The use of talismans to ward off evil is not limited to humans alone. All over the world they adorned monuments too
The crowning glory of Humayun’s Tomb, actually the finial on top of the dome, was uprooted in the devastating storm on May 30, 2014. The lightning conductor attached to it was also destroyed. A new conductor was installed early last month but the replacement of the finial is not so easy, says the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
According to a report, it consisted of a wooden beam and nine copper vessels with a brass finish. “The finial’s shaft, made of sal wood, has been lost.” So ASI is trying to source seasoned wood which might take a month to procure. Among the nine copper parts, two or three were badly damaged. The Superintending Archaeologist of Delhi Circle, Vasant Swarankar, told PTI, “Our science branch is working on rebuilding the finial. While some parts will be completely changed, some will be retained and a whole new composite structure will be made.”
Records say the 16th Century finial, installed at the instance of Akbar, who advised his stepmother Haji Begum on the construction of his father’s tomb, was repaired by the British in 1912. The Delhi ASI chief said, “The Islamic inscription attached to the finial stated: ‘Khuda jo hai, wo barkat rakhe, kisi bhi aapda se bachye’ (May God always keep it prosperous, protect it from any calamity).” This talisman, like the one said to have been given by an Olympian deity to the city of Troy, was supposed to grant safety to the monument. Incidentally, when the luck of Troy was stolen by the Greeks, the Trojans faced one calamity after another and were finally defeated in the 10-year war, following Paris of Troy’s elopement with Helen.
The belief in sacred symbols was not limited to the Greeks and Trojans. The Egyptians, Romans, Jews, Christians and Muslims were also influenced by it. Even the finial atop the Taj contains an auspicious “kalma”. Some years ago the 10 finials over the miniature domes of the Delhi Gate of the Red Fort were found missing. At the time they were made by the same artisans who had worked on the Taj, their worth was not much but in present times they are valued at 42,000 dollars each as they are encased in gold. The finials of the Agra Fort escaped damage during the First War of Independence of 1857 (as did the ones in the Red Fort) but both buildings suffered extensively during the Jat and Rohilla raids of the 18th Century.
Coming back to Humayun’s Tomb, the lightning conductor on it was installed after one was fixed on top of the Qutub Minar, which had been struck by lightning during the British era, and also earlier, notably during the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlak who had the minar extensively repaired.
Haji Begum, Humayun’s first wife, was a pious woman who went all the way to Makkah to bring back Arab artisans and mullahs, after performing Haj, to build the mausoleum and also pray for the repose of the Emperor’s soul. The “kalas” of the finial was set up after extensive prayers to ward off the evil eye from a thing of beauty. Its absence may rankle those who believe in auspicious symbols and also rationalists who may find it hard to appreciate the symmetry of the dome minus the finial. The sooner it is re-installed the better.
Believe it or not, one superstitious resident of the Nizamuddin area thinks an owl or some other bird of ill-omen sat on the finial and polluted it by its droppings, which “induced nature to destroy it via a lightning bolt”. One may laugh that away, though not those who believe in auspicious and inauspicious happenings. When Bahadur Shah Zafar was arrested at Humayun’s Tomb, Major Hodson nearly got part of the monument destroyed to ferret out the rebel sepoys he thought were hiding there. May be the blessed inscription saved it, just like the tawiz or amulet tied to Sipihr Shikoh’s biceps supposedly protected the younger son of Dara from being captured at the fateful Battle of Samugarh 199 years earlier.