Batamaloo is one of the oldest parts of the Srinagar, built about 1.5 kms away from main city, Lal Chowk. In Srinagar, Batamaloo assimilates layers of rich historical and cultural values since 1500 A.D.
It has stimulated and stirred the history, economy, cultural values, architecture as well as city planning of Srinagar, and as such carried along always a significant community, social and ideological impact.
Batamaloo, hosts the shrine of one of the revered sufi saints Hazrat Shaikh Davood Rishi (A.R.) who is popularly known as “Bata Mael Saeb” by the masses in the length and breadth of the valley.
His act of humanity ,benevolence ,philanthropic activities and contribution in richness of spiritual enlightenment, social services, and interfaith understanding which imbedded his teachings in changing social milieu, are still found in popular culture with enlivening influence in the area.
Virtually, places where Batamaloo Saeb has stayed or where his shrines is located, has continued to function as a power spot in the extended urban fabric of the Batamaloo area and Kashmir.
Batamaloo Saeb as Rishi
Batamaloo Saeb is believed to have been born in the then ‘Vidyar van’ now known as “Deayarwun” at Batamaloo. He belonged to an agriculturist family. He possessed large tract of agricultural land near Chaiiri Boen presently north west Firdousabad.
He wholly engaged himself in agricultural pursuits and yielded good harvest. He was an apostle of piety, purity, and a devote Muslim to the extent whenever he used to till his field with plough, he used to clear the hoofs of bullocks, if these ever passed through the fields of others, to avoid getting other field’s earth stuck to the hoofs to his field.
Batamaloo Saeb was always involved in the service of poor and needy. He established a langar for commons where he used to serve the needy people through his personal expense and agricultural produce. During 15th century A.D. when Kashmir as whole, witnessed multitude of natural calamities - floods, fires, earthquakes, invasions, riots and famines, his service to humanity remained unblemished, serving one and all.
In these circumstances poor, destitute, and needy who failed to make living and afford meals, reached the langar khanas of Batamaloo Saeb as such he came to be known as “nourisher”….. the “Bata Moul”.
These characteristics of the Rishi over the years have passed on from generation to generation and have been more or less well imbibed by the inhabitants of the Batamaloo, who have played time and again an active role in various facets of social service, rendering relief measure to the poor section of society, assistance to ailing, help to the distressed, destitute and others.
The spirit of community wellbeing and welfare passed on through the teachings of Batamaloo Saeb, is also an aspect which has been transmitted through forefathers and have appropriately been acquired by various generation too.
At present also a large number of poor and destitute are being provided assistance by intizamiya committee of the shrine. In commemoration of the contribution of the Baet Moul Saeb, urs is celebrated every year in the month of April which continues almost for six days with devotion, fervor and gaiety.
The evolution of Batamaloo as settlement and a viable part of the Srinagar, had its genesis adjacent to Shrine in the form of Mohalla Ziyarat, Kasha Mohalla, and Deayarwun. Subsequently areas of Bazar Batamaloo, New Colony, Bonapora, and Dhobi Mohalla sprang up with passage of time.
At present expenses of the Batamallo have sprawled far and wide of the shrine, in north west side it touches Bemina Colony, south west Bye Pass road, south by flood spill channel, and in the east by Moulana Azad road. It is at present virtually the largest inhabited area of the Srinagar city.
Considering its locational advantages of close proximity to the Lal Chowk, administration and recreational areas of the city, Batamaloo Saeb shrine area has all the potentials of being developed into religious place of tourist importance.
It unarguably needs a well-conceived preservation plan to develop the shrine area along with the preservation of shrine complex, however, in the process balance has to made between tourist attractiveness as well as its integrity as a religious institution.
Possibilities of Preservation
Till date no comprehensive effort seems to have been made to develop Batamaloo as a religious center of significance. Whatever has been done to maintain and upkeep it, has been more or less a private initiative by the Intizamiya committee out of their scarce resources.
Tourism department some time back in order to improve the entrances of the shrine has redeveloped it s gates but the decision looks like an isolated effort unable to restructure its image. It has to be borne in mind that preservation of Batamaloo Saeb shrine cannot yield any worthwhile benefit unless and until it is taken up for preservation along with its immediate zone of influence which virtually forms the “Shrine area”.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for delimiting the Shrine Area to facilitate the masses congregating in the shrine on the occasions of celebrations urs, Friday prayers, and especially during the Ramdhan month.
The Shrine complex at its vertex and associated graveyards in and in its vicinity, Sheikh Davood School, roads converging into shrine, two government schools, hospital, green park near middle school and the intervening residential and commercial area function as shrine area.
