Ravi Shankar – Tala Rasa Ranga
The Fulbright group’s journey of discovery began with visit to Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, the garden-tomb of the second Mughal emperor. Professor Beeba Sobti joined us to expound on the design aspects of the site and to discuss the preservation of historical monuments in New Delhi. Humayun’s Tomb has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, Humayun’s Tomb has been visited recently by such notables as President Obama and the First Lady, as well as Hollywood actor Will Smith, with whom Professor Sobti is currently consulting on a project. The tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s wife in 1562, and it’s gardens, though vastly different in appearance today, are richly maintained. Professor Sobti, or Beeba as she preferred us to call her, explained that the once-wild flora had been transformed over the centuries so that now the green spots surrounding the tomb resemble manicured gardens in the distinctly British sense. The garden grounds have also been elevated over the years to within inches of the stone footpaths, allowing people easier access. In other words, the view of the tomb today is much different from how it would have appeared in the early stages of its existence, because we can see it clearly upon entry. Early visitors would have meandered through paths ensconced by wildly overgrown vegetation, making it a sudden surprise to behold the colossal tomb at the end of the path. Beeba told us that the Taj Mahal differs from Humayun’s Tomb in terms of the quality of artistic rendering, and that has largely to do with the difference in building materials. The tomb is composed mostly of red sandstone, whereas the Taj Mahal is made of much easier to carve marble. Along our wanderings, Beeba pointed to several features: the use of the color green to denote paradise and abundance; the significance of the number nine as it appeared in many configurations throughout the grounds, the west wall of the tomb superimposed by a screen to mark the direction of prayer. One challenge of preservation that Beeba spoke of is “marble cancer.” When dignitaries visit historical sites, the buildings are sometimes treated with chemicals to make them more presentable. In a terribly ironic twist, the chemicals end up causing the marble to flake and deteriorate, making restoration attempts even more challenging. Our guide, who tended to articulate her thoughts in poetic diction, expressed to us that the past is a foreign country from which we can gain insight about our present condition. The UNESCO designation is a testament that Humayun’s Tomb is not just a treasure of India , but of the world. In parting, Beeba left us with a quote from one of her favorite poets, Emily dickinson: “I died for beauty, but scarce adjusted to the tomb.