Heritage preservation

By K.N. Pandita

J&K Chief Minister has repeatedly emphasized on preservation and protection of heritage icons of the State. Heritage takes many items within its fold. It is not only the old buildings, complexes, monuments and repositories: it includes many un-described structures as well which are closely related to the cultural fund of a community or a nation. One of the characteristics of Western democracy is that of preserving and protecting the monuments. Even during the Soviet period, vast items of heritage of fabulous Central Asia were preserved and protected under special law. That is the reason why those rich and magnificent monuments —-like those of Samarkand and Bukhara—-have been preserved to posterity. When Nehru visited Samarkand in 1952 for the first time, he was greatly excited to see the Gowharshad Mosque built by the wife of Timur in 14th century being restored to its pristine originality by the Soviet archaeologist and engineers. It was his special interest that prompted the Soviets to undertake huge fifty-year long programme of renovating, repairing, preserving all monuments throughout Central Asia. That is a sign of culture of advanced societies.

A report of the Union government has affirmed that out of nearly 430 temples that existed in Kashmir Valley at the time of Pandit exodus in 1989/90, 170 temples have suffered extreme damage in militancy related incidents and 260 others are also faced with the same fate if proper maintenance is not undertaken without loss of time. Report asserts that 90 temples have been renovated but they need regular maintenance. It has also taken note of the fact that several Kashmiri Pandit organizations dispute this figure of 430 while claiming that the number is above 500. The reports accepts that a good number of temples in the Valley have been encroached allegedly by some leaders and activists of mainstream parties in collusion with the land mafia. It maintains that land belonging to 60 percent of over 500 temples, shrines and holy springs has been encroached by leaders and activists of mainstream and separatist political parties in collusion with the land mafia. The report comes at a time when due to alleged pressure from land mafia and “influential” mainstream political parties, the coalition government has been desisting from tabling Kashmiri Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation Bill) in the Assembly. The bill is pending before the Cabinet for several years but a decision on tabling the bill is put into undefined abeyance. It is to be noted that the draft of the bill was circulated for public opinion and some amendments were incorporated to satisfy the public demand. But the bill remains in cold store.

We are not looking at this story from the point of view of concerns of a minority community. Their concerns are part of an overall situation that is prevailing in the State especially in the valley. We look at this subject from heritage point of view.  Return and re-location of the departed community is a matter of uncertainty. Nobody can predict when their return becomes a reality; so far it is a moot point. But the fact is that most of these temples are of great antiquity and historicity. Even in terms of construction most of them are unique in form and style. Great saints and savants have been among the visitors of these temples. Some of the monuments are a proof of excellent workmanship of Kashmiri artisans, masons and skilled labourers of ancient times. It is a golden chapter in the history of Kashmir temple architecture. Entire college of Indian and world archeologists regale at the grandeur of fabulous architecture now standing in mere ruins at Martand, Avantipor, Wangat, Pattan-Parihasapora or Bonyar. This is our national asset. The history of many ancient nations tells us about their pride in the aw-inspiring ruins of their architectural rarities, some of which have been devastated by the onslaught of time or by the vagaries of human nature.

We know that the Chief Minister is conscious of the need of protecting and preserving these items of heritage. He has to take initiative of paralyzing the land mafia agency that is busy encroaching and grabbing the shrine land knowing that there is nobody to resist or oppose them. Any group or party with a clout in the ruling political circles should not be allowed to hoodwink the government and thus launch an attack on the cultural wealth of the State. The Chief Minister should demonstrate his strength as the first servant of the nation to muster support of all groups for tabling the Shrine Bill in the Assembly and seeing it through. This would surely entitle him to be the first true architect of practical composite culture in the State. Fortunately the majority community supports the idea of Shrine Bill as it would not only preserve the heritage but also make smooth the process of coexistence among different communities in Kashmir.

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