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  • His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the inauguration of Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
Inauguration ceremony for the restoration of Humayun's Tomb


Your Excellency Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Minister for Culture Shrimati Chandresh Kumari Katoch
Mr. Ratan Tata
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me first extend my special thanks to the Prime Minister, whose presence honours all of us.

There is another very important reason for me to salute the Prime Minister today. It was he who first recommended to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture that projects like this, should be built on public private partnerships. We heeded his suggestion. And today, the great majority of the 20 similar projects we have undertaken, are founded on public private agreements.

We are also pleased that so many friends – old and new – are sharing with us in this most significant ceremony – in this truly remarkable place.

Among those whom we welcome with special gratitude are the generous partners who have worked with us over many years. Let me take this moment to offer a special, grateful salute to the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, and its Chairman Sir Ratan Tata.

We are happy that you all are here – even as we have been overjoyed to know of the many millions who now visit this site annually. I understand that there has been a ten-fold increase in visitors to the Tomb Complex since our restoration efforts began here, more than a decade ago.

This inauguration ceremony marks the accomplishment of a great goal; the gardens and now the Mausoleum are fully restored. And we can be confident that the Complex will be able to welcome, on a sustainable basis, a larger number of additional annual visitors in the years ahead.

The fact that so many people want to share this extraordinary experience – as you do today – is a heartening affirmation of the Monument’s continuing importance. We all feel its power to fascinate, to teach – and to inspire us – nearly half a millennium after it was originally built.

As you may know, this Mughal monument, which dates back to 1570, was the first garden-tomb complex on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.

I recall happily how our own efforts began here in 1997, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence. Our initial objective was to restore the surrounding Gardens – including the fountains and pathways – according to their original plans. That was the first privately funded restoration of a World Heritage Site in India – and it had significant impact, vastly expanding the community’s green space, and stimulating an impressive flow of new visitors.

As the Garden project was completed, we were proud to become part of a new Public Private Partnership, dedicated to the restoration of the Mausoleum and other notable buildings on this site. Our partners included the Archaeological Survey of India, the Central Public Works Department, and the Delhi Municipal Corporation. We extend our deepest gratitude to all of them. And we also note gratefully the generous support of the United States Embassy, the German Embassy, the Ford Foundation and the World Monuments Fund.

Over time, the restoration work has drawn not only on these supporting organizations, but also on many hundreds of highly skilled individuals from a vast array of disciplines – all working to recover here a grandeur enjoyed in past centuries and now, once again, a part of public life.

Since 2007, master craftsmen have spent some 200,000 work-days restoring Humayun’s Tomb and its associated structures.

I think you will be as fascinated as I have been to hear just a little about this reconstruction work.

It is striking, for example, to learn that some one million kilos of cement concrete had been laid down here during the 20th century – and that it had to be removed from the roof using hand tools. Meanwhile, some 200,000 square feet of lime plaster had to be applied in areas where it had been lost or replaced with cement plaster that was already crumbling.

Similarly, over 40,000 square feet of concrete had to be removed from the lower plinth of the Mausoleum and major, two-ton paving blocks, had to be manually replaced.

In addition, original decorative patterns have been painstakingly recreated – work that required the talents of master ceramic tile makers. Happily, practitioners of this art in Uzbekistan were able to come here to train young residents of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, contributing not only to the beauty of this monument, but also opening new economic opportunities for these young people.

But even as we observe the beauty that is evident within the Humayun Complex, it is also important to situate this project within a larger context. We hope to link this monument to the adjacent seventy-acre site of the Sundar Nursery, once a significant Sufi graveyard, and now being transformed into an Archaeological Park. We are planning new visitor facilities and an innovative Interpretation Center serving the two sites.

The combined sites will create a heritage zone of unmatched scale, value and visibility – a proud symbol of Indian history – featuring one of the world’s largest concentrations of medieval Islamic buildings. This site is the largest of the 20 major projects developed in nine countries by our Historic Cities program over the past decades.

But cultural history is only one part of this story. A central premise of our work is that cultural enrichment and historic restoration can also be effective springboards for economic and social progress. Rather than being a drain on fragile economies, as some once feared, investment in cultural legacies can be a powerful agent in improving the quality of human life. The impact of such projects can begin by diversifying local economies, expanding employment and teaching new skills. And a continuing stream of visitors, properly guided and welcomed, can provide income streams far into the future, which can be further invested in economic growth.

We have been encouraged by the impact of this project on the lives of some 20,000 inhabitants of the Nizamuddin Basti area. But we cannot assume that such favourable outcomes will emerge automatically from such work; they must be carefully considered and continually monitored. Here in Delhi, as elsewhere in our Network, an intimate part of our program is what we call a “quality of life assessment” concerning the surrounding community -- a measuring process that begins when a project is launched, and continues long beyond its completion.

In Delhi, this concern has led to a variety of initiatives in the core areas of health, education and sanitation, including job training and access to microfinance. All of this is being done in close cooperation with local community groups, close partners in our work.

The word “partnership,” in fact, could be the watchword of this celebration. What we honour today, above all else – is the spirit of partnership in which this work has unfolded.

In my view, an Ethic of Partnership must be at the centre of any successful project of this sort. Among other things, an Ethic of Partnership means that traditional separations between public and private domains must be set aside, so that public-private partnerships can thrive as an essential keystone for effective development.

The role of governments – including municipalities – is essential, of course, in providing “an enabling environment” for development. But the public sector cannot do this work alone. A creative mix of participants is needed: corporations and development agencies, foundations and universities, faith communities and local community groups.

This Humayun Tomb project was the first Public-Private Partnership for cultural heritage in Indian history. It has been a model for our new project in Hyderabad – the restoration of the Qutb Shahi Tombs – in cooperation with the local government.

I believe that Public-Private Partnerships can be an increasingly useful approach, here in India and in other settings. India is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of historic heritage, with 30 World Heritage Sites – including 24 cultural sites. They represent a patrimony that cannot be preserved by the public sector alone. Public-private collaboration will be essential.

And so I would conclude as I began, with a heartfelt salute to the partners who have worked with us in making this day possible – and to all who have cared so deeply about this project – and supported it so thoughtfully.

You have helped to make the Humayun Tomb endeavour into a great gift to the people of this neighbourhood, to the city of Delhi, to the people of India, and – indeed – the peoples of the world. And you have validated the foundations on which many similar initiatives here in India, and elsewhere, can be built.

Thank you.