A cenotaph is a "monument or tomb erected above ground to signify remains that are buried in the ground below or elsewhere."1 Humayun's austere, white marble cenotaph is located at the center of the main chamber of the mausoleum. The cenotaph's marble slab base sits on a tiled platform that traces the outline of the three meter by three meter chamber inside the plinth that Humayun's grave occupies.2 There is not an inscription on the cenotaph. Facing to the ceiling, a stylized flower symbol occupies the surface of the cenotaph's cover where Humayun's head would be if the cenotaph were his coffin, and a stylized floral indentation similar in shape to the shape of the kangura's stylized flowers takes up the remaining surface of the cenotaph's cover.
The chamber in which the cenotaph sits was once an elaborate and decadent memorial to Emperor Humayun. William Finch described what he saw during his 1611 travels to Delhi.
From hence a broad way shaded with great trees leading to the sepulchre of Hamaron, this kings grandfather, in a large roome spread with rich carpets, the tombe itselfe covered with a pure white sheet, a rich semiane over head and a front certiane books on small tressels, by which stand his sword, tucke and shooes.3
Ratish Nanda translates this and comments on the drastic differences between the current chamber in comparison to historical descriptions.
"… The sepulchre of Humayun is in a large room spread with rich carpets, the tomb itself covered with a rich shamiyana (canopy/tent) overhead, and in front certain books on small trestles, by which stand his sword, turban and shoes". The carpets, the canopy over the cenotaph, or Emperor Humayun’s belongings no longer exist. Nor does the gilding on the dome and glazed tiles on the walls, reducing the tomb chamber to a shadow of its former splendour. 4
Humayun's cenotaph is not the only cenotaph at Humayun's Garden Tomb. There are twelve cenotaphs located in the northwestern corner and one cenotaph at the northeastern corner of the tomb's plinth terrace. There is one cenotaph on a gray platform on the eastern side of the plinth's quartzite base and some in front of a few of the grave niches entrances elsewhere on the base.
There are also white marble cenotaphs that represent the graves of other important members of the Mughal dynasty in the tomb's ancillary chambers. Many of these cenotaphs have elaborately carved inscriptions. A few of the cenotaphs in the ancillary chambers are inscribed with the shahada.
1. Margaret S. Graves and Benoît Junod, eds., Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum: Architecture in Islamic Arts (Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2011), 349.
2. Ratish Nanda, "The Area Around Humayun's Tomb," Heritage of the Mughal World (Munich: Prestel, 2015), 169.
3. Foster, William, ed. Early Travels in India: 1583-1619 (London: Oxford University Press, 1921), 156.
4. Nanda, "The Area Around Humayun's Tomb," 175.
Parodi, Laura E. "The Posthumous Portrait of Ḥaḍrat Jannat ʿAshiyānī: Dynastic, Saintly, and Literary Imagery in the Tomb of Humayun." Islamic Art 6, (2009): 129-58.