Kashmiri ethnic wear on display in glass boxes inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar.
Kashmiri ethnic wear on display in glass boxes inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Photo Essay: 'Baitul Meeras', Housing The Centuries-old Heritage In Downtown Srinagar

A civil society group has converted a decades-old building into a heritage building.
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Situated near the banks of Jhelum in Old City's Ali Kadal is a decades old building on a corner overlooking the Shahr-e-Khaas. From residential to military purposes, the place has been used for various purposes and looks worn-out on the outside.

However, it was a perfect spot for the Help Foundation- a registered society involved in several social works including women empowerment, children's health, education etc- that was looking for a place to setup a heritage museum.

A man stands inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar.
A man stands inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

In August 2021, Help Foundation Project Coordinator, Hakim Javeed along with other members started renovating the building.

A craftsman is working on a Pashmina stole inside the craftsmen section in Bait-ul-Meeras.
A craftsman is working on a Pashmina stole inside the craftsmen section in Bait-ul-Meeras. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

After completing the renovation, the challenging task was to gather artefacts and other traditional items that define Kashmiri culture and history, said Javeed. "We asked people including our team members and children to look for these things that might be unused in their home attics and donate to the museum and by the grace of Allah everyone came forward with something," Javeed recalled.

Two small doors around 5.2" lead to the gallery at Bait-ul-Meeras.
Two small doors around 5.2" lead to the gallery at Bait-ul-Meeras. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

After there were enough donations, the Help Foundation team set up the gallery and the museum was living up to its name 'Bait-ul-Meeras' (The house of Heritage) and was thrown open for public in February this year.

Kashmiri traditional copper utensils on display in glass boxes inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar.
Kashmiri traditional copper utensils on display in glass boxes inside Bait-ul-Meeras, a heritage museum at Aali Kadal area of downtown Srinagar. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Narrow wooden stairs from the ground floor with heritage pictures on sidewalls lead up to the second floor of the heritage building giving a whiff of the heritage treasure in store ahead.

Glasses and other small copper ware are displayed in a glass box at the Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
Glasses and other small copper ware are displayed in a glass box at the Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Opposite the main office is an entrance to the main hall, accommodating workshop for Pashmina and carpet craftsmen, library and the main gallery-where all the heritage items are displayed- Pashmina and carpet craftsmen have been kept to give children an idea of what it takes to make world famous and costliest shawls and carpets, said Javeed.

A traditional Kashmiri cap and copper ware items are displayed in a glass box at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar.
A traditional Kashmiri cap and copper ware items are displayed in a glass box at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Some steps ahead lies the library, where textbooks for competitive exams to literature to religious scriptures are kept. Javeed says, during 2014 floods their library of 7000 books was washed away in their old office at Jawahar Nagar. However, they have managed to gather enough books to setup a library in Meeras.

Clay pots and copper ware items are seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
Clay pots and copper ware items are seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

The smell of books, clay pots and other artifacts inside the hall gives a sneak peek into the rich culture and heritage of Kashmir.

A hand-made cigarette case of walnut wood along with straw mat and lacquer pillar is displayed on at the Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
A hand-made cigarette case of walnut wood along with straw mat and lacquer pillar is displayed on at the Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

From traditional jewels to straw mats to cooper utensils to handmade tools to traditional ethnic wear, Meeras' library portrays rich Kashmir culture

Traditional Kashmiri Mortar and Pestle (Kaenz) and a wooden bucket are seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
Traditional Kashmiri Mortar and Pestle (Kaenz) and a wooden bucket are seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

"There is no better time for this library to come into existence because our new generation is completely unaware of their history and identity and to strengthen the roots of children is the sole motive behind opening this place," Javeed said.

Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Since joining the foundation, Javeed, who is an old head at the stage direction has been involving children in stage plays both at state and national level. As per Javeed, the children of their foundation have won many of them.

Gramophone, old television and other musical instruments are displayed on a window sill at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
Gramophone, old television and other musical instruments are displayed on a window sill at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

The foundation was registered as a society in 1997 when its founder Nighat Shafi wanted to do something for the Kashmiri women because they were the ones most affected by the conflict that had reached its peak during the 90's, Javaid said.

Since then, the Help Foundation has worked on several projects for the betterment of society and till date have changed the lives of around 15,000 children, Javeed said.

The other side of the gallery.
The other side of the gallery. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Javeed says it was always their dream to do something big that helps in reviving the culture "and the Bait-ul-Meeras is that accomplished dream," he said.

Hari Parbat fort, river Jhelum and residential buildings of Shahr-e-Khaas are seen from window inside the Bait-ul-Meeras.
Hari Parbat fort, river Jhelum and residential buildings of Shahr-e-Khaas are seen from window inside the Bait-ul-Meeras. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Asked if parents were cooperating in sending their kids to the foundation, Javeed said, after they witnessed a positive change in their wards, parents were happy to let their children spend time here.

Traditional Kashmiri clay-made cooking ware including a mud stove (Daan) is seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal Srinagar
Traditional Kashmiri clay-made cooking ware including a mud stove (Daan) is seen displayed at Bait-ul-Meeras in Aali Kadal SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Not only are children assisted in education here, but from theatre to vocational courses to community responsibilities, kids are trained to be independent, self-reliant and thinkers here, Javeed said.

A round straw-mat, traditionally used by women to sit while cooking and doing other domestic chores is seen hanged.
A round straw-mat, traditionally used by women to sit while cooking and doing other domestic chores is seen hanged. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

To instill a sense of responsibility in children, Javeed and his team had started an initiative known as "Shuer Panchayat" where children were told to sit together during evenings and discuss the happenings of their neighborhood.

A painting of a Kashmiri Muslim family supplicating before dinner is pasted on the wall at Bait-ul-Meeras in Srinagar
A painting of a Kashmiri Muslim family supplicating before dinner is pasted on the wall at Bait-ul-Meeras in SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Since the inception of Bait-ul-Meeras, Javeed said over 500 kids have registered to a part of this foundation and are zealous to visit the place every day after school.

A painting of a Kashmiri village is hanged on the wall below a chart reading  "Protect your language, protect your mother tongue."
A painting of a Kashmiri village is hanged on the wall below a chart reading "Protect your language, protect your mother tongue."Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

"This is not only for kids anymore, this is for everyone, this is for the people of Kashmir, this is their house, where they can see, feel and regroup with their culture," Javeed said.

Old Kashmiri images are hanged on a wall at Bait-ul-Meeras in Srinagar
Old Kashmiri images are hanged on a wall at Bait-ul-Meeras in SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir
A view of the library section inside Bait-ul-Meeras.
A view of the library section inside Bait-ul-Meeras. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir
Help Foundation Project Coordinator, Hakim Javeed sorts newspaper cuttings on board inside Bait-ul-Meeras in Srinagar
Help Foundation Project Coordinator, Hakim Javeed sorts newspaper cuttings on board inside Bait-ul-Meeras in SrinagarHaseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir
The building of Bait-ul-Meeras overlooking the shahr-e-khaas from the corner of Ali Kadal in Srinagar's Downtown.
The building of Bait-ul-Meeras overlooking the shahr-e-khaas from the corner of Ali Kadal in Srinagar's Downtown. Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

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