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For Humayun’s sake,Samarkand comes to Delhi with a secret

Uzbek craftsmen match tiles on the Emperor’s tomb.

Written by Sweta Dutta | New Delhi |
June 26, 2011 1:24:43 am

In sultry Delhi,61-year-old Namandjon Mavlyanov finds the weather unbearable and the food strange. But nothing distracts him when he is at work,running his fingers through soil and shaking chemicals to get that “exact” shade,one that befits the tomb of Emperor Humayun whose ancestors came from Namandjon’s homeland.

After weeks of experiments with clay,quartz,types of soil and chemicals,a team of three artisans and an architect from Uzbekistan,have finally been able to recreate the five shades of tiles that the Mughals originally used on Humayun’s Tomb.

But why call in the Uzbeks? Because the tomb of Humayun,commissioned by his wife Hamida Banu Begum a few years after he fell to death in 1556,was modelled on Gur-e Amir,the mausoleum of his ancestor Timur in Samarkand,Uzbekistan.

The tilework is a complex,traditional art form in Uzbekistan,passed down generations.

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So from the time they arrived in Delhi this February,architect Farkhod Bagirov and craftsmen Namandjon Mavlyanov,Kurbon Melikov and Bakhodurkhuja Rakhmatov have been working with the local conservation team to get those exact shades of green,lapis blue,turquoise blue,yellow and white on the tiles.

“The artisans have picked up the skill from their forefathers and have over 40 years of experience in traditional tile-making. We have worked at the historic sites of Registan Square in Samarkand,Gur-e-Amir,

Bibi Khanum Mosque. But working here is a new challenge altogether. It is an overwhelming experience to recreate what the great rulers had originally made,” Farkhod told The Sunday Express.

As part of a larger urban renewal project in the greater Nizamuddin area,the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is undertaking conservation works on the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust.

Though craft traditions survive in India,AKTC discovered that the tile-making tradition of the Mughals had long been abandoned. A persistent research programme saw craftsmen being called from Uzbekistan and experimenting for six months.

Having found the exact composition,the team is now passing on the knowledge to craftsmen from the local Nizamuddin community to produce tiles that match the original tiles in every respect.

The Uzbek craftsmen will head home once the process for mass production is in place. Officials estimate it could take up to two years to produce all the hand-made tiles in the two kilns,set up in a remote corner of the site.

Local youths being trained in tile production will be engaged in the conservation works and provided micro-finance to set up establishments. “The considerable effort will not only result in restoring the grandeur of this most significant of Mughal buildings but also resurrect a craft tradition that has been sadly lost in the last generation. Local youths being trained in the craft receive much economic benefit,” said Ratish Nanda,Project Director,AKTC.

Though the production cost will be less than Rs 2 lakh,over Rs 30 lakh has been spent on research,documentation,consultation and peer review in an effort to find the best conservation solution.

The process began with physical and chemical analysis at different laboratories worldwide including Oxford University,Barcelona,IIT Roorkee,Iran and Uzbekistan. The technique in Uzbekistan was found to be the closest to the original process.

In April 2009,a joint workshop with UNESCO had seen 40 experts from nine tile-producing Asian countries debating the best solution.

“In keeping with best conservation practices,it was agreed at the outset that no tile will be removed,even where the glaze has been lost. New tiles,matching the original,needed to be prepared only for portions of the domed canopies covered with cement,” said Sangeeta Bais,AKTC conservation architect.

B R Mani,ASI Additional Director General,said: “Ceramic tiles were both decorative and protective. The long research and discussion on tile-restoration at Humayun’s Tomb will not only feed the National Conservation Policy being prepared at the ASI but will hopefully be used as a basis for conservation work elsewhere in the Islamic world.”

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