June 11, 2012

Barber's Tomb, New Delhi

Within Humayun's Tomb Complex stands a small red & grey sandstone tomb, square in plan, simple in ornamentation, & mysterious in its identity. Locally referred to as Nai ka Maqbara ("Barber's Tomb"), the striking tomb supposedly belongs to the royal barber who served Humayun. One wonders if the barber also held some political or administrative power in his hand to claim a tomb within the same garden as the emperor of India. Although Humayun's Tomb, commissioned by his widow Hamida Banu Begam in the year 1550, was built on the established axis of a previously built tomb-garden complex belonging to an unidentified lady known as Bi Halima, & incorporated within itself the tomb-garden complex housing the remains of Isa Khan, a nobleman in Sher Shah Suri's court - the tomb of this barber is the only structure to have been constructed after Humayun's Tomb complex was completed. It was commissioned by Humayun's son & successor Akbar (ruled AD 1556-1605). Perhaps Akbar wanted to emphasize the position of the barber who was the only person to be able to hold a blade every day to the emperor's throat. Either that, or he was a tad touched by the Egyptian tradition of burying slaves & pets alongside their pharaohs for company in the afterlife!! Though the latter appears less likely as we haven't yet found tombs dedicated to Humayun's lions & elephants, or parrots!! If you ask me, the whole thing is a myth - the barber story somehow got traction since it's not known who is interred here & stuck.  In all probability, it must be some sibling/cousin/close associate of Humayun.

Tomb of a Barber

I first visited Humayun's Tomb Complex as part of the HOHO Bus tour of Delhi I took in the summer vacations of 2011, subsequently I ended up visiting the complex twice again in the past year - every time I did, Barber's Tomb was locked away for public entry by means of metal sheets & bamboo barriers. The tomb was being restored to (almost) its original condition as part of the larger Humayun's Tomb - Nizamuddin Basti restoration project undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (A.K.T.C.) in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.). I would sneak in the tomb every time, have a look at the work being undertaken & take a few photos. The tomb looked hideous, covered under all that scaffolding, green cloth covering its chattris (umbrella domes surmounted on thin pillars), metal sheets barring the entrance & debris strewn all around. Last week (Referring to my visit on May 14, 2013. This post has been edited on May 19, 2013) I visited the complex again, the authorities recently threw open the tomb complex of Isa Khan, subject of another post, closed away for years for restoration. I decided to pay a visit to the less frequented Barber's Tomb too & see if its condition has improved. The tomb has certainly taken a turn for the better - its single, double-dome (sounds an oxymoron, but that's a dome within a dome) has been spruced up, the interiors have been restored & the sandstone walls now appear more crimson than they earlier did. The most brilliant of all changes is that vibrant blue tiles are now being affixed to the four chattris that surround the dome & add a quirky touch to the entire structure.

So who exactly are these guys??

It is known that the individuals interred here are male & female respectively, but their identity is not clear - perhaps the barber & his wife. Had they both been male, we might have conjectured that the barber's son or assistant is buried with him. What is known however is when the tomb was commissioned - both the graves inside are embossed with Quranic inscriptions & one of them is marked with the number 999, which represents the Hijra year when the tomb was built (1590-91 AD).

You see the flower like I do??

The elegant tomb stands on a platform 2.44 meters high & is reached by climbing 7 steps. Arched niches exist on all four sides of the square tomb - while an arched entrance is built into one of these, the rest are filled with stone latticework screens ("jalis"). The inner dome rests on four larger, upward-rising curves, giving it the picturesque appearance of a four-petalled flower when seen from underneath. On the outside, the dome sits on a sixteen-sided drum (base) & is topped by a lotus finial. Slender minarets mark the corners of the octagonal drum. The scarcity of sunlight inside the chamber makes it dark which is further compounded by the dark red color of the walls. The water channels around the tomb were added in 1905 & 1909 according to the characteristic red sandstone tablet placed by the A.S.I. outside the tomb to provide general information about it.

A view of Barber's Tomb & the Nila Gumbad in the background (Photo courtesy - Wikipedia.org)

The tomb can be reached by descending from Humayun's Tomb & walking towards its southern gate (the gate presently used for entry is the western gate, but the original entry was via the southern gate - visible from Humayun's Tomb towards the right as an exact replica of the western gate). Barber's Tomb stands on a platform on the south-east side of Humayun's Tomb.

Open: All days, 8 am - 6 pm
Entrance Fee: Rs 10 (Citizens of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Afghanistan Thailand and Myanmar), Rs 250 (Others) (Children up to 15 years free)
Nearest Metro Station: JLN Stadium Metro Station
Photography charges: Nil
Time required for sight seeing : 30 min
Relevant Links - 
  1. Gktoday.in - Double Dome in Indo-Islamic Architecture


  1. Like the fact that its short and sweet! :)
    Good one!

  2. keep up the good writing!

  3. Sohail HashmiSeptember 09, 2014

    The Egyptians believed that their kings will come back to life and will need all their favourite things and their personal staff. Muslims do not believe in rebirth so this question does not arise. The Barber's grave story is in all probabiloty just a story. If yoi look at the shape of the dome of the so called Barber's Mausoleum you will realise that it is of a shape that was more common in the pre Humayun's tomb period and it is possible that the grave pre-existed in the ground that was chosen for the site of Humayun's tomb. the other possibility that it was a later construction can also not be ruled out and even this does not automatically prove that this is the grave of Humayun's barber.

    1. Sohail HashmiSeptember 09, 2014

      Who builds tombs for Barbers, this is one of those myths that we love to create and propagate. who knows who is buried here, why would either Humayun's wife Begga begum who got the Mausoleum of Humayun built or Akbar who paid the bills, would build a mausoleum for his barber?. this is probably an unconnected structure that happened to be located in a corner and was incorporated in the garden, just as the mausoleum of Isa Khan, Bu Halima and an unnamed officer lie scattered all around the mausoleum.