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Emperor Humayun's Garden Tomb

Plants at Humayun's Garden Tomb

For many reasons, Humayun's Garden Tomb went through a few difficult centuries of neglect until the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative and the Aga Khan Development Network stepped in. Ratish Nanda, the restoration project director, briefly summarizes the 20th century's garden restoration history of Humayun's Garden Tomb.

In the early 20th century, Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, directed the restoration of the Mughal layout–enthusiastically adding channels even to pathways where none had existed in Mughal times. Several further changes were then carried out through the 20th century – a major planting in 1916 when palm trees were inappropriately introduced on the four corners of the mausoleum and tamarind trees on the platforms used by the Mughals for tents. Additional plantings neither used plant species favoured by the Mughals nor planting patterns. Three failed attempts in the 20th century to restore flowing water preceded the 1997 garden restoration and of these the 1984 effort was the most destructive with the Mughal stone bedding ripped out and replaced by the more familiar and favoured 20th century material – cement concrete!1

Humayun's Garden Tomb During the First Decade of the 21st Century

2009 Plan
2009 Key

Ratish Nanda summarizes a restoration plan for Humayun's Garden Tomb that is based on the directions and drawings of one of the principal consultants for Aga Khan's Islamic garden restoration projects, landscape architect and professor, Mohammad Shaheer.

The peripheral pathways were planted with tall trees – mango and neem – both recorded in Mughal chronicles and the canopy of which was eventually expected to be visible from over the 6 m tall enclosure walls.

The three garden plots in each of the four corners had the pathways perpendicular to the enclosure walls planted with one row each of orange and lemon – fruits said to have been favoured by Humayun. Later, with we at the Aga Khan Trust for Culture returned to the site in 2007, Shaheer suggested that the entire area of the three corner plots be planted with orange and lemon in an orchard layout. The ends of these plots towards the enclosure wall were planted with a grove of flowering shrubs – hibiscus – recorded to have been planted here during Mughal times and the sweet smelling Harsingar. Similarly the intersections of the pathways in the center of the quadrant were planted with the lowering Motia and Mogra. Finally, an orchard of pomegranate was planted along the western edge of the sunken eastern side of the garden.2

Humayun's Garden Tomb Restoration Plan

Nanda Plan
Nanda Key

Humayun's Garden Tomb in the Late 16th Century

2009 Plan
2009 Key

When comparing a garden plan that is based on photographs taken of Humayun's Garden Tomb around the first decade of the 21st century to a garden plan based on Mughal garden scene paintings and written material about Mughal gardens, there is a large difference between planting practices. The topic of trees seems demonstrative of the issues concerning planting in the wider context at Humayun's Garden Tomb.

Between the late 16th century and the first decade of the 21st century, with some exceptions, for example, cypress trees, the types of trees that were planted were different.3 The trees that were planted in Mughal gardens and the way in which they were planted were generally productive.4 They offered shade or they gave fruit that could be enjoyed or sold.5 They were planted in groves or orchards that filled the garden's spaces, and they were planted along the outer path to create a border around the the garden.6 The divisions created by water channels and paths in the garden's design made it easier to pick fruit from trees to sell or savor.

The theme of a Mughal garden is the Qur'anic "gardens of bliss."7 This is the garden where one wants for nothing, a paradise with an abundance of "fruits and palms and pomegranates."8 The Mughal garden served as a reminder of the afterlife that a good Muslim faces. A Mughal garden is not just a place to enjoy the bounty of a garden but a place to contemplate how one's actions will impact the future. This is an important reminder for an emperor. Where else does one feel closer to god than in an environment that displays the "bounties of the Lord?"9 A Mughal garden is a place that asks the Qur'anic question, "Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?"10

Many of the trees that have been planted in Humayun's Tomb's Garden during the 20th century are trees that produce little to nothing. They appear to be planted to frame views, such as the palm trees that frame Humayun's Tomb like minarets. Some trees are presented on pedestals, such as the trees planted in the platforms that are encircled by water channel circuits at path intersections. These platforms were intended to serve as locations for pitching tent pavilions.11 The trees that were planted during the 20th century could rarely be found more than fifteen feet from the paths. As a result, large expanses of wasted, useless, and uncomfortable green spaces were created. Sitting in the middle of a large lawn of grass, with no shade, in the Delhi sun, even post-pollution, would be tortuous—like burning for an eternity.

