Heritage at stake

Kashmir has a rich archaeological base as compared to Jammu and Ladakh. According to the records of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India), Jammu has eight monumental sites out of which four are under the supervision of ASI, while as Kashmir has 69 monumental sites out of which 41 are under ASI. All the historically important sites at Awantipora, Martand, Parihaspura, Ushkar (Baramulla) etc. are in shambles. The Buddhist site at Harwan is dilapidated and attention could have developed it on modern lines to show the Buddhist culture that flourished in Kashmir from centuries past. Kashmir is rich in archaeological remains of antiquity but unfortunately, none of the monumental remains has been documented or preserved on the modern lines. Though the ASI has excavated different sites at different times still authentic reports are wanting. We have some architectural surveys, maps, plans etc. but the public is unaware of them. Whosoever worked on it has left it incomplete and the people are still unaware about it. So the need of the hour is to protect, excavate and preserve the heritage sites so that the history of Kashmir could be reconstructed in broad perspectives. Additionally, many myths and legends have been created on the basis of non-historical literature, whose proper answer can be given by the proper archaeological surveys and excavations. The two excavated sites of Burzuhom and Gufkral had not even been excavated properly and there are little data about the two sites. The semi-monumental structures, the Megalithic stones, associated with these sites are an important historical asset. Neither the sites have been preserved nor have any special attention paid to its cultural entities. An ancient settlement of Burzahom was among the list of sites expected to get World Heritage status at a two-week UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) meeting held in Doha on 20 June 2014, which indicates the importance of Burzuhom. Neolithic site of Burzuhom is a storyteller of life between 3,000 and 1,000 BC. It is known for its unique subterranean dwelling pits, unusual petroglyphs, including one that appears to depict two suns, and evidence of ancient cranial surgery. Apart from Burzuhom, there are various sites which have not been explored by the Archaeological Survey of India and by individual archaeologists.

The unplanned urbanization is also an important threat to the heritage of Kashmir. Like most urban areas in India, Kashmir has to affront intense development pressure. The impact of this pressure is harder in the old city where every inch is constructed, where population density is extremely high. (400-500 persons per hectare) Urbanization processes as a result of population growth, migration, infrastructure initiatives and illegal construction have a direct impact on cultural heritage. This unplanned urbanization destroyed various sites in Kashmir. The Kushan site of Kotabal in Kuthar Shangus was destroyed by Gujjars of the area, they used iron brushes to clean the plates thus damaged the inscriptions and used them for their constructional purposes; the rest of the site was brought under cultivation and was destroyed. A part of Martand temple has been converted into an apple orchard and some of the stones of the temple have been taken away for domestic purposes.

The famous Martand temple built by king Lalitadatya of Korkata dynasty has a park in the front which is well developed and maintained and the temple is in shambles. The inscriptions and the artistic designs have been either destroyed or taken away and used for constructional purposes. Same is the case with other historical monuments. A temple at Parhespora (Pattan) was handed to Jammu and Kashmir Tourism department by Jammu and Kashmir Culture Department who completely destroyed the base of the temple and built a new shed, invited artists to built sculptures. Thus at the cost of heritage, a new art gallery was set up in Parhespora (Pattan). The temple at Lodhu in Srinagar is in the midst of a tank which is the earliest remaining stone sculpture is also in shambles. All this may be due to ignorance of Historical Knowledge, which could be outcome through proper research and documentation.

The immediate need of the hour is to protect the monuments of Kashmir, if not at least to document before it is too late. The monuments should be well documented and preserved through scientific lines for the future generations to broaden the knowledge about the architecture of Kashmir in ancient and early medieval Kashmir.

The author is a Research Scholar of Ancient Indian History at Dept. of History, Aligarh Muslim University.