Humayun’s Tomb – Fusion of Persian Style and Islamic Paradise

Humayun’s Tomb – Fusion of Persian Style and Islamic Paradise

Humayun’s Tomb, known as the Humayun ka Maqbara, is a historical monument situated in Nizamuddin East at the national capital, Delhi. It holds the main mausoleum of the famous Mughal Emperor, Humayun along with the graves Hamida Begum, Humayun’s wife; Dara Shikoh, the son of the later emperor named Shah Jahan; and several other succeeding Mughals such as Emperor Jahandar Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Rafi Ul-Darjat, Rafi Ud-Daulat, and Alamgir II.

Ordered by Humayun’s wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562 at an investment of 15 lakhs rupees (now 1.5 million) and planned by the Persian architect, Mirak Mirza Ghiyath; this complex of buildings was the first garden-tomb in India. Situated and near Purana Qila founded by Humayun in 1533, this architectural wonder is also the first monument to utilize red sandstone on a great scale. In 1993, the site became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and since then, it is under extensive renovation that is yet not over.


This splendid cenotaph acted as a model based on which the subsequent Mughal architecture of imperial mausoleum was designed, which actually achieved its peak with the Taj Mahal at Agra. In brief, it signified a jump in the Mughal artwork, as it was accompanied by the typical Persian gardens, Charbagh (Four-square gardens) the first step of such an art in India. Surprisingly, this structure was completely different from the mausoleum of Humayun’s father and the first Mughal Emperor, Babur named as Bagh-e Babur in Kabul, Afghanistan despite he was the pioneer of starting the paradise garden for the burials.

Modelled on Gur-e Amir and reflecting the theory of Paradise as per the Islamic cosmology, the place of construction was on the banks of the River Yamuna. This was purposely chosen as it was near to the Nizamuddin Dargah, the tomb of the most worshipped Sufi saint of Delhi, Nizamuddin Auliya whose abode, Chilla Nizamuddin Auliya, is towards the northeast of the tomb.


Humayun died on January 20th 1556 and his body was originally buried at his royal palace of Delhi. Then, Khanjar Beg took it to Sirhind, in Punjab. In 1558, his son and the later Mughal Emperor, Akbar, visited his resting place. Finally, on the order of Humayun’s widow wife, Hamida Banu Begum; the current monument beholding the tomb laid its foundation in 1562, which was completed after nine years in 1571. However, she is mistakenly referred to as Haji Begum who actually as per the Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th century detailed document of the Akbar reign; was the daughter of maternal uncle of and was then given the charge of the tomb.


As per the Abd al-Qadir Bada’uni who has cited about the structure, the Persian architect, Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, also called as Mirak Ghiyathuddin, was fetched from Heart in northwest Afghanistan and had a good experience of designing many buildings in Herat, Uzbekistan, and India. However, he died before the completion of the monument and his son Sayyed Muhammad Ibn Mirak Ghiyathuddin took over the work.

Changes in the Structure

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar chose this monument as his retreat along with three princes, all four were then exiled to Rangoon.
The most famous Charbagh gardens covering 13 hectares around the monument also saw a rapid change after the exile that indicated worse experience ahead. Even previously, in the early 18th century, the rich gardens’ beauty was now converted into the garden of vegetable charm for which the people settled in the walled area were responsible. After the exile, the British captured Delhi completely and in 1860, the Persian design was transformed into English garden-style wherein the four middle water pools on the axial lanes were replaced and were lined by the freely planted trees in flowerbeds. This mistake was later rectified in early 20th century due to Viceroy, Lord Curzon’s order to restore the original garden somewhere between 1903-1909.


Later in August 1947 during the Partition of India, the Purana Qila and the Humayun’s Tomb were the major sites of the Muslim refugee camps migrating to the newly created Pakistan for five years. During this period, reasonable damage was made to its grand gardens, water channels, and other main parts. Later to prevent wreckage, the main parts were enclosed in bricks. However, the Archeological Survey of India took care and tried to restore the building and its gardens. Until 1985, the original water features were yet remain inactivated despite four tough attempts.


The rubble stonework structure is reachable through two grand double-storeyed doorways, one in the west and other in the south. These high gateways are comprised of rooms on both sides and courtyards on their higher floors. Stars of six sides, the cosmic sign, decorate the primary gateway and the iwan (high arc) of the main tomb erected of rubble stones and red sandstone. White marble is used as a shield in the tomb and in flooring, lattice screens (jaalis), doorframes, roof space (chhajja), and dome.


