A Little Known 16th Century Mausoleum Gets a Fresh Lease of Life

A Little Known 16th Century Mausoleum Gets a Fresh Lease of Life
Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan Tomb in December 2020,

The mausoleum containing the grave of statesman, army commander and poet Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court, has been opened to the public after 1,75,000 man-days of work by master craftsmen

Uttara Gangopadhyay
December 18 , 2020
03 Min Read

Although people still recite his verses and ‘doha’-s, most had forgotten about the versatile Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, who wielded the sword with as much élan as the pen, and was one of the nine jewels Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court.

Abdur Rahim (1556-1627) was the son of Bairam Khan-i-Khanan, who was a close associate of Emperor Humayun and the regent of young Akbar.

However, with the restoration and conservation of the mausoleum that Abdur Rahim built for his wife in 1598 AD, and where he lies buried too, memories of the great man have been revived.

On December 17, the tomb, which is located in the Nizamuddin neighbourhood of Delhi, along the Mathura Road, was opened to the public after an intensive conservation work executed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) with support from the InterGlobe Foundation and in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India.

InterGlobe Foundation is the CSR arm of the InterGlobe Group engaged in aviation, hospitality and travel related services, while ASI is the custodian of the building.

According to Ratish Nanda, CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, “This is not only the largest conservation effort ever undertaken at any monument of national importance in India but also the first ever privately undertaken conservation effort under the Corporate Social Responsibility programme.”

He also emphasised that for Indian heritage to survive, it cannot be the responsibility of the government only.
The mausoleum in 2015 and 2020 (bottom)Rohini Bhatia, Chairperson, InterGlobe Foundation, said, “We strive to conserve the cultural heritage of our nation. Through restoration projects like Rahim’s tomb in Delhi and Indra Kund stepwell in Rajasthan, InterGlobe Foundation has impacted thousands of lives while successfully preserving the historical and cultural values that bind us as a nation.”

At a glance, the tomb consists of an arcaded ground floor with 17 arches on each of the four sides, and octagonal rooms on the upper floor. The tomb proper stands in the centre of the terrace while a roofed double dome covers the tomb chamber. Staircases ascend to the top. Looking at the building today, it is difficult to imagine that it would have been lost for posterity if not for its inclusion in the Humayun’s Tomb - Sunder Nursery - Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti Urban Renewal Initiative.

It was not easy to restore and conserve a building that had been neglected over centuries, stripped of its marble dressing, quarried for its stones, painted over, and largely abandoned.
The interiors of the structure before and after renovationWork began in 2014 and required 1,75,000 man-days of work by master craftsmen, who, under expert supervision, made structural repairs and carried out other restoration work by using traditional materials and building crafts.

From anastylosis of the rooftop canopies to restoring the missing stone elements, from recreating the red-white contrast of the façade (with red sandstone and white marble) to removing layers of paint to reveal the incised plaster patterns, were some of the major work involved.

During the course of the work, there were many interesting discoveries too. As layers of paint were removed from the walls of the principal chamber, incised plaster patterns were revealed. Rahim had the edifice decorated with various kinds of motifs, from geometric and floral patterns usually seen in mausoleums to swastika and peacock motifs found in Hindu buildings.
 The principal chamber of the mausoleum in 2014 and 2020Architects found that each of the arches of the ground level arcade contained medallions of varying designs in the spandrels of the arches. Wherever the original design was evident, the medallions were restored in keeping with the 16th century craftsmanship. The mausoleum was built on the river bank and water was taken up to the terrace water tanks, with a fountain mechanism, revealing a great feat of hydraulic engineering, explained Nanda.
Permanent exhibition at the restored monumentWhat makes this conservation work so important is that it not only returned the dignity to the resting place of the cultural icon but also secured the edifice as a surviving architectural link that drew inspiration from Humayun’s Tomb and in turn was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

The southern and western facades of the mausoleum are now illuminated. A permanent museum gallery has also been set up in the premises.

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