Humayun’s Tomb, the first of the magnificent mausoleums built by the Mughals, is symbolic of Mughal creativity and perfect assimilation of architectural elements. On World Heritage Day recently, the tomb was crowned with a new finial. The 18-feet-tall finial has 11 copper vessels. The whole finial is coated with pure gold. On the top of the finial is an Arabic brass inscription done using laser cutting.
The supervising-cum-executing agency, Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) along with Archeological Survey of India (ASI) faced many challenges to restore its glory. Officials said the main challenge was hunting for traditional craftsmen skilled in the process of making copper vessels and gilding them with gold in order to match the perfection of the original piece. The trust heaved a sigh of relief after it got some information about a few craftsmen based in Chawri Bazar and Chandni Chowk.
On May 30, 2014, a sandstorm of wind velocity exceeding 150 km/ hour snapped the wooden core of the finial causing the 300kg of copper vessels to come crashing on the roof 70 feet below. After the incident, an inspection was conducted by the ASI’s senior officers, a team from its science branch and a team from AKTC. The inspection revealed that a section of wood, had virtually turned to dust as a result of decades of rainwater percolation and retention, which is why the core had snapped in the high velocity sandstorm.
It took 69-year-old Purushottam Das three months to create copper vessels weighing 300kg at his workshop in Gali Sheesh Mahal, Sita Ram Bazar of Old Delhi. Das was given the task of making the vessels using hands.
He said, “It was a proud moment for me when I was approached for the job. We worked round the clock to ensure that this finial was completed within the stipulated time.”
Das had previously made a 36 feet tall copper minaret for ISKCON temple in Chennai. “I feel great to have worked on the tomb’s crown. I wish my work gets felicitated with a President Medal some day,” he added.
During early 90s, Das was popular for his works in various embassies as officers would ask him to make showpieces of copper. “I have also collaborated with renowned artist Satish Gujral, brother of IK Gujral, former Prime Minister of India,” he said.
After the snapping of the original finial, a temporary finial was installed on the dome to ensure the integrity of the structure is not compromised till it was replaced with the new finial. “During research we found the finial had been repaired many times in the past. We thoroughly studied all the aspects of its construction to create a new finial. The finial was last dismantled and repaired by the British in 1912. It was not easy to ensure the finial was made exactly like the original,” said Ratish Nanda, CEO, AKTC.
After their completion, the vessels were taken to Titan Company Limited’s factory in Bangalore for gilding. Around 3.5kg gold was used to gild the vessels. The total expenditure was born by the said company and it took more than a year to complete the project. The company hired Shankar Kumar, a goldsmith from Chandni Chowk for the job.
The copper sheets were brought from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.A workshop was also organised in Shahjahanabad in Delhi to prepare the vessels using 99.4% pure copper and matching their weight and shape with the original ones.
However, while making the new vessels, these craftsmen ensured that there is no way that rainwater enters the finial and slowly damage it. We have made provisions for its long-term preservation, Nanda added.