City Monument – Barber’s Tomb, Humayun Tomb Complex
The other memorial.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
After the sun dips into the western sky, Humayun’s Tomb gleams with special lights installed at strategic positions around the monument. The gathering blackness dematerialises the tree-filled surroundings, making the marble dome, topped with a 24 karat gold kalash, look like a harvest moon in the night sky.
There’s another tomb within the monument garden, very close to emperor Humayun’s. It too has a dome, but less impressive, made of lime plastered masonry, and with no sign of gold anywhere. After sunset, it stays dark. It is known as the Barber’s tomb. Many visitors are so hypnotised by the central memorial (plus, the beautiful tomb of Isa Khan), that they forget to walk to the Barber’s tomb. Indeed, romantic couples prefer to loiter around it due to its relative sparseness.
Two graves of unequal size lie within this small makbara—the bigger one is stained with bird droppings this afternoon. One of the graves is thought to be of Humayun’s barber. Surely the gentleman—name unknown—deserves this graceful memorial. With a dangerously close access to the royal neck, he could have easily changed the course of our history by a simple flick of the hand. You might have read that famous story about Akbar’s barber, manipulating the unsuspecting emperor to get rid of the much-envied courtier Birbal. Per the story, he was also the barber to Akbar’s father, Humayun.
So this tomb must belong to that same barber.
But that story is just a story. And this tomb’s name might be just a name. No evidence links it to any barber, according to conservation architect Ratish Nanda of Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India, which helped conserve the monument complex. While the chronograph on the graves suggests that the monument post-dates the 16th century Humayun’s Tomb, it is unlikely so. The latter was planned as a family memorial for the Mughals, Nanda explains, and naturally no other makbara would have been allowed to come up so close to challenge its exclusivity. The so-called barber’s tomb must predate Humayun’s, its colloquial name borne out of later legends.
Whatever, in the morning, its dome is claimed by dozens of birds who cover almost every inch of its surface, while the the dome of adjacent Humayun’s tomb remains bare. Some at least prefer the imaginary barber over the emperor.
The tomb by Humayun’s