Jehangir Rashid, Srinagar
The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has been entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a blueprint of the Dastigeer Sahib shrine that was gutted in a devastating fire on 25 June.
In recent years INTACH has been doing a lot of visible work in J&K which is being deeply appreciated. It has embarked on a mission to preserve the heritage and cultural ethos of the state. INTACH has been instrumental in exploring villages in the Valley to identify their heritage in the hope that tourists will be drawn to these locations.
Mohammad Saleem Beg, Convener of INTACH in Jammu & Kashmir, said that INTACH has moved beyond Srinagar city. It has expanded its activities to other districts of the Valley. Beg said that INTACH’s prime concern is restoration of the distinctive character of heritage structures in the state.
“Kashmir across the world is known for its famed Mughal Gardens. We have been able to put the Mughal Gardens on the tentative World Heritage list under the category of Global Cultural Assets. Hopefully more people will come to know about these gardens,” said Beg who retired as Director-General of Tourism some years ago.
Beg said that INTACH had been able to change the mindset of people who believed that reconstruction of dilapidated heritage structures was the only way forward. He said they have been able to inspire people to restore dilapidated structures instead of dismantling them.
“We have been able to motivate lawmakers to frame legislation for the conservation of heritage structures in the state. The bill has been named the Jammu and Kashmir Heritage Conservation Bill, 2010. The rules are being framed. The bill envisages protection of all the tangible and intangible heritage monuments of the state,” said Beg.
He said people of the state were very interested in knowing about the state’s glorious past. Some landmark religious structures have been taken over by INTACH for restoration, he explained.
“The state is full of landmark religious structures. We thought it our duty to preserve them. Aali Masjid at Eidgah in downtown Srinagar has been restored and people are happy with our work. The religious structures in Kashmir have a rich heritage. It is the duty of all stakeholders to put in their best efforts to preserve the distinctive character of our structures,” said Beg.
INTACH has also taken up restoration work of the Thag Baba Sahib Shrine in the Shah Kadal area of Srinagar city. The shrine has now been thrown open to the public. People in huge numbers are thronging to it.
The restoration work was done under the emergency funding programme. Money was provided by a Netherlands based organization.
“We took up the work of documenting coins at the Sri Pratap Museum in Srinagar under the supervision of the National Institute of Luminastics, Nasik. This activity was unique since along with documentation, we were able to interpret and document 75,000 coins,” said Beg.
He says the work at the Sri Pratap Museum was done under the National Monuments and Antiquities project. Visitors to the Museum can now get details about ancient coins along with monuments and antiquities.
“INTACH will be working on restoration in 17 towns across the state. Both historic and vernacular structures in these towns will be documented. This would place them on the heritage list map. People will get to know about such places of heritage importance,” explained Beg.
INTACH is also converting Lalded Memorial Public School’s dilapidated building into a cultural centre. It will be inaugurated shortly and will add a new dimension to the heritage conservation process in Kashmir.
“The Lalded Memorial Public School was dogged by many controversies. Finally, the building was dismantled. We took up its restoration. It was decided to christen the building as the Lalded Memorial Cultural Centre. The centre will showcase the cultural life of Srinagar city through artifacts and visuals,” said Beg.
Beg says Lalded’s contribution to poetry in Kashmir has been enormous. The centre is in many ways a tribute to Kashmir’s legacy of poets. Traditional ballads, locally known as Waakh, will be played at the centre. “We have published a book in two volumes mapping the cultural resources of Srinagar city including its architectural heritage and medieval old world charm. The publication contains the geographic and socio-cultural history of Kashmir and the evolution of Srinagar city with its settlement patterns and life,” said Beg.
More than 800 listed properties and precincts with photographs of religious, residential, civic, public, natural and man made sites including the Mughal Gardens have been included in the publication. “The book includes tables on major socio-cultural events of the city, man made and natural disasters, as well as residential neighbourhoods associated with different arts and crafts of Kashmir. The listed properties in the book have been mapped on a heritage map for 130 sq. km of the historic city of Srinagar and its colonial extensions,” said the INTACH convener.
Beg says villages like Vasaknag and Shar-i-Shalli in south Kashmir have been listed as tourist villages under the Rural Tourism Programme of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
“The Naranag temple in the Ganderbal district of Central Kashmir has been declared as a protected site by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). INTACH has been designated as the Documentation and Research Centre of the ASI. The work on the reconstruction plan of the Dastigeer Sahib Shrine has just begun and it will take some time before the plan is finalized,” said the INTACH convener.