Delhi: A restored Rahim’s Tomb opens to public today after six years
Six years after its restoration work began, Rahim’s Tomb in south-east Delhi’s Nizamuddin will be reopened to the public from Thursday. Union minister for Tourism and Culture Prahlad Singh Patel will be presiding over the completion ceremony on the 464th birth anniversary of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan – a poet and one of the navaratnas ( nine gems) of Mughal emperor Akbar’s court.
Built in 1598 by Rahim for his wife Mah Banu, historians say the building was the first Mughal monument built for a woman and the architectural innovation developed there “informed the designs of Taj Mahal”. Following his death in 1627, Rahim’s body was also placed there.
The mausoleum is constructed in the vicinity of the shrine of the 13th century Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya as it was believed to be auspicious to be buried near the grave of a saint. It was also built on the riverside terrace and not in the centre of the garden, unlike the other Mughal structures.
Experts said the monument was “used as a quarry” from 18th century to early 20th century -- stones from the beautiful tomb were plundered to construct monuments elsewhere in the capital city-- leaving the structure in a dilapidated condition and at risk of a collapse. In the 1920s, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) provided masonry support to overhanging sandstone blocks on the façade, saving the structure from collapsing on itself.
A major part of the renovation work – carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and funded by the InterGlobe Foundation in association with the ASI since 2014 – involved strengthening the foundation and repairing the deep and wide cracks in the crypt and other areas.
The “emergency conservation work” -- one of the largest in recent times – also included around 60 independent peer reviews, architectural documentation involving 3D laser scanning, and extensive research. Wide-ranging consultations with various stakeholders eventually lead to a restored heritage structure and a renovated dome which looks half-finished to many.
Ratish Nanda, chief executive officer (CEO) of AKTC, said, “We held deliberation at various levels about the dome. While some were in favour of us completing the dome, others wanted us to leave it as is. Following the discussions, we decided to use some white marble to stabilise the base of the dome and to let it remain as a symbolic addition to represent the original marble cladding. Some of the areas around the dome have been left empty as we had no evidence of what those spots looked like when it was first constructed.”
Nanda also said their experience with conservation efforts at Humayun’s Tomb helped them to carry out this complex restoration work. Stone medallions of numerous designs, incised plaster patterns, including the swastika and floral motifs on the walls, were also restored. “Cleaning these designs, covered in soot, dust, modern plaster, and cement, was more difficult than restoring certain areas,” Nanda said.
Rohini Bhatia, chairperson, InterGlobe Foundation, said, “In addition to physical restoration, we are also establishing the relevance of sites and creating awareness among communities towards the need to preserve culture and heritage.” The cultural revival efforts of Rahim’s Tomb include the compilation of Rahim’s literary works and archival research on his life and works by eminent scholars, culminating in an English publication titled ”Celebrating Rahim”, she said.
Historian Rana Safvi said, “The structure was in a bad shape even when Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan was writing the first edition of his book Asar us Sanadid (The Remnants of Ancient Heroes) in 1847. In that, he describes the disrepair that the tomb of the Mughal noble had fallen into and compares it to the grandeur and magnificence of the Khan-e-Khanan’s life. I am glad that this noted scholar’s tomb has once again been restored to some semblance of its former glory,” said the author who translated the book into English.