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Restoring Kashmir’s Heritage
 

The Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has done a commendable job in documenting very meticulously some of the most important landmarks of Kashmir’s heritage. A dedicated team of the J & K Chapter of the Trust led by Mr.Saleem Beigh has conducted the detailed cultural resource mapping of the historical city of Srinagar. The work has been exhaustive and extensive. An inventory of all the architecturally significant heritage buildings in the city has been prepared. The documentation in five volumes gives plans of these buildings in the minutest detail. A Heritage Map of Srinagar consisting of 130 grids has been prepared. A very positive aspect of the project is that INTACH has secured partnership of UNESCO for restoration of Kashmir’s Heritage. Normally UNESCO does not undertake such projects. They only come in when heritage of a place is facing very serious threat. The most important architectural significance which has been revealed by this study is that a large number of these historical buildings have been designed according to the locally bred traditional architecture. Kashmir has its own School of Architecture and its designs have been seen as far as Turkey. In all the buildings local skilled workers have been employed who have used local materials. This aspect is of utmost importance as it keeps the tradition of local skilled workers alive. This is known as intelligible architecture. The architecture is responsive to climate of Kashmir. The Pagoda style of roof of heritage buildings is designed to cater for heavy snow loads which get automatically dispersed over a larger area. Normally snow load over a single large roof exerts higher pressure than the same load spread over smaller ones in a Pagoda style. While designing buildings and utilising local materials, the architects had taken into account the local geographical conditions also. Even these buildings were designed to withstand very strong earthquakes. It has been found that the traditional “Daji Dewari” construction in Kashmiri houses can withstand earthquake shocks of even magnitude 8 on the Richter scale. This is due to the agility and extreme flexibility of this type of construction in comparison to modern rigid cement concrete constructions. Most of the casualties in the last Earthquake in Kashmir were due to concrete slabs collapsing and burying alive hundreds of school children and others. Had they followed traditional architectural designs there may have been lesser casualties. Kashmiri architecture has also Buddhist influence. The fourth Buddhist council was held in Kashmir which was attended by scholars from all over the world. The preachers from this conference travelled with the teachings of the new Mahayana School to all parts of the world. In fact the influence of the Kashmiri School of architecture can be seen in Yarqand, Khotan, Kashgar, and as mentioned above, even in Turkey.

In case of Mughal Gardens complete “Management Plans” have been drawn up. Every stone has been photographed and documented. The gardens proposed to be taken up for restoration include Nishat, Shalimar, and Achabal. The original builders may not have had such detailed plans as have been prepared by the very dedicated and emotionally involved team of INTACH. The aim is to restore the historical character of these gardens which is the principle difference between the modern gardens and the heritage gardens. The water channels have been mapped and it has been proposed to fully restore these channels and fountains as these used to exist historically by employing local skilled workers from Pandhchok and other places who are experts in stone work. Some of these items which have been restored in recent times, have in fact been spoiled by using cement concrete and other modern building materials. The team looking after Mughal gardens has already started work on the restoration of a Bara Dari in the top most terrace of Nishat Bagh. The INTACH team has also started work on restoration of some of the landmarks of Naagar Nagar, the new city of Srinagar which had been set up during the time of Mughals. One of the living examples which demonstrates the capacity of INTACH for true restoration of heritage buildings is the Government Arts Emporium in Srinagar. The building which was used during the Maharaja’s rule as the British Residency was completely gutted few years back. However, the perfect and meticulous restoration undertaken by INTACH in collaboration with JKPCC makes it look better than the original. The most appreciable aspect of these projects is that these not only map the heritage but get involved in its restoration. Some people have criticised these efforts stating that in the presently prevailing situation, the restoration of the heritage is not so important. This is a very negative and pessimistic outlook. One has to be an optimist. While it is true that the overall situation demands our total attention on the basic problem, yet we cannot let other things go by default. Even in the worst ever devastating war the Europeans made super human efforts to save their heritage. In spite of an all out war they tried their best to avoid destroying each other’s heritage. After the war they made colossal efforts to restore the damaged historical buildings. Unfortunately we have a very unusual characteristic, criticising merely for the sake of criticism. Instead of appreciating any efforts at positive contribution in any sphere of the society, we generally try to find fault and denigrate these ventures. However, there is a dichotomy which needs to be brought out. We have been very meticulous and dedicated in saving our historical man made heritage but have been very slow and lazy in trying to conserve our natural heritage. The most important treasure of our land which has been called the “Paradise on Earth” is our natural heritage in the form of our beautiful lofty mountains with lush green forests and meadows and our water bodies and rivers. We have inherited this heritage from the ancient times but have failed to protect it. The concern, the attention, the dedication, and the enthusiasm which some of our prominent citizens are showing to preserve and restore our man made heritage needs to be shown equally in case of our natural treasures. Dal Lake, Wullar Lake and River Jehlum are seriously threatened. The Dal Lake may even disappear soon as a water body. However, people do not show the concern which one would normally expect. By now every citizen of Srinagar, rather every Kashmiri should have been perturbed and highly concerned about this fast deteriorating Lake but no such thing is happening. Even if some people feel very much concerned yet nothing much is happening on the ground. Whatever is happening is too slow to save the Lake. In the past people used not only to preserve nature but also create some beautiful monuments to be appreciated by future generations. Unfortunately we have not only failed in preserving the historical heritage left to us by our past generations but are even slowly destroying for our future generations the nature’s very gifts which in fact constitute a world heritage. Will some body like INTACH step in to save our “Natural Heritage”?

 
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