Protecting heritage

Srinagar having 5000 years of history behind, is one of the oldest cities of the world and also known as the heritage city of India. Allah had bestowed our valley with treasure of fresh water lakes and scenic beauty. The Mughals have built many gardens in Srinagar which are still a great attraction for tourists. But it is unfortunate that with the advent of public rule after 1947 we failed to maintain and preserve our heritage sites and historical monuments which otherwise could have become a great source for promotion of tourism industry. We have ruthlessly destroyed our rich forests, wetlands, lakes and encroached upon the river banks, irrigation canals and even streams. We have not even spared the heritage sites and monuments. Despite having full-fledged state department of archives and archaeology, the valuable historical remnants and art facts of these sites have vanished. The authority I/C of state museum had not till recently even bothered to digitize the historical arti-facts and other items lying on their stock, with the result many of the antiques of historical importance have been misplaced. Recently the news regarding vandalism of the ancient site and remains of Buzahom made headlines of Greater Kashmir and other news papers.

Actually Muhammad Shafi Pandit along with Salem Beg and Prof. Saif-u-din Soz had visited the site some time back and seen themselves the damage caused to the site and remains of this historical place. The site is located on a plateau about 16 kms north east of Srinagar. It were Terre and Paterson who first noticed Megalithic Menhirs in the year 1939 during excavation. But it was actually T.N. Khazanchi, then Superintendent Archaeologist of ASI who brought to light a four fold sequence of culture like Neolithic period 1&2, Megalithic and early historical cultures of the people of this ancient city during extensive excavation from 1960 to 1971. The contribution made by T.N. Khazanchi is worth appreciating. M Shafi Pandit a pioneer IAS officer of J&K state and presently Chairman of GCC who was very much concerned after visiting the site, took personal pains to bring this vandalism to fore. It was on his open letter published in GK which attracted attention of all and particularly the Honb’le High court of state who treated his letter as PIL.

It is not only the ancient site of Burzahom but other historical heritage sites and monuments which need the full attention of the concerned department of J&K state and Archaeological Survey of India to preserve and protect these from further damage, encroachment and neglect. More than 50+ archaeological sites across Kashmir valley are reportedly in dilapidated condition after these were abandoned by ASI when insurgency started more than 29 years ago. The ASI Srinagar circle headquarters was shifted to Jammu along with 90% of its staff and have not returned to its original place ie Srinagar. Since then, the centrally-protected monuments in the valley have been left unattended and with no renovation or repairs taking place at most of these sites as is required under the relevant provisions of law, with the result many of these sites are crumbling. The few among other prominent historical monuments and sites which are decaying due to neglect of concerned agency/ department, include Sun Temple Martand (Ranbirpura. Anantnag), Akhund Mullah Mosque ( at foot hills of Hariprabat/ Khoimaran), Ancient Monastery- A Stupa, Harwan, Shankara gaurishvara temple and Sugandhesa temple at patan Baramulla, famous for lord Shiva. Ancient temples at, Buniyar, Ladhuv and Fatahgarh. Sun temple Martand has been declared by ASI as the site of national importance in J&K. Martand temple is second only to Konark in its significance as Sun temple —is a marvellous testament to its architectural achievement of Kashmir’s ancient KarKota dynasty. It lies forgotten and in shambles is only 8 kms from Anantnag. Nothing has been done to develop the destination as a place of tourism pilgrimage.

However little efforts have been made by the government to develop the site, with few facilities for tourists.

Akhund Mullah mosque situated at the foot hills of Hariprabat built by Mughal prince Dara Shiko in honour of his tutor Mullah Akhund Shah in 1649 AD has fallen prey to neglect by ASI. The mosque built of grey lime stone and its lotus over the pulpit bring the only example of its kind surviving in Kashmir is in shambles. The ASI can only salvage it from being ruined completely. Crumbling Great Wall of Kashmir (Kalai) has been encroached upon under the patronage of politicians for few vote bank politics and even the stones of this wall have been  used as construction material by the encroachers. Similarly the political expediency took precedence over the well-being of the monument in respect of Pather Masjid Wall.

Kashmir has many historical and religious sites besides monuments of national and global importance. It can attract millions of national as well as foreign tourists who have interest in visiting historical sites and monuments. Besides developing valley as a adventure tourist place, it can also become the centre of pilgrimage tourism. Martand, Mattan, Pattan and Burzahom can be the sites for researchers and discovery of multiple purposes.

In case the heritage sites and monuments are to be preserved and protected, the government needs to shift the Srinagar circle office of ASI along with staff from Jammu to its original place in Srinagar without any further delay. The ASI can establish branch office of Srinagar circle in Jammu to look after the heritage sites and monuments falling in Jammu province. The state archives and archaeology department must also feel their responsibility in protecting these heritage sites. The members of civil society have also to rise to the occasion and voice their concern about the vandalism of these historical and heritage sites.

 (Abdul Rashid Khan is former IGP)