For touristification of the shrine, it is imperative to improve the immediate area and preserve the shrine to reinvent it as a power spot in the tourist oriented economy of Kashmir and to reinvigorate the concept of value brought by the religious heritage to the area. Preservation of the shrine area need to include following measure to be taken.
Improvement of existing residential and commercial areas by way of well-conceived underground storm water drainage, street lighting, improvement in existing roads. In the tentatively delineated Shrine Area there are open drains in patches which become source of nuisance for the public during celebration, need to be connected to already existing sub-surface drainage system.
Similarly, roads developed about seventy years before exist in the same state of affairs with poor road geometry, have enough potentials for improvement.
On some road stretches there are fragmented pedestrian paths without serving any utility, need to be merged with carriageway otherwise these remain occupied by the shopkeepers, forcing pedestrians to walk on the main carriageway.
By merging these isolated foot paths with main road, it would add to their carrying capacity and rescue these from forced occupation. It is also bound to streamline the vehicular traffic in the area in the process of making the shrine accessible and flourish in shrine related activities and trade.
During urs celebrations dearth of space generally observed for large congregations as there is no open space around it.
To accommodate more people pedestrian connection with central park of new colony Batamaloo is to be developed to make it accessible for people visiting the shrine along with development of park.
The pedestrian connectivity shrine with park could be made alongside of graveyard and through UEED store. This will provide viable space to the people visiting the shrine beside would upgrade the park and ensure its maintenance.
Improvement in the walling of existing graveyards within shrine complex and in its immediate vicinity to improve aesthetics of the area and blend the outer walls and grill fence over it for creating design compatibility and harmony, assimilating these viably with the shrine.
Reserve car parking space during festivals/celebrations in SDA car parking in Doodhganga area for convenience of the people visiting the shrine.
Overhanging supply lines in and adjacent to shrine are giving a shabby look to whole area, need to be replaced and made underground to improve visual expression of shrine.
Preservation of shrine by way of replacing old uncolored iron corrugated sheets with green color tin sheets.
Increase in the height of the shrine to maintain its dominance as a major land mark with its rich architectural design without sacrificing its heritage look. For this purpose experts in heritage conservation need to be consulted to provide necessary technical assistance.
A well designed covering on the central path of the shrine may be constructed blending with the architecture and material of the shrine for the people visiting to the shrine. It shall also be provided with proper drainage to avoid accumulation of rain waters in the grave yards.
Small structure adjacent to the main gate with two shops is the main obstruction in viewing the shrine from the entrance. This structure could be relocated in the adjacent piece of land after resolving the dispute between the Intizamiya committee and the private party to improve its prominence.
Façade of the mosque in the premises of the shrine also need to be improved and blend to the architecture of the shrine with material compatibility.
Timing of the informal market operating on the main road of the shrine needs to be fixed to avoid permanent occupation of the road impeding the movement and causing inconvenience to the general public visiting the shrine or passing through it.
Declaring the area around shrine pedestrian during congregations for smooth conduct of celebrations and for convenience of public.
Architectural treatment to the houses and shop establishments in immediate vicinity of shrine to add to the grandeur of the shrine
Take away from Preservation
It is amply clear that the projects taken up in isolation for various works to improve the shrine is not going to serve any purpose. Rather it may make the investment already made and anticipated to be made, infructuous. There is an urgent need to preserve the immediate vicinity as shrine area to yield all tangible and intangible benefits.
The overall gentrification of the shrine area is likely to shape urban design and the role shrine has to play in reinventing and reshaping the growth and development of the Batamaloo with substantial improvement in physical environment of the area. It is bound to boost socio-religious fervor for promoting economic activities and boost economy of the area along with ensuring livability.
As a local to the area, I feel true relevance of Batamaloo Saeb Shrine is not in its festive messages but in imbibing qualities of human nature, service to mankind, help to poor and needy on one hand, and in the freedom shrine provides to each one of us to use the premises for different pursuits on the other hand.
Its relevance seems to have been changing actively to the changing material environment and image one beholds of it as a visitor and as a devote. The shrine encourages each one to connect physically with various elements i.e. shrine , Khankah, mosque, graveyard and jinazagah.
The shrine complex provides connect to Allah and reverence to the saint. The feelings are enhanced by means of rumination and representative tangible amulets in the premises of shrine and in its vicinity.
However, for people visiting Batamaloo Saeb shrine and purchasing religious and other items or getting involved in pursuits of social service are generally a way of expression of identity as a devote not necessarily expression of religious belief.
Hammid Ahmad Wani, Professional Town Planner
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.