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

It is not every day that you find an Editorial in the Greater Kashmir addressing an issue that resonates with all of us

A people without heritage are like blades of grass without roots. They resemble straws blown by the wind from place to place. Appreciation of heritage is connected with the knowledge of one’s history. Unfortunately in Kashmir we have been deliberately deprived of the knowledge of our history right from our childhood. Some of the historical monuments have myths and legends woven around these in the absence of the knowledge of history.

The ruins of Dara Shakoh’s library for his teacher Mulla Akhoon are called “Fairy’s Palace”. People generally consider it a haunted place where fairies live. Similarly the ruins of ancient temples of Hindu period like Martand and Awantipor are claimed to be Pando houses. Had people been taught history of these periods they would have appreciated these remnants of our ancient heritage.

The city of Srinagar itself is a heritage city almost 2,000 years old. It has seen so many different periods of history which probably no other city in the entire sub-continent has seen. Shahr-e-Khaas or the down town Srinagar is truly a historical city and has numerous heritage sites of the Muslim period. The visit to this part of the city has been a very popular item on the itinerary of all the foreign tourists visiting Kashmir. However, most of these trips have been disjointed or without any proper sequence or guidance. The travel agents would just pick a few landmarks such as Shah-i-Hamadan Mosque, Pather Masjid, Budshah Tomb, and Jamia Masjid and conduct the visitors there by turn.

Recently, the State Tourism Department in collaboration with the J & K chapter of INTACH has prepared a special brochure on a “Heritage Walk” connecting all the important heritage landmarks of Srinagar. Tourists will be able to walk from one landmark to other and also enjoy the hospitality of the local people. The resolve shown by the State tourism Department in preserving architectural heritage has been received very well by concerned citizens. There are scores of heritage buildings on this walk. The proposed project is meant to carve out a corridor of pre Mughal architectural monuments around the Jamia Masjid.

The advent of Islam in 14th century gave birth to a unique stream of Kashmiri architecture by synthesising elements of Islamic architecture with local building practices and materials. As part of this project it has been decided to restore this heritage corridor including its main landmark, the grand mosque known as the Jamia Masjid to its full glory. It is also proposed to develop and beautify its surroundings. Important aspect of this project is the total involvement of the people through the management of the Grand Mosque. No such project can really take off unless there is peoples’ participation in it. It is a very welcome development which augurs well for the restoration of the heritage of the entire city. Jamia Masjid was built by Sultan Sikander in 1402 A.D. His son Zain-ul-Abideen fully renovated it. It got burnt down thrice but was rebuilt strictly as per the original plans. The mosque which is a unique combination of wood and brick was last repaired in the beginning of 20th century under the supervision of the Mirwaiz Kashmir Moulvi Yousuf Shah, Sir John Marshall, and Mister Avery of the Archaeological Survey. The INTACH has developed in house expertise and also obtained the services of architects from Switzerland and Germany to assess the condition of the mosque and prepare a restoration plan. A detailed architectural and photographic documentation of the mosque is currently being prepared. It is hoped that the restoration of the mosque will serve as an example to motivate the citizens of the Shahr-e-Khaas to go in for restoration of all the heritage buildings and other historical landmarks.

One of the reasons given for the apathy and insensitivity of the people to heritage preservation is the current uncertain situation of continuous conflict. Here it may be mentioned that the French went to extreme lengths to preserve their heritage especially in their capital city of Paris during the Second World War. In fact they preferred to surrender Paris to Germans without a fight to save their heritage. Preserving and restoring heritage strengthens our convictions and belief in our glorious past. Let us hope the enterprising spirit shown by the management of the Jamia Masjid is followed by others also!