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Humayun tomb

Delhi, Tomb of Humayun, 1562.

Courtesy -- Bloom, J. and Blair, S. (1994). "The Art and Architecture of Islam: 1250-1800". New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

The Reign of Humayun, 1530-1556

Babur's eldest son and successor, Humayun, was 22 years old when his father passed away. Humayun lacked the experience and the tough fiber necessary to consolidate a new dynasty. Thus, the first decade of his rule brought a steady erosion of Mughal authority in northern India. In particular, Humayun had to deal with the determined hostility of the Afghans who were still allied with the dispossessed Lodi regime.

Humayun was defeated and dislodged by insurrections of nobles from the old Lodi regime. In 1540, the Mughal domain came under the control of one of those nobles, Farid Khan Sur, who assumed the regional name of Shir Shah Sur. Humayun would spend the next 15 years in exile in Sind, Iran, and then Afghanistan. During this exile, Humayun's Persian wife, Hamida Begum, a native of Turbat-I Shaykh Jam in Khurasan, gave birth to the future emperor Akbar.

According to Blair and Bloom, Shir Shah Sur was one of the finest rulers India had ever known. He introduced important fiscal and monetary reforms which were incorporated into the Mughal system of administration.

Hambly writes that Shir Shah's Delhi, once again the capital of a great empire, was bounded on the east by the Jumna and extended northwards as far as Kotla Firuz Shah. Its southern limit, Hambly continues, must have been the enormous citadel known as the Purana Qala beyond which gardens stretched as far as the Nizamuddin area, the traditional burial-ground of Muslim nobility. Shir Shah Sur, with his imperial vision and ability to translate that vision into constructive action, rates a place in the front ranks of India's statesmen.

After Shir Shah's death, the kingdom survived for about nine years in the hands of his son, Islam Shah. But Islam Shah's unconciliatory nature alienated many Afghan chieftains. Eventually, the squabbling for succession among Shir Shah's followers allowed Humayun and the Mughals to return to power in 1555.

Iran's Shah Tahmasb (1524-76) had provided Humayun with the necessary troops to recapture Kandahar and then Kabul. But less than a year after regaining power, Humayun died unexpectedly at the age of 48 when he fell down the steps of his library in his haste to obey the muezzin's call to prayer.

Humayun's most noted achievement was in the sphere of painting. His devotion to the early Safavid School, developed during his stay in Iran, led him to recruit Persian painters of merit to accompany him back to India. These artists, wrties Hambly, laid the foundation of the Mughal style which emerged from its Persian chrysalis as an indigenous achievement in which Indian elements blended harmoniously with the traditions of Iran and Central Asia.

Humayun constructed a citadel at Delhi. Named Din-Panah (Refuge of Religion), this structure is thought to have been destroyed during the reign of Shir Shah Sur. The most celebrated building associated with Humayun is his tomb at Delhi, write Blair and Bloom. Humayun's mausoleum is a devotion of Hamida Begum, his widow, who supervised its construction during the reign of their son Akbar.

According to Blair and Bloom, Humayun's tomb marked the beginnings of a major development in the history of Indo-Islamic architecture. The tomb is set to the east of the shrine of Nizam al-Din Awliya (one of India's most revered Sufi saints) and in the center of a large garden that is 348 meters square. The garden is divided into 36 squares by cross-axially arranged water channels and pathways. Blair and Bloom write that the flat surfaces, the restrained combination of red stone and white marble in the flat panels, and the massive size of the tomb create an impression of sobriety.

On the interior of the tomb, continue Blair and Bloom, the central space contains Humayun's cenotaph; two stories of octagonal chambers containing cenotaphs for various members of Humayun's family fill the corners. Blair and Bloom add that this type of plan, often called hasht bihisht (Eight Paradise), is known to have been used in Timurid Iran. Contemporary historians believe the tomb was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, an architect of Iranian descent who had worked in Heart, Bukhara, and India before undertaking this project, note Blair and Bloom.

Humayun's tomb fits into the Iranian tradition of imperial mausoleums -- a tradition that can be seen, for example, in Uljayatu's tomb at Sultaniyya and Timur's at Samarqand. Brend writes that it is obvious that the taste for Timurid architecture in the mid-16th century shows the Mughals attempt to connect their line in India with their forebears in Iran through the use of forms identified with the Timurid.

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