Looking at art that was created around the same time as the garden is one method of finding information about the garden. Babur Laying Out the Garden of Fidelity is a useful Mughal painting in the context of understanding planting at Humayun's Tomb. It is a set of clues as to what this garden may have been like. Babur Laying Out the Garden of Fidelity is from a copy of the Baburnama, Babur's memoirs, that Akbar ordered to be translated into Persian and illustrated, and it was completed in 1590.12 This is less than twenty years after Humayun's Garden Tomb was completed. Akbar's painters were living in India and familiar with Babur's gardens in Agra.13 The painters' visual vocabulary for flowers, trees, and garden layout would have come from the gardens they have seen throughout their lives or in other illustrations, arts, and crafts. An artist can read a description of a flower or garden in the Baburnama, but they will always have to begin with a flower they know and work from there. Fatehpur Sikri and Agra are not very far from Delhi, where Humayun's Tomb is located. It is possible that the painter may have seen Humayun's Garden Tomb, perhaps during its construction, when all of the workmen were filtering in and out of the site. One thing that is clear is that the artist knew that the Garden of Fidelity had a charbagh garden plan.14 A general inventory of the garden in this painting includes "walls, gateway, water channels, reservoir, pomegranate."15 A closer look at the flower planting shows that the charbagh plan was filled with flowers that were being aligned with string. These flowers are not planted in uniform carpets as seen in descriptions of later gardens or depictions in later paintings. They are planted in staggered rows, like orchard rows, that are aligned with the pathways. Not only a few types of flowers or just a few colors of flowers are planted in the garden in this painting. This tiny illustration contains 14 different types of flowers, and there is a representative from every color of the rainbow, except green. These characteristics can be considered clues into what may have been planted and how it may have been organized at Humayun's Garden Tomb. According to various writers, the flowers that were planted in Humayun's Garden Tomb included oleander, variations of jasmine, hibiscus, and bulb species, such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies.16

Garden of Fidelity
Babur Laying Out the Garden of Fidelity

1. Ratish Nanda, "Working In Paradise with the Master, Mohammad Shaheer," Manzar Scientific journal of landscape, no. 33 (2016): 30.

2. Nanda, "Working Paradise with Master," 30.

3. J.L. Wescoat Jr., Waterworks and Landscape Design in the Mahtab Bagh," in The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal, ed. Elizabeth B. Moynihan (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 60.

4. Laura E. Parodi. The Taj Mahal and the Garden Tradition of the Mughals," Orientations 48, no. 3 (2017): 6.

5. ibid, 6.

6. ibid, 6.

7. Qur'an 56:18.

8. Qur'an 56:68.

9. Qur'an 56:57.

10. Qur'an 36:55-57.

11. Nanda, "Working Paradise with Master," 30.

12. J.L. Wescoat Jr., "Picturing an Early Mughal Garden," Asian Art 2, no. 4 (1989): 63-64.

13. ibid, 66.

14. ibid, 69.

15. ibid, 65.

16. D. Fairchild Ruggles, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 111; Ratish Nanda, "Working Paradise with Master," Manzar the Scientific Journal of Landscape, no. 33 (2016): 30; J.L. Wescoat Jr., Waterworks and Landscape Design in the Mahtab Bagh," in The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal, ed. Elizabeth B. Moynihan (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 60.

Additional Information

A formal bibliography is posted on the outline page.
Garden Plan The Hammam Hammam Well Nizamuddin West Gate Grave Platform Baradari NE Well SE Well Wall Wall Wall Wall Wall Wall Wall Home SW Well Tomb Plan Tomb Fountain Fountain Fountain Chadars Tanks and Channels Water Water Water Water Chadars Chadars Tanks and Channels Chadars Chadars Tanks and Channels Tanks and Channels Tanks and Channels Tanks and Channels Water Tanks and Channels Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Water Chadars Water Channels and Pools Wall Mosque Barber's Tomb Nila Gumbad Wall South Gate Fountain South Gate Chadars Tree Platform