Covered in a green net and scaffolding, the majestic tomb of Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan in the Nizamuddin area holds plenty of secrets — peacock medallions, the Hindu swastika, a floral tank, hamams, and jharokhas. Since 2014, this 16th century garden-tomb has been undergoing renovation by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as part of its ‘Nizamuddin area Urban Renewal Initiative’. It is expected to open to the public by mid-2019. The renovation is being done by AKTC along with the Archaeological Survey of India.
Built in red sandstone with white marble inlay, the tomb was commissioned by soldier, minister, poet and scholar Rahim — known best for “Rahim ke dohe” — for his wife Mah Banu.
“There were major structural problems, deep cracks in the crypt, first floor and within the dome… It took us a year just to strengthen the foundation. We had expected to finish it in three years… it will take us another 12 months,” said Ratish Nanda, AKTC project director.
The conservation work as well as the book, Celebrating Rahim, has been funded by InterGlobe Foundation. On a hot Monday afternoon, 30-plus labourers threw out the debris and placed blocks of red sandstone on the pathway — which was stripped of the original material years ago. The intricate incised plaster patterns on the ceiling have been meticulously brushed out, and layers of soot and cement carelessly plastered over it removed.
Medallions on the pillars reveal that no two motifs are alike — floral and geometric designs dominate, along with calligraphic inscriptions that read Ya Allah. The gardens too have been replanted. “A multi-disciplinary team, comprising engineers, archaeologists, architects, horticulturists and conservation architects, has been working on this tomb. We have used traditional material to conserve the monument…,” said Ujwala Menon, conservation architect, AKTC.
The beauty of the tomb, however, lies in the tales of the man who commissioned it. Son of Mughal emperor Akbar’s mentor, Bairam Khan, Rahim was one of the emperor’s nine navratans. Proficient in Sanskrit, he wrote two books on Astrology in the language. He also translated Baburnama into Persian.
“There is a lot of intangible history here… the gardens of this tomb once extended till Humayun’s Tomb… but colonies have come up here now. Rahim built this tomb next to the Yamuna, which is now the Barapullah nallah… this was the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal. Rahim was also the first person to commission a tomb for his wife, something that Mughal rulers then followed,” said Nanda.
He added that the five-year project has also given employment to many: “The economic potential of heritage conservation is often not talked about. There are gardeners, craftsmen, stone transporters and quarries that benefit from such work. At least 200 craftsmen are employed here.”