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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Reviving a lost art,tile by tile

Aga Khan Trust for Culture trained youths in Uzbek tilework for restoration of Humayun’s Tomb.

Written by Ruchika Talwar |
May 26, 2013 12:59:15 am

As one steps into the main archway of the Humayun’s Tomb and faces the majestic white marble dome perched atop the red sandstone structure,one is captivated by a small,deep-blue,mushroom-like structure that stands out. It may be mistaken as an addition to the tomb,but it is a canopy under restoration.

Offset by the giant white marble in the backdrop,this small canopy,chhatri (umbrella),is now visible because it has regained the beauty that the original artisans had imparted to it almost 500 years ago. There are eight such chhatris on the terrace of the main building in the Humayun’s Tomb complex which are being restored with glazed tiles in two shades of blue,yellow,green and white,just the way the original architect conceived them. These chhatris will be completed this week.

These glazed tiles,the pièce de résistance of this restoration,have travelled all the way from Uzbekistan,the land of Humayun’s ancestors. The craft of Mughal tile-making,that got lost in India due to neglect of artists,has been revived by bringing on-site trainers from Uzbekistan,who have imparted the know-how to young men from Nizamuddin Basti. In 2011,these chhatris began being studded with handmade glazed tiles in spaces where they originally existed but had fallen to the vagaries of nature or human neglect.

The tilework is part of a larger conservation project underway at the Humayun’s Tomb. The project is funded by several agencies such as the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC),Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the World Monument Fund.

Instead of buying tiles from Iran for cheap,AKTC chose to train residents of Nizamuddin Basti in tile making. “We have spent nearly Rs 50 lakh on research and development of this tilework. The cost of making one tile on site is around

Rs 1,000. We could have bought them at a fraction of this price from Iran or elsewhere. But the idea was to resurrect this Mughal tradition in India. After this project is over,these men can set up their own tile business,” says Ratish Nanda,Project Director at AKTC.

He says the tilework policy was formulated after a UNESCO conference at Humayun’s Tomb,where 40 experts from 10 tile-producing countries deliberated upon the need to restore the lost art. “This established a policy for tilework across the Islamic world,” Nanda says.

Saroj Kumar Pandey,Mohammad Imran and Asif Ahmed,among others,were trained under four Uzbek artists in 2011. Today,they can confidently restore a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Imran was a motor mechanic whose business had shut down. “I knew nothing about tile-making or even Humayun and Babur. I learnt by observing the Uzbek artists…,” he says. Asif is Class XI student who had failed twice. In three years,the chhatris regained their splendour and these young men,a rare skill.

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