Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The heritage of J&k architecture

By: Salman Nizami

Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings in the beginning; ultimately they shape us." Throughout history, architecture has been a symbol of success, glory and a sign of strength for great dynasties and civilizations. Be it Megaliths of Stone Age or Petronas of today's jet age, people have always used architecture to prove their superiority over others. It has always been a symbol of pride and reflected the character of the rulers and their strength. Examples are many; Pyramids of Egypt, Collosium in Greece, Taj Mahal at Agra, Buland Darwaza, Qutub Minar etc. Architecture is nothing but a reflection of the culture and traditions of its people. The great Islamic architecture which spread throughout the world reflects the great Islamic era of finest art, character, culture and stability.
Architecture cannot be same everywhere. Every place has its own culture which ultimately shapes the architecture of its region. As the culture develops over centuries, so does the architecture and as the culture changes, so does the architecture. Jammu and Kashmir has its own culture and traditions which developed over the centuries and ultimately shaped our architecture. The architecture that we see today is no reflection of our culture and traditions because our culture and traditions have changed to a greater extent. Our culture is changing everyday. There were specific unique qualities in the kind of spaces that our traditional houses had which had become a symbol of our architecture. ' Dan' (chullah) was a very special and a unique space that our traditional houses had. Firstly it would cook the food. Secondly it would heat the water in the boiler which would be behind the 'dan'. Thirdly it would provide charcoal for the kangri. And last but not the least it would heat your kitchen space which was also used as a common seating place. That is why every kitchen used to have a 'choki' (kind of low bed).
Culture cannot be created artificially. In the same way cultural and community spaces that have been developed over the years cannot be designed or developed on paper. It is a result of traditional and cultural or community activities of the common masses and whenever such places have been designed by architects, they have usually failed. The best example that can be given is Chandigarh. Before the partition, Lahore was the cultural hub of Punjab. As a result of the partition of Punjab, Lahore ceded to Pakistan. There was need of a cultural hub like Lahore in Indian side of Punjab. As a result Chandigarh was designed by le-cobusier, a foreign architect, to replicate Lahore. But it never served the same purpose as Lahore did. Lahore is a result of hundreds of years of evolution. Same can be said for new Mumbai. It could not replicate the historical places like Colaba, Fountain, Cuff Parade, Victoria Terminus etc. Same is the case in Jammu and kashmir also. We cannot create the historical places or markets that evolved over the years and even those that exist today. Places likein Jammu Hari palace,Raghunath Mandir,Bahu Fort ,Mubarak Mandi Complex,Rani Charak Mahal and in srinagar Hari Singh High Street, Maharaja Bazaar, Maharaj Gunj, Gadi Koche, etc cannot be replicated at any cost. The buildings in these markets in srinagar reflect in the purest form the kind of architecture that Jammu and Kashmir had. That has almost vanished completely.
As a result it becomes more essential to preserve these kinds of structures which reflect our culture and tradition. Many of these historical buildings can already be seen in deteriorating condition because there is no law or an act in our constitution which could protect them. And till now, there seems to be no initiative from the side of government to save these rich heritage buildings which reflect our past. The whole stretch from Hari Singh High Street to General Post Office has a number of old buildings which reflect the old and traditional Kashmiri architecture. This is just a small belt in the heart of Srinagar city. Old and traditional houses and markets lie unattended on the banks of river Jehlum which was our main source of transportation and as a result its banks developed.
Surely there has been a gradual change in our culture and the resulting change in architecture too. Nothing in this universe is there forever and change is inevitable. But the question to be asked is weather these changes have changed the quality of our lives for good or not.