Recreate, Not Reconstruct

Recreate, Not Reconstruct

27 June 2012
Greater Kashmir


Srinagar: THE destruction of Dastgeer Sahabís (RA) Aastaan (shrine) is a reality. Like many other realities of death and destruction, we will, individually and collectively, mourn its loss for some time and resolutely bear it, if not learn to live with it. It is something that we now seem quite adept at doing, having suffered for the last two decades and more. The only way we can assuage our feelings - a mix of agony, anguish, anger, and abjection - is by resolving to rebuild the shrine exactly as it was; down to the last minute detail. It is important to do so for emotional, cultural, historical and social reasons. And if we do succeed in doing so, we would have restored our faith in ourselves. We as a nation have been callous and uncaring about our priceless heritage; be it spiritual, intellectual or architectural. Not so long ago, we willingly demolished the exquisitely beautiful shrine at Hazratbal which housed the Moei-Muqqadas [the holy relic of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)]. The quaint Kashmiri structure with its tulip decorated ďBurze PashĒ was replaced by an alien marble dome. Islamic, the domed structure might be, Kashmiri it certainly is not. It is beautiful in itself but lacks belongingness. It is befitting but not becoming of the holy relic in the cultural context of Kashmir. More recently when we allowed another calamity to befall us in the burning of Chrar-e-Sharief, the result was the same. There again we have made a structure that surely is better than a marbled mausoleum but in which the spirit of the reverence is missing. For the patron saint of the valley, it isnít a befitting tribute; it lacks depth and detail. May be it is reflection perhaps of our waning faith and diminishing dedication. We are emotional about our Aastans (much to the chagrin of many!), because our self and surround blossoms only by inhabiting the mystical. As such the purity of being, prayer for survival, passion of faith, all are woven together in true Kashmiri style in the Aastans. The Aastaan that we have just lost due to our callousness, besides addressing our plaints, articulated our aesthetics in its purest form. It had the perfect amalgam of the two elements - Kashmiri style and sensibilities and the Islamic ethos. It is this that made it an emblem of our identity. Every single element used in the Dastgeer Sahabís (RA) Aastaan was symbolic. The decorative arts that made the interiors stunning were not just aesthetic but deeply spiritual. Be it the Pinjaras, which heightened the facet of seeing and not seeing, or the repetitive patterned Khatamband ceilings, symbolized in wood the Manqabaats that we recited with fervor. The embellishments were not additions to a structure but intrinsic to it and added value to the existential experience inside the shrine. It is the interplay of these elements, which are also the elements of Kashmiri identity, that must underlie the recreation. The mystical space has to be recreated by the labor of love, the craftsmanship of faith and creativity of belief. It is only then that the mystique, mystic and mysterious feel of the Aastaan will blend and indeed complement seamlessly with our reverence thereby restoring the inward intimate relationship between them and us, and the structure, its spirit and spirituality. It is this that we need to recreate. For this, may I suggest that the Waqf Board, appoints an empowered group of people with different competencies to take up this project as a mission, restricting the Waqf only to coordination. The group should include, among others, people who understand Kashmiri architectural heritage, restoration experts, a historian who has worked on shrines in Kashmir, a poet who has verbalized the sensibilities of peopleís belief in the Dastgeer Sahab (RA), and an artist who has worked with these elements of identity and belief. On our part, the civil society of Kashmir must contribute financially, and otherwise by sharing pictures, videos and other resource material that will aid the recreation of the revered Aastan. Let us play our part constructively rather than leave it to the Government or the Waqf Board. After all, it is our heritage, not theirs. APPEAL OF A FELLOW DEVOTEE