17th century Pari Mahal in ruins

Failure of authorities to take sustained measures for conservation of 17th century Pari Mahal on foothills of Zabarwan range here is taking a heavy toll on the Mughal era monument.
17th century Pari Mahal in ruins
17th century Pari Mahal in ruins

Failure of authorities to take sustained measures for conservation of 17th century Pari Mahal on foothills of Zabarwan range here is taking a heavy toll on the Mughal era monument.

In absence of regulation, walls of the heritage structure at several places have been covered with newspaper cuttings and splattered with paint. Ironically, the government forces putting up in monument have even set up a kitchen in one of the rooms.

"Historic space is being vandalised at Pari Mahal. The forces must move out of the monument to prevent further loss of historic material by their undue interventions in the heritage structure," Muhammad Saleem Beg, convener Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) J&K chapter  told Greater Kashmir.

Pari Mahal or 'Abode of Fairies' was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan's son Dara Shikoh in mid-17th Century. Having pavilions and six terraced gardens, Pari Mahal had a residential school of Sufism headed by his spiritual guide Mullah Shah Badakshi, a sufi saint. 

The entry to the garden is from third terrace through an arched doorway having chambers on both sides. It is believed that Pari Mahal was constructed for astronomical observations and teachings or astrological calculations under Mughals.

The Mahal has a domed ceiling with gardens laid out on six terraces around. Arched retaining walls support the terraces. A pavilion or baradari can be found on the fourth terrace and another one connects the fifth and sixth terrace.

Due to its ambience and neatly laid terraced gardens with water channels, Pari Mahal was one of the major tourist attractions in Srinagar. However, the heritage structure was taken over by forces in early 1990s.

Pari Mahal is an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) protected site. The ASI, under union Ministry of Culture, is the premier organisation entrusted with maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites.

"The main gateway comprising haman, hall and library is on the verge of collapse in absence of repairs. We cannot undertake restoration of the place as it is taken over by government forces," an official of ASI wishing anonymity told Greater Kashmir.

"We have several times taken up the matter with concerned authorities, but to no avail. We cannot undertake major repairs till forces don't vacate the structure," he said.

"ASI has undertaken repairs on footpath and damaged doors and windows in other parts of Pari Mahal, but the problem is with main gateway. We hope that Governor will take cognizance of the matter," he added.  

Owing to its historic importance, the Mughal Gardens in Kashmir including Pari Mahal were included in tentative list of World heritage sites by UNESCO 

Conservation architect at INTACH, Saima Iqbal, said the "authorities have definitely failed in their attempts, both in making forces to vacate the heritage site or protecting it."

"Being on Tentative list of World Heritage Sites and also a nationally protected site, the state is duty-bound to make sure the monument suffers least damage. Most of the ad-hoc facilities the forces have set up inside the monument have vandalised it and it will be very difficult to reverse these inappropriate alterations even if the ASI ever decide to restore the heritage property," Saima said.

She said being an ASI property the garden and the built features within Pari Mahal are legally protected from such things as encroachments, vandalism, additions or alterations. "But unfortunately an unjustifiable abuse of the heritage property at the hands of the government forces is being witnessed which is progressively destroying the monument on a daily basis," she said.

'Pari Mahal is part of the Mughal heritage of Kashmir and given the philosophy it is designed and laid out on, it is not just an important site from cultural tourism point of view but also for scholarly research works. Mughal gardens are of global importance and their restoration is extremely significant," she added.

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