Five years of restoration later, Nila Gumbad gets back its lost grandeur
The grandeur of the monument and its adjoining garden, however, started deteriorating from the 19th century. First, the northern portion of Nila Gumbad was taken over by the railway lines and the Nizamuddin railway station was built, abutting the monument.Updated: Aug 29, 2019 08:23 IST
After five years of extensive conservation work, the unique blue-domed ‘Nila Gumbad’ has been completely restored and will be made accessible to the public from inside the Humayun’s tomb complex on Saturday. The mausoleum is listed under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and is being conserved by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC).
Believed to be one of the earliest Mughal-era structures in Delhi, the Nila Gumbad boasts an interesting history. “There is a bit of a debate regarding when and who built this monument. Some say that it is the tomb of Fahim Khan, commissioned by the poet Abdurrahim Khan-e-Khanan, popularly known as ‘Rahim’. Fahim Khan was an employee of Rahim and had stood by him during difficult times and so the mausoleum was built in his honour,” said historian Swapna Liddle.
“There are others though, who maintain that the dome’s style is such that it was probably an earlier structure, built sometime in the second quarter of the 16th century, and was probably reused as a tomb for Fahim Khan,” she added.
“This and the Sabz Burj are known as Timurid domes, and were probably built in the pre-Mughal or early Mughal period. However, we do not know who is buried inside,” said heritage enthusiast Sohail Hashmi.
“The mausoleum was built on an island on the Yamuna. Later, the Humayun’s tomb was built abutting Nila Gumbad. It is one of the earliest Mugha-era monuments in the city and dates from the 1530s,” said conservationist Ratish Nanda, who is CEO of AKTC.
When Humayun’s tomb was built, a lot of the adjoining structures were incorporated in the complex, and the blue-domed monument too became part of it.
The grandeur of the monument and its adjoining garden, however, started deteriorating from the 19th century. First, the northern portion of Nila Gumbad was taken over by the railway lines and the Nizamuddin railway station was built, abutting the monument.
Further, in the 1980s, a road was built bifurcating the Nila Gumbad from the Humayun’s tomb complex. Thereafter, the monument came to be occupied by a squatter settlement with over 200 jhuggis. The inhabitants of the settlement were relocated in 2005-06.
In 2014, an agreement was concluded with the railways to shift the road bifurcating the monument from the Humayun’s tomb complex, so as to allow access to Nila Gumbad for vistors to Humayun’s tomb. “This enabled the AKTC to undertake major conservation work on the monument, restore its landscape setting and rebuilt the alternate road,” said Nanda.
One of the first things to do was to restore the grandeur of the dome, which gives the mausoleum its name. The distinctive blue tiles — which gave ‘Nila Gumbad’ its name — had to be recreated, since about 15,000 of them were missing. “We went all the way till Iran to get these tiles, but could not find them. Thereafter, we established kilns at the Humayun’s tomb complex, employed youth from the Hazrat Nizamuddin basti and revived a lost art tradition,” added Nanda.
The ceiling of the mausoleum was restored to reveal stunning artistic creations, the missing sandstone lattice screens were restored, and the land recovered from the railways, redeveloped in a way to recreate atleast part of the original garden surrounding the mausoleum.
In 2017, the monument was declared a UNESCO world heritage site as part of the Humayun’s tomb complex. Nanda explained that making it accessible from the Humayun’s tomb was necessary to maintain its integrity. “Now more people will come to see it since its part of the tomb complex,” he added.
First Published: Aug 28, 2019 21:45 IST