Srinagar's grandeur

Published : Jan 13, 2012 00:00 IST

A view of Srinagar city from the Hari Parbat Fort built in A.D. 1808. - NISSAR AHMAD

A view of Srinagar city from the Hari Parbat Fort built in A.D. 1808. - NISSAR AHMAD

The two volumes document the built and natural heritage of the historic city of Srinagar, which was founded over 1,500 years ago.

IN a sense India has been more alienated from Kashmir than Kashmir has been from India. During the Raj there were some superb books on Kashmir's beauty by men like Cecil Earl Tyndale-Biscoe, Arthur Neve, Frederick Drew and others. A small work published in 1888 ranks as a collector's prize. It is Ince's Kashmir Handbook: A Guide for Visitors by Joshua Duke, who had served as Civil Surgeon in Gilgit and Srinagar. It was a rewrite of Dr Ince's book and deserves to be reprinted.

These two excellently produced volumes are to be welcomed warmly. They document and list the built and natural heritage of the historic city of Srinagar, which was founded by King Pravarasena II over 1,500 years ago. Its history dates back at least to the 3rd century B.C.

Informative introduction

Volume I has an informative introduction by M. Saleem Beg, Convener, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), J & K Chapter, the moving spirit behind this project. A former civil servant, the Director General of Tourism, he is steeped in the State's cultural history. It is a treat visiting historic sites in his company listening to his comments on their significance. There is a brief survey of history by Prof. R.L. Hangloo; an essay by Hakeem Sameer Hamdani on Srinagar; a description of the rich and varied architectural styles, followed by the meticulous cultural resource mapping spread over both volumes.

The project began with Romi Khosla's report: Identification of Architectural Heritage Zone in Srinagar City in 1989. The process was started in 2004. Four zones were identified. The methodology is described clearly. The results of this prodigious labour are these most informative and excellently illustrated volumes. No such work exists on any other city of the entire subcontinent. But then, Srinagar is unlike any other city; it is the repository of varied influences.

Saleem Beg and his colleagues wisely associated the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the work. It presents in rich authentic detail the mapping of the architectural and cultural assets of the city of Srinagar, capturing its medieval-world charm. The work covers the geographic and socio-cultural history of Kashmir; the evolution of Srinagar city, settlement pattern and city life; the monumental, colonial and vernacular architectural traditions of the region along with various building typologies; the decorative and architectural elements that define Kashmiri architecture, along with pictures; and the architectural and historical description, condition assessment and grading of more than 800 listed properties and precincts with photographs of religious, residential, civic, public, natural and man-made sites, including the historic Mughal gardens.

The book also includes tables on major socio-cultural events of the city, man-made and natural disasters, and residential neighbourhoods associated with different arts and crafts of Kashmir. The properties listed in the book have been mapped on a heritage map for 130 sq km of the historic city of Srinagar and its colonial extensions.

The two volumes are more than a feast for the eyes. They promote thought. This is a historically and culturally rich city. Time has not served it well.

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