Vandalizing Heritage – A Concern!

Once we learn to value our history, we will preserve our heritage…

Today, instead of treading on beaten tracks of voice against corruption, injustice, lawlessness, nepotism, and exploitation let us move a step forward. Introspect and seek an explanation from ourselves, collectively as a nation, an explanation vis-à-vis our moral duty to protect our heritage for identity and as enlightening treasure for our posterity. Optimism is the mantra of survival! For a while let us forget and forgive the latest scars inflicted by sectarian discord and communal violence and think of future in the light of our glorious past, contribution of our pious ancestors and the legacy of cultural and architectural wealth scattered almost in all parts of this once peaceful and serene valley as vast archeological treasure of immense value. Kashmir, once abode of learned souls and fountainhead of knowledge had experienced and witnessed many violent upheavals but its valuable heritage and rich history had brought it back to the forefront of civilization and knowledge.

Like our impressive history, the heritage of Kashmir speaks volumes of its grandeur and superior knowledge but for now corrupt mindset and materialistic urge has turned us into extreme vandals having no regards for distinctive and a patriotic Kashmir and its people. Architecture being the most dominating segment of heritage particularly in the historic Srinagar city can be of great importance to pass on cherished culture and heritage to future generations with dominating elements of wisdom, values and distinctiveness. If heritage architecture is properly studied, documented and analysed it will reveal volumes about our past and can guide in shaping a better and prosperous future.
Last Sunday I had a chance to visit some parts of the ‘Shaher Khaas’ (old Srinagar city). Sunday being a holiday, so, almost every business establishment was shut and there was very less traffic on streets; lanes and by-lanes of the historic city were not busy like weekdays. One could easily locate and identify the structures and sites of historic and heritage value and interestingly could also easily trace large number of horrible vandalistic encroachments within and outside these structures of immense historic value and aesthetic taste. In Zainakadal area in close proximity of shrine of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani (Shah Hamdan) most prominent heritage sites, Budshah tomb and the Pather Masjid located on either side of the river Jhelum represent our celebrated past so magnificently, as if Noor Jahan and Zain-Ul-Abidin coexist on the banks of Jhelum even when centuries ago they had lived more than one and half century apart in the chronicles of history. But, sadly, caged in administrative apathy and people’s greed! 
Both the structures are not only the marvelous master pieces but a treasure of history portrayed in architecture. The Budshah tomb, built on the right riverbank by famous Kashmiri ruler Sultan Zain-Ul-Abidin over the final resting place of his mother is unique and only architectural design of its kind  in the region. The fired earthen brick structure even after more than five centuries stands tall in many ways. Beyond its architectural magnificence every stone of the outer wall of the premises where the tomb is located is an open book of history. A close look reveals a treasure of information and legacy. However, disregard for our rich history and wonderful heritage is quite visible within the premises of the tomb and along the peripheral wall. Shanty structures of corrugated tin sheets and other encroachments all along the peripheral wall have not only mutilated heritage but trampled our glorious past. The other grand structure the Pather Masjid build on the orders of Noor Jahan in 1623 A.D stands erect like the Mughal Empire in its glorious days. Caught in controversies from the day one the structure describes the aesthetic taste and architectural knowledge of the Mughals. However, at present the main part of the Pather Masjid where the sanctum sanctorum of the mosque is located is encroached by the most ugly shanty shop line hiding the mosque edifice and its charming façade. Here the encroachment is at its worst as it encroaches upon not only the structure but the faith of the believers.   
The painful sight around these two imposing marvels of heritage reveals our sick mindset plagued with corruption and greed and the inefficiency and lackluster approach of authorities entrusted with the authority of safeguarding our heritage. Behind these encroachments not only our heritage but our ancestor’s prayers and wishes for our prosperity are buried and now the same are being desecrated shamelessly under the nose of authorities. Hope better sense will prevail with us and authorities as responsible rulers will rise above petty considerations and will fulfill the wish of our ancestors—the wish of safeguarding culture and heritage for posterity.