Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Kashmir’s Vanishing Heritage
The unfortunate destruction of the shrine of Dastgeer sahib in a devastating fire has once again starkly pointed out our callousness in preserving our past especially the invaluable heritage of centuries. In recent times, the word “Heritage” has been extensively used especially in promoting new avenues of tourism. In fact, the word “Heritage Tourism” is becoming a new buzz word for the tourism players. Unfortunately, the uncalled for “Tourism Mania” has blinded us to other aspects of our past history as well as present living conditions and we have been forced to judge everything throw the narrow and undependable prism of tourism. A nation’s heritage has many facets. It consists of its language and its literature, its culture, its dresses and festivals, historical buildings and monuments and so on. Heritage is carried on and preserved from generation to generation. For the living nations, the heritage is the very life and to the dead nations it makes no difference! The first thing we have completely neglected is our language. We cannot blame the rulers only for this neglect. We have ourselves in our homes stopped talking to our young kids in their mother tongue. Somehow we feel proud in talking among ourselves in Urdu or English! One never sees the French, the Italians, the Greeks or the Russians talking among themselves in their homes in a foreign language. Secondly, we have forgotten our thousands of years old history. Any nation which gives up its mother tongue and forgets its history soon gets amalgamated and ceases to be a nation. For some unknown reasons copying the west or even our neighbouring areas makes us feel superior. Unless we take pride in our own language and remember our history, we are bound to perish as a nation. An important component of our heritage are the shrines and mosques, some of which are centuries old. Islam was introduced in the Valley of Kashmir not by conquest but by gradual conversion effected by Muslim Missionaries. Islam is essentially a missionary religion and the Muslim Missionary, be he a Pir (a spiritual guide) or a preacher, carries with him the Message of Islam to the people of the Land he enters. A Missionary has the spirit of truth in his heart which cannot rest till it manifests itself in thought, word, and deed. The first missionary to visit Kashmir in the time of Raja Suhadeva was Bilal Shah or Bulbul Shah; a well-travelled Musavi Sayyid from Turkistan. However, the greatest missionary whose personality wielded the most extraordinary influence in the spread of Islam in Kashmir was Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani also known as Amir-I-Kabir or Ali-I-Sani and popularly called Shah-i-Hamadan. He came to Kashmir with 700 sayyids in the reign of Sultan Shihab-ud-Din 774 A.H. (1374 A.D.). The presence of Shah-i-Hamadan was a major factor in the spread of Islam in the valley of Kashmir. His co-workers included Mir Sayyid Haidar, Sayyid Jamal-ud-Din, Sayyid Kamal-i-Sani, Sayyid Jamal-ud-Din Alai, Sayyid Rukn-ud-Din, Sayyid Muhammad and Sayyid Azizullah. These Sayyids established Shrines with lodging and langar at many places in the valley which served as centres for propagation of Islam. He also introduced the different handicrafts besides teaching Islam. As a result the handicraft industry received a fillip in Kashmir. He laid greater emphasis on earning legal livelihood and so rejected all the means available for the support of the Sufis. He earned his livelihood by cap making. This impact of Shah-i-Hamadan continues to be felt after six hundred years of his death. In fact, the modern Kashmir has the spiritual inputs of Shah-i-Hamadan but unfortunately we have drifted away from the spirit of truth in thought, word, and deed, which was his basic philosophy. The shrines of Kashmir are typical examples of pagoda style architecture showing Chinese influence. We have lost a few due to fires in the recent past. Almost all these shrines and our historical mosques built during the Muslim period are made of wood. This is in contrast to the monuments of ancient Hindu period of Kashmir which are mostly of solidstone blocks like the famous Martand sun temple. No doubt there were wooden buildings in ancient Kashmir as Rajtarangni mentions lofty wooden houses as one of the five things for which Kashmir was famous in those times. Kashmir’s Grand Mosque, the Jama Masjid is also a wooden structure. This mosque too had been destroyed in fire in earlier times and was re-built. One cannot blame the people of those times when they did not have proper means of either preventing a fire or even fighting a fire. However, in the most advanced technological twenty first century of chips, sensors, and most modern means of fire prevention and fire fighting, it is shear criminal negligence if one of our heritage shrines is consumed by alleged accidental fire! The first thing the members of the board looking after these shrines should have been doing is to take fool proof measures for prevention as well as fighting any accidental fires. They are now waking up to this stark reality which may someday consume all our heritage of these historical shrines! Cable cars and other commercial ventures which we are introducing into every aspect of life can wait but the measures to protect and preserve our heritage cannot wait. Kashmir is supposed to be an integral part of the secular Indian state, then why is the government controlling the religious affairs? In no other part of the country are the religious institutions headed by respective Chief Ministers or Governors. Why is it so in Kashmir? Unless, because of Kashmir being a Muslim majority state, the government wants to control the majority through its religious institutions. Similar is the case with Hindu institutions which are to be headed by Hindu Governors. The fault also lies with the civil society which not only expects the government in which it claims to have no trust, to take care of everything but wakes up temporarily once something drastic happens! Once the tragedy is forgotten, the civil society goes back to sleep. It is time for the people to wake up and take measures on voluntary basis to preserve these precious objects of our centuries old heritage. We should not leave everything to what a friend calls the “Dead wood” bound to itself catch fire one day, sooner than later!