The eighteenth century structure of Sher Garhi, a witness to Afghan and Dogra regimes, has been declared as art museum gallery in Srinagar — a move hailed by the conservationists and heritage lovers.
Director, Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Muneer-Ul-Islam, told Greater Kashmir that the "re-use plan" of 'Sheer Garhi Old Assembly Complex' into Art Gallery- Museum envisages that the building would accommodate at least 1500 miniature paintings on different themes housed in SPS Museum and other sister departments.
The paintings, he said, would be displayed as per the museum norms to provide a single place to exhibit them to the visitors, scholars, students.
Officials said that the department of Archives Archaeology & Museums has approached various departments who have collections of rare manuscripts in their custody to collect the entire manuscript collection for its display at one place.
The Sher Garhi palace came up in 1772 when Afghan governor Jawansher Khan ruled Kashmir. It continued to remain a major power centre even during the longest period of Dogra rulers after which the complex was turned into erstwhile State Assembly and Legislative Council and later also used as Administrative Secretariat.
The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly during 2014 budget session had recommended that that government should preserve and restore Old Assembly Complex (Sher Gari, Srinagar) on the pattern of Mubarak Mandi Jammu and initiate vital conservation measures for the same.
While the government has already declared Mubarak Mandi Jammu as State Protected Monument under vide SRO-126, and has started its renovation to restore the complex into its original glory. Accordingly, in view of its historical, archaeological and architectural importance, the government declared the Sheer Garhi complex as 'state protected monument' under SRO-270, on July 6, 2017.
The Sheer Garhi complex includes L-Shape heritage building—a historical structure, constructed during the Dogra period. Block C Old Building, a heritage structure was gutted in fire nearly three decades back. The Old Assembly Building in Sheer Gari Complex is an old structure and was used by the then governments as a Legislative Assembly from 1947.
"The building has tremendous value of heritage given its constructional design and architectural features. Similarly, the Old Council Building is historical and carries a tremendous aesthetic value so far its architectural features are concerned," said former Director-General, Tourism, J&K and Convener INTAC, J&K Chapter, M Saleem Beg.
"The buildings are quadrangular in plan and built entirely in stone with wooden door, windows, ceilings and roofs. The building symbolizes the Anglo-Kashmir architecture," Baig said.
"The advantage with this building is that it will be the first of its kind art gallery by the riverside and which will be government-owned structure," he said.
"They (government) must use this thoughtfully and creatively. It needs consultants who shall assist and physically review the project. It can't be revived by the parachute engineers and consultants," he said.
"There is no art gallery and place for artists in Kashmir. This move by the government can play a vital role in reviving some of the art forms by accommodating artists and their works," Beg said.
Deputy Director, AAM, Mushtaq Ahmad said, "the Sheegarhi Complex is the last grandeur building of erstwhile Dogra rulers of J&K State," he said.
ARCHIVAL REFERENCE LIBRARY
The officials said that the Archival Reference Library of the department has also been shifted from Stone Building Old Secretariat to Old Assembly complex which shall help to provide a single platform to the scholars and visitors to consult the reference books and to observe the cultural heritage effectively at one place.
Besides, the paucity of space presently faced in Archives Reference Library has also been addressed by shifting it into Old Assembly Complex (Sheer Ghari).
Art & Craft Melas
The government has directed the department of Archives, Archaeology & Museums "to come with a plan for organizing two mega annual Art and Craft Melas, one each in Kashmir and Jammu Divisions like the Suraj Kund Craft Mela".
The conservationists said that the three acre lawn in front of the Old Assembly Complex facing Budshah Bridge is an ideal a place to hold the Kashmir Annual Art & Craft Mela during the spring and autumn for a period of 15 days.
"We will be able to hold local Art and Craft Exhibitions, photography exhibition, Calligraphy Exhibition-cum-Competition, literary Festival, Children's Cultural events, Folk dance and Art Exhibition besides setting up of Handicrafts Mela and Traditional food Mela to attract the tourists and locals," officials said.
The officials said that besides other attractions, the traditional Shikara tour along river Jhelum, snaking through Srinagar city (Shehri-e-Khas) with a visit to historical and heritage sites will give a sneak peek of Srinagar's rich history.
The ride, they said, will give an opportunity to the tourists and locals to explore Srinagar city (Shehri-e-Khas) and its historic old city in a motorboat or Shikara which will take them underneath bridges which have a history of more five hundred years.