Four years later: Sabz Burj restoration complete, rare ceiling painting uncovered

It took four years to complete the Sabz Burj Conservation and Restoration Project, the 22-meter-high octagonal monument at the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road. It was a fortuitous find during curation that the intricate artwork on its ceiling was revealed, placing the ASI-protected monument in the league of the country’s most unique monuments.

For a century, the ceiling paint – which uses real gold and lapis lazuli – has remained buried under layers of chemicals used in its restoration in the 1920s. “It has lost its luster and pattern. of paint due to the application of chemical coats in the 1920s, “said Ratish Nanda, CEO of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), which undertook the work in conjunction with ASI.

He added that no restoration work was done on the ceiling given its heritage value and only preservation was done.

It is believed that the tomb was built between AD 1530 and AD 40, and that an important nobleman or royal is buried there given the use of gold and its location.

But it’s more important than it looks, Nanda said. It is an architectural treasure as it is one of the earliest examples of Timurid style Mughal architecture and it is also one of the earliest examples of double domed tombs in the country.

Historian Ebba Koch, in her book Mughal Architecture (1991), wrote about the use of glazed tiles on the dome and commented that “it was popular in Iran”.

In addition to the restoration work, the tomb was illuminated by Havells India Limited, which partnered with AKTC and ASI, and funded the entire conservation exercise as part of its CSR project. .

Around 1904, Nanda said that this structure had been converted into a police station and would operate in this way for another 10 to 15 years. This is when most of the decomposition occurred as it was plastered and whitewashed before being used. Originally, the dome had glazed green tiles on top (which earned it the name Sabz Burj), in addition to green, yellow, and blue tiles on the lower parts of the dome.

But the original tiles were replaced with blue ones when it was restored in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in 2010. These tiles were removed with the required permission, and new ones were installed – again green, blue and yellow – to revert to the original. .

The tiles were created by artisans from Nizamuddin Basti, who were trained in the crafts by artisans from Uzbekistan, Nanda said. Most of the conservation fund went to the local community, he added.

Restoration of this 500-year-old structure began in November 2018 and was expected to be completed in approximately 18 months. Due to pandemic lockdowns and other official back-and-forths during the project, it took four years.

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