Craftsmanship, a culture which is slowly disappearing, has been brought to limelight by Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) through its project, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative, which aims to improve the quality of life of people in the area, besides conserving monuments and creating employment opportunities.
In 2007, AKTC in its proposal had listed around 50 monuments in Nizamuddin area for their restoration and upkeep. Work on 25 monuments has been completed. Among the monuments where work is in progress include the Tomb of Khan-i-Khana and Jamaat Khana Masjid, the main mosque of the Nizamuddin Dargah complex.
The work done by craftsmen at heritage sites like Chausath Khamba, Batashewala Mughal Garden Tomb Complex, Humayun’s Tomb, Nila Gumbad has given a new life to the artistic work once carried out by master craftsmen. Stone carvers, plasterers and masons are using traditional building material, techniques and tools to restore the structures. The sandstone is being sourced from Dholpur in Rajasthan, white marble from Kishangarh and wooden work is done by carpenters from Kashmir.
“We are proud of our work and working on monuments built during the Mughal era is incredible. Stone carving is no more done because of architectural changes. So it’s challenging to preserve the art,” said 41-year-old Ajeet Biswas from Rajasthan.
Talking about the idea of conservation, Ratish Nanda, conservation architect and projects director, AKTC, said that the principal purpose of any conservation effort is long-term preservation.
He said, “Long-term preservation can only be guaranteed by using material and applying techniques of a particular era. We train craftsmen to match the works of their forefathers who constructed grand buildings. Therefore, conservation projects not only help restore monuments, they also fulfil the government’s objective of employment generation.”
Around 10,000 craftsmen from across the country are currently involved in the project. “Both craftsmen and the art have suffered due to inevitable changes in architecture. Along with the monuments, conservation of art is also important. It’s after 15 years that I am getting to work on something I have been trained in,” said 61-year-old Mohammed Jameel from Odisha.
The conservation of Chausath Khamba has created employment for stone carvers and helped train young craftsmen. Youth from Nizamuddin Basti are being trained to serve as heritage volunteers guiding tourists, pilgrims and students through the alleys and monuments here.
In the recent past craftsmen from Uzbekistan were also brought to India to train local youth in tile making to restore heritage buildings around Nizamuddin Basti.
Mohammad Imran, 22, says the process was long but interesting. “At first, it was difficult to absorb the long and detailed procedure. The tiles have to be cut in the right proportion and then baked twice. The work has given me an opportunity to earn a decent living.”
“Though India has a history of 600 years of tile making, the craft has sadly been lost. The conservation of existing tile work should be a priority at all sites and efforts must be made to minimise further loss of the original tiles,” says Nanda.
“The craftsmanship of old times needs do be preserved, so that after a decade or so we won’t need artistes to train us,” said Tanwar, another craftsman.