“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Iqbal makes a compelling case for preserving indigenous architecture of Kashmiri shrines

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 48, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numismatics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. He is employed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Preserving the Wooden Pyramids of Kashmir

The shrines of Kashmir of Sufis, Reshis and saints in Kashmir are called Astanas. Most of these Astanas are found in rural or in secluded areas because of peaceful surroundings. While referring to the ancient architecture, the earliest architectural evidences of Kashmir are the remains of Buddhist monasteries and tile pavements. During Hindu period massive temples were built with finished limestone and stone columns, while the early Muslim period was marked by Muslim architecture consisting of quadrangular mosques.

Apart from these architectural monuments, the Kashmir possessed a unique architecture; it is known as Reshi architecture. It is indigenous and couldn’t be found beyond Valley of Kashmir. It is uniform in design and style and is found in the shrines of the Sufi saints which were built in the memory of these reshis and peers. This architecture is characterised by blocks which are square in design. The chambers constructed are of bricks and mortar and sometimes of logs laid across each other, the spaces between logs has been filled with brick work, chambers are square with a Cenotaph (char) of latticework in its centre. The entrance to the chamber is usually from the south. Bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of Jali Screens of wood, the interior of the chamber is covered with papier mache paintings or in few places with lime Plaster, the columns around the central chamber are elaborately carved. The low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure is built in several tiers with size diminishing in each successive tier.
The roof is usually surmounted by a rising steeple the final of which is moulded; the shape of these moulded structures is like umbrella and covered with metal object. However, these tombs have lost their traditional glory and are in need of renovation. At few shrines the brick bark roofs have been replaced by metal sheeted roofs.

Kashmir is a living museum for these Sufi shrines. In every village there is a Sufi shrine or a sacred relic. These are glorious monuments which are no less impressive than the pyramids of Egypt. These wonderful shrines are still to be explored. However most of these shrines are neglected and aren’t conserved. Due to the unfavourable conditions that prevailing in the valley from the last 20 years, these shrines are in miserable conditions, while few are gutted in fire. These included the major shrine of Nundreshi at Charar-e-Sharief which was destroyed in a major fire incident. Unfortunately the whole structure was completely lost. In another incident, the famous Khanqah-e-Faizpana at Tral was also burnt down. One more shrine was destroyed at Pandulin, Ashmuqa. However there are few Sufi shrines which are in good state and symbolise the Sufi architecture. People of Kashmir hold these saints and these shrines in high esteem and as a mark of respect continuously visit these shrines. The people across the Valley celebrate the urs, the devotees in huge numbers visited these shrines and pay their obeisance and respect.

As already mentioned that these places are no less attractive than the great pyramids of Egypt but unfortunately most of these sites are unprotected and lie in shambles. These shrines which are mostly wooden if not protected can easily fell pray to any mishap including fire. At few other places these shrines have been heavily encroached upon and no spaces have been left for the devotees.

These wooden pyramids of Kashmir need to be preserved on modern scientific lines and brought under the purview of heritage tourism. The cultural and tourism departments should come forward and conserve these shrines, besides providing the basic tourist infrastructure.