Humayun’s tomb: An imperial sandstone mausoleum

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Humayun’s Tomb- a grand imperial sandstone mausoleum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site was worth visiting this winter. I felt embarrassed to say that I had not seen anything of Delhi for over eight years in Gurgaon. Hence I decided this winter will explore Delhi, and what could be better than Humayun’s Tomb? On a lazy Saturday morning, I packed my picnic basket & drove towards Humayun’s Tomb with my mom. It was around 9.45 am when I reached. And there were hardly any people around. Hence, I bought the tickets from the counter & entered the heritage complex. 

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Humayun’s Tomb Entrance

I walked towards the West Gate through Bu Halima Garden and the Bu Halima Gate. The West Gate is 16 metres high and is the main entrance to Humayun’s Tomb. The name Bu Halima held an essential position in Humayun’s palace, but the exact identity of Bu Halima has yet to be discovered in history. But a garden named after her. A cenotaph on the dilapidated raised platform in the park’s northern corner is said to contain Bu Halima’s grave. One can enter through the pavilion and bath chamber (hammam) adorned on the eastern side.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Bu Halima Gate

Further ahead was Arab Serai Gate, about 14 meters high, built in 1560-61 by Humayun’s widow Haji Begum. It was constructed for about 300 Arab priests she brought from Mecca during her pilgrimage. The complex has lawns, Baoli (stepwell), and a market with arched cells that might have been used as shops or quarters for traders and travellers.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Arab Serai gate


It even provided housing to artisans from Persia to build the Humayun’s Tomb. The market is thought to be added to the Sarai by Mihr Banu Agha, a chief eunuch at Jahangir’s court. Its lawns house the Afsarwala Tomb and Mosque. Today the central part of the Arab Serai is the Industrial training institute and inaccessible to visitors.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Ruins of the market

I walked past the gates to witness the geometric structure meticulously crafted in the 16th century. The Tomb stood tall, built from red sandstone, and is located in the centre of a Chag Bagh Garden. One of the first grand mausoleums in India to have an iconic Mughal-style char bagh (a Persian quadrilateral garden divided by walkways and water channels). I was mesmerised! The layout of this garden is based on the four gardens of Paradise cited in the holy Quran. A typical Persian quadrilateral garden is divided by walkways and waterways with axial paths that intersect at the garden’s centre. And amidst stands Humayun’s Tomb in the centre on a raised platform.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Nestled in CharBag

I was talking about history, which I discussed with my mom at historical monuments. Humayun death happened as he slipped down the staircase while trying to kneel after hearing the call to prayer (Azaan)in 1556. Then in 1569, his widow Hamida Banu Begam built the Tomb. It was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas (a Persian architect) and hence had a blend of Mughal and Persian architecture. But the Tomb was completed by his son Sayyid Muhammad.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
The architecture of the Tomb

The Humayun tomb complex has 150 plus other Mughal tombs, mosques, and a Sarai, along with Humayun’s Tomb, which is still breathing. As I walked closer to the framed mausoleum, you’ll see archways leading to rooms around the entire structure. The doors to the rooms are closed. And there are flights of stairs on four sides of the mausoleum that take you to the Tomb. And each stair was approx 1-1.5 feet in height. Hence we are careful while climbing.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Stairs with a height of 1.5m

The Rajasthani architecture (like Chhatris and pendentives) blended perfectly with Persian architecture. Moreover, the entire structure, with its white marble dome with blue-coloured pillared chhatris (canopies or kiosks) with cupola roofs on each side, looks resplendent. A Persian double dome with a spire ending in a crescent was first seen in Humayun’s Tomb. Otherwise is a common feature in Timurid tombs.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Indo-Persian Style


Talking about the interiors as I walked around, it has four main octagonal chambers on two floors. They are connected, with the passages running diagonally. It also has a domed central room along four auxiliary sections in between. Moreover, each octagonal chamber has eight smaller compartments, totalling 124.

 The clerestory windows with lattice screens (jaalis) fitted into the arched alcoves made the chambers more beautiful. The lattice screen helped light and air to pass in. And trust me, the light filtering through the windows made beautiful silhouettes. Also, the central marble lattice features a mihrab indicating Qibla, an essential and symbolic element in mosques.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Lattice Work

The domed central chamber held the cenotaph of the second Mughal emperor Humayun, arranged on a north-south axis. There was a lamp hanging over the cenotaph.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Western Gate

Though the emperor’s burial place is below the cenotaph, the entrance to that underground chamber is closed to the public. I observed that The smaller rooms contain over 100 graves of the other members of the Mughal family. Most of them are unidentified except for a few, like the ones of Hamida Begum and Dara Shikoh.

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Emperoer’s burial Area

After adorning the Tomb, I walked around the garden to catch my attention on another grave. Nai Ka Gumbad is the only structure in the same garden as the Mughal emperor. That’s Interesting! It’s assumed that the tombs belong to the royal barber and his wife. Though there is no evidence, it lies in the south corner of char bagh. Inside, there are two marble graves, each inscribed with the Quran verses, and one of them is marked with the number 999, which happens to be Hijra year (1590-91 AD).

Humayun's tomb: A imperial sandstone mausoleum
Barbar’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb is one of many delightful historical monuments adorning the lanes of Delhi that intrigues me the most. There could be many reasons, one of which is its photographer’s haven, second despite receiving over two million visitors every year and still exceptionally well-maintained. But whatever the reason, I finally visited the mausoleum to fulfil my curiosity.


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