The scaffolding almost touched the sky. Soaring 30 feet above the base of the milk-white dome that Mughal emperor Akbar built for his father, Humayun, more than a dozen men with yellow hats carefully put back the finial on top of the tomb. And, on April 19, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma inaugurated the bright, shiny and rather heavy finial.
The crowning glory of Humayun’s Tomb, the finial had weathered the wind, heat and cold for centuries. However, on May 30, 2014, it fell victim to a storm that left trees strewn across Lutyens Delhi. The winds blew at 150km per hour. The wooden pillar, on which copper vessels were fixed, snapped, bringing down the 18-foot-tall, bright-gold finial. As it was unthinkable to keep the city's tallest dome bald, a temporary finial was put up.
Two years and a lot of research later, 12 little boxes arrived in Delhi. Heavily guarded, the boxes had been carted across 2,000km from the Titan factory near Bengaluru. In them, locked and wrapped carefully, and coated with six layers of gold, was the new top for India's first Mughal garden tomb. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook the restoration that involved history, metallurgy, craftsmen and some unveiling of Mughal secrets.
The finial, examined after the fall, was a testimony to Mughal traditions. The sheets of copper used to make the 11 vessels was 99.42 per cent pure—this purity isn’t commercially available today.
The copper vessels were recreated and, in keeping with tradition, these were carefully hammered in the lanes of Shahjahanabad. They were then transported to the Titan factory near Bengaluru in wooden boxes, where experts examined them and coated them with gold.
There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. But, in the case of this restoration, it took goldsmiths, master craftsmen, carpenters, engineers and architects. This is the first time real gold has been used in restoration, courtesy Titan, which put in three and a half kilos of the yellow metal atop the dome. The new finial that now stands aloft, beacon-like, had to be carted up the dome without any machinery. And, it was probably far from easy. Putting the wooden pillar and the vessels—weighing more than 1,700kg—in place, on scaffolding that was almost stitched across the dome, was a remarkable feat.