Obama visit: Why Humayun's tomb, why not Red Fort?

Barack Obama
New Delhi, Nov 6: Most Indians are puzzled as to why foreign heads of state would choose to pay a visit to Humayun's tomb in New Delhi rather than the Red Fort, which is architecturally more ornate, and historically, has recorded more events within its walls.

President Obama will be visiting the tomb of this Mughal emperor on November 7 and not the Taj Mahal in Agra, which is not too far from Delhi, and is one of the wonders of the world, but also the tomb of one of the later Mughals.

UNESCO declared Humayun's tomb a World Heritage site in 1992. It is included in the itinerary of VIPs visiting India because it is a medieval monument, it has easy access and because it is relatively quicker to secure.

There is hardly any other reason to choose to visit the tomb of one of the last Central Asian rulers of India. The Humayun tomb complex houses of graves of Humayun, his wife Hamida Begum and some later Mughals. But what about Humayun and his life?

What comes to mind when you think of Humayun? Dreary history lessons where you read that he was the son of Babur the first Mughal emperor and the father of Akbar the most popular emperor of India.

Think back of the comic book Amar Chitra Katha that you would have read on Humayun. You would recall the story of Humayun who as a young man fell so ill that his life was in danger. Babar prayed to Allah to take away his life but save his son. According to the legend, Humayun survived but Babar died later and is buried in Kabul.

Humayun wasn't much of a king, he was complacent and quite a loser. He lost his kingdom to Sher Shah Suri and went into exile in Afghanistan for 15 years. Humayun's sister Gulbadan Begum was commissioned by her nephew, Akbar to document her brother's life.

Humayun "The Fortunate" was the eldest son of Babur the founder of the Mughal dynasty. Born in Kabul in 1508, Humayun lived a less remarkable life compared to his successors Akbar, Jehangir and Shahjehan.

Another quirky tale is the tragic accident that led to his death. After his victory over Sher Shah Suri in 1555 and winning back Delhi, Humayun could barely enjoy the fruits of his long war. He fell down the steep staircase of the Dina Panah fort in Delhi (old fort where the zoological park is located) and fractured his skull. If you visit the fort, a guide is sure to show you the staircase and tell you about how "manhoos" (bad luck) it is.

So, why did such a non-descript emperor get such a majestic tomb? It was probably due to one of his wives, Hamida Begum, who commissioned the tomb in 1562. On his death in 1556, he was buried at the Old Fort.

Two years later, the body was taken to Punjab where his son, Akbar could see the body. The body was then buried in Punjab. The gory tale doesn't end here. Nine years after Humayun died his body was dug up for the second time and brought to Delhi to the red sand stone garden tomb.

It was in this tomb and its gardens that the last emperor of India Bahadur Shah Zafar took refuge in 1857 when he the British chased him out.

Both Humayun and Bahadur Shah Zafar are seen as weak kings in the Mughal dynasty, kings who had so much going for them, but frittered away their legacy.

Humayun sought refuge in Afghanistan when things got hot back home. Zafar was exiled to Rangoon.

Humayun's tomb is the mausoleum of a man called "the Fortunate One", who had a difficult reign, who inherited a war torn kingdom from his predecessor, a bankrupt state and a nation tired of war.

Talking about Humayun, wonder if President Obama empathises?


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