Srinagar Battles Antiquity With Modernity
24 June 2003
The Asian Age
Srinagar: Srinagar is a city of great antiquity. Particularly the old city of Srinagar with its almost medieval charm has sights, smells and sounds to enchant the most jaded traveller. A 2000-year-old human habitat is a repository of rich cultural heritage manifested in its people, architecture, crafts and customs. Some historians say that the circular residential pits around Srinagar date the settlement back to 4,000 years. Recorded history suggests the origin of the city in the 3rd century BC under the domain of Emperor Ashok. Its labyrinthine roads and bustling bazaars are almost every visitor's delight, not to talk about the irresistible passion of the residents for the place. As much as its natural and scenic beauty, Srinagar is famed for its monuments and shrines. It has been a melting pot of cultural and religious influences. Srinagar is also justly known for its Mughal gardens and the Mughal emperors' love for the vale of Kashmir is legendary. But over the years, Kashmir and in particular Srinagar could not reconcile the requirements of modernity with its scenic splendour and cultural heritage. 'The result is it is now fighting a battle to retain whatever is left of the old glory,' admitted Mr M. Saleem Beg, secretary of Centre for Heritage and Environment of Kashmir, while speaking at a function organised by the NGO to explain its initiatives of restoring its treasured possessions, on Monday. He said that some of the city's landmarks including Dal Lake are under threat of extinction. Commercialisation of the area, official apathy and political unrest have deteriorated the place. The past 13 years of militancy have taken the heaviest toll. On response to CHEK's initiative, the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural heritage, New Delhi, has prepared a draft identification of heritage zones in Srinagar. The document was dedicated to the city at a function held here on Monday. Mr Muhammad Shaffi Pandit, chairman of CHEK presented the proposals for a detailed cultural resource mapping and draft heritage legislation of the city. Chief minister Mohammed Mufti Sayeed suggested that instead of identifying places for preservation or restoration work, a general awareness among the people ought to be created about the importance of their culture and heritage. He referred to the other countries particularly in the West which were taking pains in preserving their past. Likewise a movement must be started in Kashmir to restore its pristine glory. He also urged that the 'local touch' of the city should be given in all constructions in the future. Finance and law minister, Mr Muzaffar Hussain Baig, regretted that greed was one of the main reasons that Srinagar is fast losing its splendour. While presenting the draft identification of heritage zones of Srinagar, Mr Divay Gupta of the INTACH opposed the senseless demolition drive of replacing old buildings with new ones or to widen the roads and create places for public recreation. The NGO and a group of local residents have launched this programme aimed at preserving cultural heritage as manifested in arts, crafts, language, architecture and music. It wants to set up associations, auditoriums, museums and archives. It will also work for environmental protection, preservation of natural resources like forests, water bodies, hills and other objects of ecological heritage. The participants in this voluntary effort includes experts from different fields.