It was history lost in the vagaries of nature. But now it’s being revived to its old grandeur. This 16th century tomb inside Sundar Nursery near the Humayun’s Tomb complex may resemble just another monument, but once inside you will hold your breath in awe.
The ornamental ceiling laden with exquisite floral patterns is awe-inspiring and gives you a glimpse of the exquisite architecture of the Persians. Heritage experts say this is comparable to a wall painting or reminiscent of
Persian wooden ceilings and one of the most unique patterns found in the country.
The Mughal-period Sundarwala Burj is one of the nearly dozen monuments dotting the Sundar Nursery, which has been taken up for conservation by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India and the central public works department (CPWD).
But its interiors laced with incised platter and bands of Quranic inscriptions is what sets this early 16th century monument apart. Skilled craftsmen took over eight months to reveal these patterns in floral and star-shaped designs on the ceiling and walls in the interiors of the burj. AKTC officials said while about 20% of the patterns had to be recreated by the craftsmen, the rest involved a massive cleaning job. This included removing centuries of soot deposits and dirt.
The project, which has been co-funded by the American Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, commenced last September and is expected to take another few months. Officials said decades of water seepage from the dome and ceiling had led to some of the ornamentation being lost and remaining portions covered with deposits that require to be carefully cleaned to restore its glory.
“The architectural homogeneity, disfigured by successive coats of 20th century cement plaster and modern paints, had to be restored with a traditional lime plaster mixed with traditional ingredients such as marble dust, egg white, molasses, lentil, fruit pulp and brick dust. The conservation works were preceded by several scientific studies over a year, including a 3D laser scan documentation, to record the detailed patterns and an analysis of mortar samples” said Sangeeta Bais, conservation architect, Aga Khan Trust.
Added AKTC chief engineer Rajpal Singh: “It was important for us to save the ornamental ceiling from deterioration, the lime plaster on the dome forms a long lasting protective layer and since traditional materials such as gur and belgiri have been used, the patina will return with the monsoon.’’
Besides the interior work, the exterior façade of the structure has also been given a makeover with the usage of lime plaster which, conservationists said. This will prevent further decay by limiting damage caused by water seepage. AKTC and CPWD are also working towards implementing a sensitive landscaping of the setting of the tomb and are planning to connect it via pathways with Sundrwala Mahal, located just a few feet away. Historians say these two monuments originally stood within an enclosure and entry was through a lofty gateway.
RESTORING THE PAST
• The 16th century Sundarwala Burj is among the earliest buildings built during the Mughal period in Delhi. It is located in Sunder Nursery opposite Humayun’s Tomb.
• It is known for its ornamental ceiling with star patterns and plant motifs. Reminiscent of Persian wooden ceilings.
• Seepage on dome disfigured ornamentation and some portions are covered with deposits that need to be carefully cleaned.
• Architectural homogeneity, disfigured by successive coats of cement plaster and modern paints, needed to be restored with traditional lime plaster mixed with traditional ingredients such as marble dust, egg white, molasses, lentil, fruit pulp and brick dust.
• Conservation work commenced in September and is expected to be completed before the arrival of monsoon.