As part of a broad initiative to revive Delhi’s historic heritage, Sabz Burj – an early Mughal-era tomb turned to roadside ruin through centuries of neglect, vandalism and poor repair – has been restored to its former grandeur by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India and with the support of Havells India Limited. The 1520s domed mausoleum, which today sits on a roundabout prominently at the entrance of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site, is a continuation of the Trust’s decade long effort to improve the quality of life in the Nizamuddin area and provide the bustling capital with an important cultural and green space.
Though the mausoleum bears no date, and it is not recorded who lies buried there, the architectural style – harmonious geometric proportions in perfect symmetry and pishtaqs framing the arches topped by an onion-shaped dome ornamented with tile work – is Timurid and similar octagonal structures are seen across Central Asia.
The conservation took place from 2018 to 2021. Upon removal of the 20th century cement, a ceiling was painstakingly revealed to have been painted in pure gold and lapis amongst other elements. This is now thought to be the earliest surviving painted ceiling for any monument in India.
Originally, the dome was decorated with glazed green tiles thus deriving the name Sabz Burj, which means “green tower”. Tiles matching the physical and chemical properties of the 16th century tiles were restored on the dome as well as on the drum where these were missing. All surviving original tiles have been retained, even if these had lost their glaze.
A unique feature of the monument is the differing incised plaster patterns on each of the eight facades. Fortunately, fragments of each of these patterns had survived, making it possible to restore them in full – including geometric floral patterns and inscriptions created in incised lime plaster.
In undertaking the conservation, master craftsmen – stone carvers, masons, tile makers – used traditional materials and building techniques favoured by Indian craftsmen in the 16th century.
“… It is our esteemed privilege to support [the] Aga Khan Trust for Culture in their initiative to restore the cultural heritage of the country. It is imperative for us to preserve our heritage so that our future generations can stay connected to their roots,” said Havells Chair and Managing Director Mr Anil Rai Gupta.