Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Pinnacle of Sufi Architecture

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.

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