Safeguarding cultural heritage

It is the life line of our tourism industry
Safeguarding cultural heritage
"All of us understand that culture and heritage shape human society. In other words, cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or a society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations."GK Photo

Let me begin today’s column with an apt quote in the context of the importance of human heritage. “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” This is the quote of Marcus Garvey, a famous Jamaican orator for the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements.

Every year April 18 marks World Heritage Day with specific yearly themes. The objective is not only to highlight the urgency to preserve, conserve and uplift the legacies of monuments and cultures, but also to make people aware about the dire need to critically analyse, comprehend and recognize the diversity around us.

This year’s theme is ‘Heritage and Climate’ to promote conservation research and employ sustainable strategies to protect heritage sites.

All of us understand that culture and heritage shape human society. In other words, cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or a society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. The heritage that survives from the past is often unique and irreplaceable, which places the responsibility of preservation on us.

Why should we preserve, conserve and protect our cultural heritage? It’s argued that human race has always relied on its past to build the present and construct its future. It adds character and uniqueness to the place, region or community. Experts in the field maintain that “generations have lived before us and have shaped the world we reside in.” So, in the backdrop of these arguments, it makes sense for us to protect our cultural heritage to get a sense of identity.

To be precise, our heritage, tangible as well as intangible, is a source of benefit to our local economies, especially when it comes to tourism. Besides, preservation, conservation and protection of cultural heritage garner external investment which can prove a shot in the arm of local economies. So, to capitalize on the benefits of our past to make our present and future prosperous, we need to invest in efforts to protect and safeguard our cultural heritage irrespective of its shape, size and form.

As far as the cultural heritage of our region (J&K) is concerned, we are totally different from the rest of India for having a varied unique cultural blend, besides being different in geographical, demographical, ethical and social entities.

Even as the distinct parts of the region – Jammu and Kashmir, yield diverse religion, language and culture, they constantly interfuse with each other resulting in sparkling specimens of unity in diversity. The various cultural forms like art and architecture, fairs and festivals, rites and rituals, languages and landscapes, reflects uniformity and diversity with matchless cultural symmetry.

However, protection and promotion of cultural heritage has always remained a huge challenge, as we have lost sense of our long and cherished history of 5000 years.

Our cultural heritage has everything precious where peace, tolerance, devotion to spiritual and academic pursuits remains its hallmark. One of the outstanding features of the state has been a unique distinction of being a place where people from all walks of life across the world have been coming to seek peace, knowledge and spiritual enlightenment. Kashmir, which has traditionally been called the place of saints, has remained a seat of learning for years together. The contribution of the scholars of this region to literature has simply been outstanding.

And brotherhood constitutes one of the important parts of our culture. It is Kashmiri culture alone where the faith and tradition of preaching and worshipping religions and pilgrimage centres have been a very unique and glorious tradition among the people.

Here the famous shrines and the people of every faith hold pilgrimage centers in highest esteem and the offerings made and obeisance paid at such places by people of all faiths has created waves across the globe.

This aspect of our culture - brotherhood – has taken a back seat where all human values have been thrown to the winds. Crime, cruelty and outrage of humankind have been let loose in the tsunami of violence.

So, preserving cultural heritage also includes restoring traditional links of brotherhood among the people of the region. It is here where the intellectual class including local scholars and artistes need to rise to the occasion and play an important role in maintaining and preserving this important pillar of our cultural heritage.

In fact, we have to look after all aspects of our cultural heritage, be it tangible or intangible aspects. There should be a holistic approach to the sector based on an appreciation of cultural pluralism and diversity. Active involvement of practitioners, scholars and students across the state in the revival of cultural heritage cannot be overlooked.

Dissemination of professional information by means of newsletters and conferences, educational programmes, training workshops and seminars should be a continuous process. More particularly, involvement of the youth force will yield quick and effective results.

Let it be also an annual affair to inaugurate a revived cultural heritage (tangible or intangible) especially on the world heritage day and publicly appreciate such people responsible for such revival. Can’t we have a cultural heritage Centre employing best practices in cultural heritage education, research and consultancy?

One more thing, which can keep the ball rolling, is to introduce the cultural heritage sector in the regular curriculum of our educational institutions. Here we can replicate the system of other countries where a cultural heritage management (CHM) course is being run in such institutions and exclusively deals with the vocation and practice of managing cultural heritage.

Such courses are traditionally concerned with the identification, interpretation, maintenance, and preservation of significant cultural sites and physical heritage assets, although intangible aspects of heritage, such as traditional skills, cultures and languages are also considered.

Meanwhile, tourism plays a major role in showcasing our great treasure of past to the rest of the world. But, we haven’t been able to capitalize on these rich resources to integrate them into our economy through the tourism route. For instance, on the occasion of World Heritage Day, discovery of the fossil wealth of the Triassic period in the vicinity of the Srinagar city by a local geo-scientist of international repute, G. M. Bhat, merits a special mention.

In 2016, the government was informed about the discovery of Triassic fossils at Guryul Ravines, Khonmoh-Vihi, 13 kilometers from Srinagar. A statement was made that time about the establishment of an International Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park soon.

But it didn’t happen. However, in mid-October 2018, another statement hit headlines when it was announced that Kashmir would likely get its new tourist destination in the shape of a first-ever fossil park.

This time the statement carried weight as Penn Dixie Natural of the United States was convinced that the Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park is one of the world’s geological treasures. They have agreed to join hands with the local authorities through the local geo-scientist who visited them in the US to seek their support and guidance.

An international Kashmir Triassic Park would attract global attention. Not only geo-scientists, it would pull crowds across the globe. Such a project would become one of the most cherished places of learning for students, scholars and scientists all over the world.

I don’t think finances will be a hurdle. There will be global financers who would love to invest money in a fossil park like this, which describes life on earth existing 250 million years ago. What’s needed is the strong will of the authorities to realize the dream of having an international Kashmir Fossil Park.

To conclude, our cultural heritage is the spinal cord of our tourism industry. We need to capitalize on these rich resources to integrate them into the economy for peace, prosperity and profits.

(The views are of the author & not the Institution he works for)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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