Diverse Faiths Assimilate In Kashmir Architecture

6 October 2015
The Asian Age
Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: Kashmir is the land of saints and sufis, brimming with monuments that represent its diverse cultural heritage. There are numerous shrines and other places of worship in the picturesque Valley which enjoy reverence and allegiance of people professing different faiths and which add grandeur to its architectural landscape. Most of the shrines and other places of worship are traditionally built in the typically pagoda style, reminiscent of Buddhist influence. However, the design and construction of mosques, shrines and other places of worship which came up in the Muslim majority Valley in recent years have been built on the pattern of Islamic architecture overshadowing the pagoda and other typically indigenous styles of edifice. Buddhism, followed by a vast section of population in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, has its origin in the Valley where it was preached and disseminated by the Kashmiri scholars in its earlier days but is generally believed to have become dominant in the time of Emperor Ashoka. It soon spread to Ladakh. Apart from Buddhist, Persian, Mughal and Sikh influences are also discernible on Kashmir's architectural landscape. The use of wood and its conversion, stylisation in combination with rocks, stones and tiles into elements of building technology as well as craft forms are typical of this style. This indigenous style of architecture has also contributed a distinct stream of woodwork known as Khatamband or mosaic of beautiful geometric patterns joined together to create an aesthetic effect used for embellishing mainly the interiors. However, the 'shooting flute spires' on most old shrines and major mosques in the Valley is mainly similar to Buddhist and other architectural styles in shrines the world over. Srinagar's Jamia Masjid or Grand Mosque and nearby Khankah-e-Moulla are among the major places of Muslim worship which can be called truly Kashmiri as these are built in the traditional pagoda style, reflecting the real and authentic spirit of beauty of the place. Yet the division of roofs as different from a steady circumambulation flow of the roof around the central structure, as seen in most pagoda style of layering, and the exquisite style and the combination of word carving and Papier-mâché, the matchless ornamental cornices and corbels, cresting and crockets-and absence of any inlay work-is indeed unique. Like these, many other mosques, hospices and shrines across the Valley have one or more domes under the layered pagoda style structure. The Valley also has few monuments which give an excellent representation of a typical Shahmiri style of architectural brilliance yet to be seen elsewhere in South Asia. The main such structure is Srinagar's Budshah Tomb, the octagonal dome constructed in 1465 AD over the grave of famous Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin Budshah's mother. It has been laid down with bricks and hence is a brick structure antonymous to the traditional wooden architecture found in the Valley. The tomb has also unique blue tiles embedded in the brick masonry that give this domed structure a distinctive look. But the traditional architectural style has been followed in the construction of only few mosques and shrines that came up during the past three decades. One of these is the mausoleum of Kashmir's patron saint Sheikh Nooruddin Wali in the town of Charar-e-Sharief which was along with nearby Khankah or hospice and surrounding settlement razed to ground during a prolonged fire fight between holed up militants and Army in May 1995. The mausoleum has since been rebuilt in grandeur yet retaining its original architectural style. Another is the shrine of Pir Dastageer in Srinagar's Khanyar locality. Originally built in 1767 in honour and memory of the 11thcentury Sunni saint Sheikh Syed Abd al-Qadir Jeelani who is buried in Baghdad, Iraq, the shrine which had several resemblances with Khankah-e-Moulla and Charar-e-Sharief mausoleum was along with adjacent Khankah gutted in a devastating fire on June 24, 2012. These too have also been restored 'on the basis of their original structural characteristic' and are, once again, donning ceiling made of Khatamband woodwork and stained glass windows, Chandeliers, magnificent Dubs' or Jharokas, the trellis work or Pinjarkaari in wood on the windows. This assimilation of ancient Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Central Asian, particularly Uzbek, Tajik, Turkmen and local traditions is also witnessed in the construction of some other places of Muslim worship in the Valley. But many recently constructed mosques have been built mainly on the pattern of completely Islamic architecture, giving a new look to the Valley's architectural landscaping. Yet while the exterior design and construction do break away from traditional style, the interiors adhere to typical woodwork and Papier-mâché adaptation. The tone for turning away from the traditional style was set by Kashmir's legendary leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who as head of the Muslim Auquaf Trust started the construction work on a new shrine at Hazratbal in Srinagar to house the holy relic believed to be a hair from the beard of Islam's Prophet Muhammad (saw) in 1968. The work on this single domed and single minaret white marble shrine was completed in 1979. It is said that the then governor of the state had voiced his reservations over the Sheikh's choice. Hazratbal was until recently the only domed mosque in the Valley.