Tomb Economics

The Mughals of Northern India are famous for their tombs, Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, Jahangir’s Tomb in Lahore and, of course, the Taj Mahal. Why so many tombs? Culture surely has something to do with it, although conservative Muslims tend to frown on tombs and ancestor worship as interference with the communication between man and God. Incentives are another reason.

Under the Mansabdari system which governed the nobility, the Mughal Emperor didn’t give perpetual grants of land. On death, all land that had been granted to the noble reverted back to the Emperor, effectively a 100% estate tax. In other words, land titling for the Mughal nobility was not hereditary. Since land could not be handed down to the next generation, there was very little incentive for the Mughal nobility to build palaces or the kind of ancestral homes that are common in Europe. The one exception to the rule, however, was for tombs. Tombs would not revert back to the Emperor. Hence the many Mughal tombs

Here is some lovely jali (stone lattice) work in Barber’s tomb in the Humayan tomb complex.

The Aga Khan Development Network has done some great restoration work on Isa Khan’s tomb, again in the Humayun’s tomb complex. Here’s  the ceiling and another piece of jali work.


If you like this kind of architecture may I suggest a visit to Uzbekistan, particularly Samarkand and Bukhara.

Cannot agree more. It is gorgeous, Uzbek cuisine is superb. The only advice should be to avoid the summer as it is not the most pleasant time of the year in Central Asia.

.."Tombs would not revert back to the Emperor. Hence the many Mughal tombs."
But all examples cited are of the Emperors or Mumtaz Mahal , wife of Shah Jahan ( Taj Mahal). Are there impressive tombs of the nobles?

Also Babur, not Barber.

No, it's Barber's tomb, the tomb of the royal barber. Babur's tomb is in Afghanistan. Isa Khan was also a noble.

According to a fairly profilic commenter, neither of you are quoting the name Nai – Ka – Gumbad correctly, thus making this discussion moot. That commenter was silent on the matter of differing alphabets, so plenty of discussion still to be had, including potential referee calls with points awarded.

This mad me laugh more than it should have. Well played.

"the Mughal Emperor didn’t give perpetual grants of land": nor did William the Conqueror, at least not to laymen. Time passed and things changed.

Also Economics of Estate Taxes.

The only sure things in God's Creation are death, taxes, and economists' certainties and precisions.

Wonderful post. I can't begin to imagine how that lattice stonework was accomplished.

Of course, there are also monumental tombs in other areas that had different land laws.

the stranger’s name went white and forth, the lightening struck black and white eventually both the moon and sun changed places, such that idle stares were accompanies by dangerous glances, a blade of grass blowing in the wind.


I was the Chickasaw Indian gent with or through whom he dealt and so it was not until he waked the County Recorder that Saturday night with the deed, patent, to the land and the gold Spanish coin, that the town leaned that he now owned a hundred square miles of some of the best virgin bottom land in the country, though even that knowledge came too late because Sutpen himself was golf.

See waqf ( Perpetual foundations exempt from taxation in Islamic societies. Founders often appointed their family members as administrators. Schools, hospitals, and tomb shrines were often waqf foundations.

Speaking of incentives, granting land only for life of grantee is pretty much equivalent to putting up a notice, "LOOT ME". Mughal taxation system was notorious for its extractiveness, same as Old Russian kormlenie, and the word for both in respective local language was "eating"/"feeding".

they must have a skeleton staff

Interesting take. I am sure the mansabdari system may have something to with it. Though, building a tomb does render the land useless. Also, Mughal emperors also built lavish palaces and cities. The Agra fort, the Red Fort in Delhi, and Fatehpur Sikhri are some prominent examples.

Babar and Humayun were the emperors, not the nobility subject to the emperor's estate tax. Why would you choose examples completely irrelevant to the explain?

Just realised you're talking about Nai-ka-gumbad, not Babur's tomb. But the barber wasn't nobility or a landowner anyway - this is slightly more analogous to Humayun being buried with his possessions, including the barber.

Not sure about this but beginning with the Samanids, the Turkestani tradition has typically departed from the Sunni restriction on construction of mausolea over burial sites.

Comments for this post are closed