all tell the fascinating history of the Asian country.
Humayun’s Tomb is a world heritage monument that is one of the most prominent physical attractions in New Delhi and one worth visiting for any first-time traveller to India’s capital. It took seven years to be built, from 1565 to 1572.
On a trip there, I am guided around the premises by a resident of New Delhi, Rakesh Sharma, who begins to share the history behind the striking monument.
“Humayun was the son of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India,” he begins. “While his father is buried in Kabul, Afghanistan, Emperor Humayun is said to have lived from 1508 to 1556 A.D and is buried in New Delhi.”
Before entering the mausoleum, one must first go through the Arab Serai Gate, which is 14 metres high. It originally led to the walled enclosure that housed the Persian craftsmen who went to the area for the building of Humayun’s Tomb.
Like the mausoleum, red sandstone and white marble inlay work add a striking touch to the gateway.
In total, 300 Persian craftsmen were brought by Humayun’s first wife, Hamida Banu Begum, on her return from a pilgrimage to Mecca. These are the craftsmen who were involved in the building of Humayun’s Garden Tomb.
“The mausoleum housing Humayun’s Tomb was built by his first wife, Hamida Banu Begum, to honour his memory and is a symbol of love like the Taj Mahal, which is India’s most famous landmark,” Rakesh shares.
Humayun’s Tomb is therefore considered the precursor of the Taj Mahal, where Shajahan lies buried with his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Rakesh tells me that the main difference between the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb is that while the Taj Mahal is built from white marble only, Humayun’s Tomb is built from the materials of red sandstone and white marble.
Humayun’s Tomb was built in the 16th century while the Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century.
In total, India was ruled by 22 Mughal emperors before the arrival of the British in 1857. The tombs of the first five Mughal emperors are all set in enclosed gardens but each of them is said to be remarkable in different ways.
The tomb of Humayun is the first of the grand dynastic mausoleums that were to become synonyms of Mughal architecture.
Specifically, the dome of the mausoleum is said to be monumental yet graceful to provide the building its crucial imposing scale.
Over 160 members of the royal Mughal family are buried in the lower cells of the mausoleum, including Humayun’s first and second wives.
What makes the mausoleum a striking architectural feature in India is the use of red sandstone which was the chosen stone by the Mughals of India for their buildings.
Inside the garden tomb grounds are over 3,000 trees. There are also many neem trees within the grounds which Indians traditionally use for various medical purposes.
“Diabetic patients are advised to take five fresh neem leaves early in the morning for one month regularly. It finishes the diabetes,” Rajesh says convincingly.
Before heading through the gate leading to the mausoleum, there is a small room giving specific information on the dimensions of the tomb.
“Humayun’s Tomb stands 50 metres tall, with the finial itself six metres high. The mausoleum stands on 4,000 square metres. The architect, Sayyid Muhammad Ghiyas, chose to design arches of different sizes and repeated recesses to bring the building to human scale,” one poster reads in part.
Another poster explains that the red-white contrast appearing on the mausoleum was significant to its design and used with skill while the gleaming white marble dome crowns the façade of the principal structure.
Several birds squawk in the background as Rakesh briefly turns to me to remark over how the tourist site is daily visited by young Indian couples who use the grounds to court freely away from the disapproving stares of their elderly family members.
He tells me it is forbidden for young Indian men and women in romantic relationships and from traditional families to be seen together in public. They therefore take advantage of the open gardens at the site to meet secretly together.
Interestingly, he tells me that the young people in India are adopting the Western culture where marriage and relationships are concerned, but he still insists on the arranged marriage, which is a traditional Indian custom.
“In India love marriage doesn’t work. It is arranged marriage which does,” he insists.
A few minutes later, he takes me up a steep staircase which leads into the mausoleum housing Humayun’s tomb.
There he shows me the main tomb, along with other tombs inside the mausoleum which include those belonging to Humayun’s wives and children. There is even a set of tombs that he says belong to the architects who worked on Humayun’s tomb.
On our way out, Rajesh mentally prepares me for the walk down the staircase and says he lost 17 kilogrammes thanks to the staircase.
And with that he asks to take a picture with me for his library; a request that is now second nature given his job as a guide. I oblige as I thank him for the guided tour and head back out to the taxi waiting area outside the tomb’s main entrance.

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