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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obamas visit Humayun’s Tomb

The visit to Humayun's Tomb, which is quite deserted on normal days near the Nizamuddin railway station, was a crash course in Persian, Indian and Central Asian architecture and history for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

In an exclusive interview, director K K Mohammad said, "President Obama asked many questions. He was very, very inquisitive about Dara Shikoh."
The President and the First Lady's history lesson went something like this. They arrived at the 30-acre architectural wonder with an army of security personnel and US media. They were shown photographs and a model of the tomb.

Mohammad, who is a historian and an architect who works for the Archaeological Survey of India, was the couple's lone guide.

The couple strolled along the manicured lawns. Since 2000, the Aga Khan Foundation has made huge efforts to save this grand monument, spending more than Rs 7 crore (Rs 70 million).

The AGF has won an international award for its restoration work on the monument. This world heritage site is so grand that many architects love it more than the Taj Mahal in Agra
'It would be kind of tough to build this in the US'

At the entry point, it is inscribed that the tomb is a precursor to the Taj Mahal.
The design carved in red stone and lime mortar is an architectural marvel because it depicts 'an ornamental cosmic symbol'.

Spread over 30 acres, it has three kilometres of water channels and 2,500 plants in the complex
Its 25,000 square metre pathways give a majestic touch to the 16-metre tall main structure.

The Obamas were given some facts about the Mughal Emperor Humayun, the son of Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire in India.
Mohammad told the couple that Humayun's Tomb was built over nearly a decade beginning around 1565. The main work was completed in 1572. The tomb contains over 100 Mughal graves.

Obama found it interesting that some 500 years ago that such a giant structure was built in just seven years in India. He later told journalists "I heard it was built in seven years? I give credit to the contractor. This kind of thing if we build in the US, it would be kind of tough."

'Delhi is a modern city, rooted in history'

"Delhi is such a modern city," Obama said, before pointing to the mausoleum and adding, "but rooted in such a civilisation."
Mohammad says on listening to the history behind the monument, "President Obama told me India has withstood the rise and fall of empires. I am sure India will lead the world."

"I told the President, India has 28 world heritage sites. New Delhi has three of them," Mohammad added. "The Red Fort, the Qutub Minar and Humanyun's Tomb. I explained to him that all other sites in New Delhi are due to its historical importance, but this site portrays both Indian history and architecture. At other places, gardens were added later, but in this monument, the garden is an integral part. I told him with pride that India had technology to conceive such monuments and execute it."

"I also explained that this structure has Persian, Central Asian and Indian architecture. That's so unique. It's an amalgamation of three streams of ideas," Mohammad said.

'Dara Shikoh has a US connection'

Mohammad says the President asked several questions about Dara Shikoh and that made the conversation very interesting.
Dara Shikoh was the elder brother of the last major Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal.
"Mr President," Mohammad told Obama, "there is a Dara Shikoh, US connection too."

"Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb in a power struggle. He was a great man with a vision. He wanted all school of thoughts and religion to live in harmony. Akbar succeeded in spreading that philosophy, but it was Dara Shikoh who conceived it, beautifully," Mohammad added.
"President Obama was very impressed by Dara Shikoh's philosophy and asked me questions."

"Dara Shikoh," Mohammad said, "translated the greatest Indian text, the Upanishads, into Persian. It was later translated into Latin and French. That copy reached the US. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher, was introduced to Indian culture through Dara Shikoh's translation of the Upanishads."

"I told the President that Dara Shikoh rests here."
When President Obama went to Humayun and Dara Shikoh's tombs, Mohammad says he folded his hands, as if to pray.
"As far as I can remember, there were no photographers there."

Courtesy rediff.com


  1. Sir,
    Timely and well-written, very informative, detailed, yet crisp post.But still a doubt kept lurking in my mind.
    It is told that this great monument was built in 7 years.
    May be in 7 years, it was only 'restored' in a way by finishing off on the foundations / structure of some older relics. And in those times it might have acquired a status of "All-New-Look", and gone into history as a 'new-one'.
    Hope Archaeology will help clarifying this doubt.

  2. I enjoyed reading this article. Very informative.

  3. that was interesting and a good read.

  4. @Vinay Vaidya
    Archaeological department does not have the guts to explore the site for evidences unless of course directed by a Court. It is quite obvious that there were many grand edifices that were leveled up to make room for the new structures. That is the ruler's prerogative.

  5. Hello PNS,

    You have provided excellent information and living in the South I am totally ignorant of such wonderful details of these great monument.

    But you will be surprised to know that I visited all these monuments-Humayun's tomb,Quthup Minar and the Red Fort in 1968 when I went to Delhi as an NCC cadet to participate in the Republic Day Parade.They even took us to Fatepur Sikiri and the Taj Mahal.I was a youngster at that time and these wonderful things had no fascination for me although the guide tried to tell us a lot about them.

    Many thanks for this lovely post and excellent photos.

    Best wishes,

  6. Hi PNS,
    I was fortunate to visit this monument during my Delhi trip of 2009. This is not very deserted on weekdays, as this monument is usually there in itineraries of foreign tourists due to its status of WHC (World Heritage Center) site. ASI maintains this site pretty well, of course they get finance from UNESCO to maintain all WHC sites. You may see more pictures of this and Qutub Minar with little bit of history on my picasa album

  7. .

    A beautifully written, informative post. Beauty is enhanced by the lovely pics of The Taj and of course by the Tall dark and Handsome figure of Mr.Obama !


  8. Every time I am in Delhi I try to pay a visit to the Humayun's Tomb, for it is indeed such a fascinating place. Thanks for an interesting post.

  9. Great pictures and interesting trivia about Obama's visit as well as about the magnificent monument. reading about Obama's reactions was very amusing :)Particularly liked the way you described a visit to Humayun's tomb as a crash course in in Persian, Indian and Central Asian architecture and history

  10. Very informative post...njoyed reading it...thanx for sharing

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  13. A beautiful description of Obama's visit to Humayu toumb. Pictures are beautiful too. The connection between Dara Shikoh and US was interesting.

  14. Good Post Subramanian Saab. I loved this monument and was actully surprised by its beauty. Pity its not so well known.

  15. so interesting to read and see all those beautiful photos!

  16. humayun Tomb is indeed very nice and the restoration work is real good, i got there once in a while to hone my photography skills!!!
    interestingly the husband has a theory to why all the statesmen are shown the Tomb and no other historical monument in delhi, its coz its located in south of delhi and is green and clean.....so our image is conserved!!!