Second Mughal emperor, Nasir al-Din Muhammad Humayun, died in 1556.1 His grave is located in a chamber within the plinth, directly below the cenotaph that represents his grave.2 The cenotaph is located in the center of the main chamber in Humayun's Tomb. The grave's chamber can be accessed through a series of chambers starting from the first grave niche to the right of the plinth's southern staircase.3
"The actual grave of Emperor Humayun lies in a small three-metre-square room, and is in masonry covered with plain plaster, devoid of any ornamentation or inscriptions."4 Burying the body beneath a cenotaph at ground level is a tradition carried over from the grave of Timur at the Gur-i Amir in Uzbekistan, the Mughal dynasty's place of origin.5
This practice could be connected to the Fiqh, or Islamic law, indication that the dead be interred in the earth at a place that is designated for the burial of the dead.6 According to the Qur'an, "From it [earth] We created you and into it We shall send you back and from it We will raise you a second time."7 One could say that from his ground level plinth grave, Humayun rises to his cenotaph to face the eight passages to his garden paradise. The octagonal cenotaph chamber's eight passageways lead to the tomb's garden. This completes the natural chain of events that are described in the the Qur'an. We come from the earth in life, we return to the earth in death, and ideally, Allah raises us to live again in paradise.
1. S.A.A. Naqvi, Humayun's Tomb and Adjacent Buildings (New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1947), 5.
2. ibid, 10.
4. Ratish Nanda, "The Area of Humayun's Tomb," in Heritage of the Mughal World, ed. Philip Jodidio (Munich: Prestel, 2015), 169.
5. Laura E Parodi, "The Posthumous Portrait of Ḥaḍrat Jannat ʿAshiyānī: Dynastic, Saintly, and Literary Imagery in the Tomb of Humayun," Islamic Art 6, (2009): 136.
6. Sameh Strauch, comp., Sameh Strauch, trans., Fiqh Course: Tahaarah, Salaah, and Janaa'iz (Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House, 2003), 204.
7. Qur'an 20:55.
Brand, Michael. "Orthodoxy, Innovation, and Revival: Considerations of the Past Imperial Mughal Tomb Architecture." In Muqarnas 10: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, edited by Margaret B. Sevcenko, 323-34. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993.
Hillenbrand, Robert. "Aspects of Timurid Architecture in Central Asia." In Utrecht Papers on Central Asia: Proceedings of the First European Seminar of Central Asian Studies Held at Utrecht, 16-18 December 1985, edited by H. Boeschoten and M. Van Damme, 255-86. Utrect: Institute of Oriental Languages, University of Utrecht, 1987.