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  • The ceremony to inaugurate the restored Humayun's Tomb Gardens.
    AKDN / Patrick Ruchdi
Aga Khan speaks of tolerance and shared heritage

New Delhi, India, 15 April 2003 - "Whether through neglect or wilful destruction, the disappearance of physical traces of the past deprives us of more than memories. Spaces that embody historic realities remind us of the lessons of the past."

His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims was speaking at the inauguration of the restored gardens that surround the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Joining India's Minister for Tourism and Culture Shri Jagmohan at a ceremony to mark the first privately funded restoration of a World Heritage Site in India, the Aga Khan made reference to recent events impacting what are "valuable national assets but that also represent the patrimony of mankind."

"As we witnessed most poignantly across Afghanistan and now in Iraq," observed the Aga Khan, "the very survival of so much of this heritage is today at risk."

"What, then," asked the Aga Khan, "of the deeper values that we risk abandoning under the dust of our own indifference or that might be crushed to rubble by our own destructive human forces?" "Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other peoples' cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world," he said. "Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development, it is vital to our existence."

"Investing in cultural initiatives," said the Aga Khan, "represents an opportunity to improve the quality of life for the people who live around these remarkable inheritances of past great civilisations." He was referring to the multiplier effect of ancillary economic activity, of enhanced leisure space, increased tourism potential and educational benefits.

The US$ 650,000 restoration project undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India represents a model for public and private sector joint-ventures in the urban revitalisation of green spaces. "Where encroachments had obscured and diminished the grandeur that was once enjoyed by all," said the Aga Khan, "we have, together, restored a glory that now becomes ours again."

For the first time in 400 years, water will flow through the sandstone channels in the first chahar-bagh (four-part "paradise garden") to surround a Mughal tomb on the sub-continent. The project featured massive earth removal, rainwater harvesting, new irrigation and water circulation systems, replanting of mango, lemon, hibiscus and jasmine cuttings according to Mughal tradition, and preparation by some sixty stonecutters of 2,000 metres of hand-dressed red sandstone slabs. Site works drew on a variety of disciplines, including archaeological excavation, conservation science, soil analysis, civil and hydraulic engineering and artisanal stone carving.

"Endeavours such as this are vital for countries like India, well-endowed with historical and cultural treasures, but also burdened by the responsibility of preserving them for future generations," concluded the Aga Khan.

The timing of the ceremony was organised to coincide with the commemoration on 18th April of World Heritage Day.

The Aga Khan, who is on an official visit to India at the invitation of the Government, has already held meetings with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as well as other senior government officials.

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Notes: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a non-denominational philanthropic foundation that coordinates the cultural activities of the Aga Khan Development Network. Its activities include the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Historic Cities Support Programme, the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,, the Music Initiative in Central Asia and the Aga Khan Humanities Project. The Trust is involved in the revitalisation of historic sites in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Egypt, Syria and Zanzibar amongst other places.

The Network's agencies have been working in India for several decades to address issues of natural resource management, agricultural productivity, income growth, health and education in rural areas. They are also engaged in the provision of microcredit and financial services and operate a range of healthcare and educational institutions. Over the past year, the Network has been involved in the rehabilitation of earthquake-damaged villages in Gujarat.

The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of Africa and Asia. Active in over 20 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.