The baghdadi octagon is the key to understanding the plan of Humayun's Tomb. A baghdadi octagon is an "eight-sided polygon that has four shorter sides alternated with four longer sides."1 To create a baghdadi octagon, two squares with different dimensions are intersected. This is done by rotating one of the squares 45 degrees, stacking the squares so that they are radially aligned, and then removing the portions of the shapes that are not shared between the two.
The plan of Humayun's Tomb is derived from this shape. If the correct baghdadi octagon is stacked over and over again at different scales while paying attention to aligning the shapes with each other and maintaining the radial symmetry, an unusual grid is created, and the footprint of the building can be traced on the relevant lines on that grid. The plan view of the muqarnas patterns can be recreated from a grid that is created by rotating the building's base baghdadi octagon over a chamber on the building's plan and stopping to trace the shape at every 11.25 or 5.625 degree interval. After the grid is created, the muqarnas pattern is visible when the relevant lines are darkened.
The big mystery is, "Why does the baghdadi octagon rule Humayun's Garden Tomb?" One popular theory is the concept of the hasht‐bihisht layout. The hasht‐bihisht, or "eight paradises" layout is a name used by architecture historians to describe a building with an octagonal plan that has eight bays and is radially symmetrical.2 The hasht‐bihisht could be derived from the Islamic concept of "The Eight Gates to Jannah."
The concept of "The Eight Gates to Jannah" is based on the interpretation of one passage from the Qur'an and a handful of Hadith passages. The "The Eight Gates to Jannah" are mentioned in al-Bukhari's Sahih collection.
Narrated Sahl bin Sa'd رضي الله عنه: The Prophet ﷺ said, "Paradise has eight gates, and one of them is called Ar-Raiyyan through which none will enter but those who used to observe Saum (fasts) ." The Prophet ﷺ also said, "Whoever spends two things in Allah's Cause, he will be called from the gate of Paradise."3
Therefore, there are eight gates to Jannah, and each of these gates is assigned to a group of people who share a specific trait belonging to a good Muslim. Four examples of these righteous traits and their corresponding gates are mentioned in the passage below.
. . . So, whoever was amongst the people who used to offer their Salat (prayers), will be called from the gate of the Sa1at; and whoever was amongst the people who used to participate in Jihad, will be called from the gate of Jihad; and whoever was amongst those who used to observe fasts, will be called from the gate of Ar-Raiyan; whoever was amongst those who used to give As-Sadaqa (charity), will be called from the gate of As-Sadaqa . . . 4
A mausoleum that is built from a building plan derived from an octagon creates a physical manifestation of the pious deceased reaching the gates of Jannah. Humayun's cenotaph is positioned in the center of an octagonal chamber. Each wall of this chamber contains a passage that leads to the garden, and the garden represents Jannah. Each of the chamber's passages represents a gate to Jannah that is dedicated to a specific righteous trait possessed by a saintly Emperor Humayun.
1. Catherine B. Asher, Architecture of Mughal India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), xxv.
2. D. Fairchild Ruggles, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 225.
3. Bukhari 3257.
4. Bukhari 1897.
Asher, Catherine B. Architecture of Mughal India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Lowry, Glenn. "Humayun's Tomb: Form, Function, and Meaning in Early Mughal Architecture." Muqarnas 4, (1987): 133-48.
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.
Qur'an 39. Az-Zumar (The Companies).
Rehman, Abdul, and Munazzah Akhtar. "Heart Pleasing and Praiseworthy Buildings:Reviewing Mughal Architecture in the light of Primary Sources." Pakistan Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences 10, (2012): 103-13.
Ruggles, D Fairchild. "Humayun's Tomb and Garden: Typologies and Visual Order." In Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires, edited by Attioli Petruccioli, 173-86. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997.
Suleiman, Omar. "Abu Bakr (ra) – Part 2: Setting His Own Standards." Yaqeen Institute, February 21, 2020. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/omar-suleiman/abu-bakr-al-siddiq-part-2-setting-his-own-standards-lecture.