The tomb stands on a raised arched base of 8 m height and appears square with octagonal edges. The podium of rubble crux hosts 56 cells on all sides and holds more than 100 tombstones. The tomb itself is of 47 m in height and 300 feet in width, hosts the Persian spherical double-layered dome and is crowned by high finial ending of brass. The double dome’s exterior is in white marble and the interior opens the door for the echoing and spacious volume. Except for this dome in pure white marble, the remaining structure is built with red sandstone whose repetitiveness is reduced by the white and black marble and yellow sandstone.

The exclusive art of pietra dura, a marble inlay pattern, gazed all around the fascia is the symbol of the Indo-Islamic architectural style. Further, you will notice small canopies, the famous Rajasthani style chhatris around the central dome, which were initially decorated with blue tiles.


The exterior’s symmetry and design contrast with the inner chambers’ floor layout being a square ninefold plan. As per the plan, eight two-storyed arched chambers spread out from the middle, white-domed chamber double in altitude. In this domed chamber below the white dome, the middle octagonal mausoleum housing the single grave of Humayun rests. However, the real grave is still further in the basement precisely below the visible cenotaph. This is reachable via a different channel lying in the exterior of the building, which is actually closed for the public.

Concept of Paradise in Chambers

The upper cenotaph, the main chamber, can be reached via the opening iwan on the south whose sides holds complex jaalis known as the stone lattice piece. Built to reveal the concept of Islamic paradise, the central marble latticework called jaali in the chamber holds a symbol of Mihrab that is tactically facing Mecca in the West, the holy place of Muslims. Inscribed on this symbol is the An-Noor of Quran that allows light ray to find a way to penetrate into the chamber from the direction of Mecca (Qibla). This sacred layout signifies the elevation of the Emperor close to the divine power.

The high-ceiled main chamber also includes four other chief octagonal chambers at the diagonals located on two floors with vaulted lobbies connecting them. In addition, there are four other secondary chambers amidst them. This theory of eight side chambers is not only common in Sufism and in Mughal royal tombs but also holds religious importance due to its display of the Paradise concept as per the Islamic cosmology.

This means that each main chamber gives away other eight smaller chambers that reveal the fact that the monument contains 124 vaulted chambers in all. Several of these chambers house the cenotaphs of other Mughal royal members, which figures out to 100 graves in the complex with the maximum on the first level terrace without any inscription or identification.

Char Bagh Garden

A quadrilateral in layout, this was a Persian-style, geometrical, and Paradise garden divided into four four-sided figures lined by pathways (khiyabans) and two intersecting middle water outlets. This layout actually exhibits the four rivers in Jannat, the Islamic theory of paradise. Further, each of the squares is split into minor squares that result in 36 squares, a typical pattern of Mughal gardens. The water channels are made in such a way that seems to vanish below the tomb and appearing in a straight manner on the other side. This tactic erection of the channels depicts the Quranic verse that has mentioned about the flowing rivers underneath the Garden in Paradise.

Char Bagh Garden

Rubble walls surround the structure and the garden on three sides. The central walking passages take you to the two gates namely, a big and primary gate at the southern wall and another one at the western wall. In the middle of the eastern wall, a baradari – a structure of 12 doors that were built to allow the breezy air to penetrate it. On the northern wall, you can see a hammam that is a bathing chamber.

In the southeast corner, another worth visiting tomb is the Nai-ka-Gumbad, the Barber’s Tomb (1590) on an elevated base approachable after climbing seven steps. This structure is square in design and holds only one chamber with a double-layered dome. In the chamber, there are two graves inscribed with the Quran verses.

Other Attractions on the Way to the Humayun’s Tomb

Tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi (1547) with a Garden

An Afghan aristocrat in the kingdom of Sher Shah Suri of the Sur era, this historic hero battled against Mughals and his complete family is buried here. On its western side, a wide mosque built in red sandstone is quite attractive.

Bu Halima’s Tomb

With an enclosed garden, this is another mausoleum of an unknown historic woman, as very little could be found about her.

Arab Sarai (Arab Rest House)

This was actually built upon the order of Humayun’s wife for the artisans who erected the Humayun’s tomb. This last site holds the Afsarwala tomb and mosque dedicated to a patrician in the Akbar’s court.

Nila Burj or Nila Gumbad (Blue Dome)

Inlaid with blue striking tiles outside the complex and famous for its sculpt work, this was built by Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, the son of Bairam Khan who was a noble in the Akbar’s court. Abdul dedicated to his servant, Miyan Fahim, who was brought up with him since childhood and finally died with his son in the rebellion of Mughal general Mahabat Khan in 1625/26. Contrast patterns of the internal octagon and exterior square, its ceiling is inlaid with painted and split plaster above which rests a high single dome, the typical dome of that period.

Other Monuments

These include Bada Bateshewala Mahal, Chote Bateshewala Mahal, and Barapula, a bridge made up in 1621 of 12 piers and 11 domed openings.

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