Iqbal Ahmad

Preserving the Sufi heritage!

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In November last year, after the spire of Khanqah-e-Moula was destroyed in fire, the state government called for the safety audit of all the shrines of Kashmir. The then chief minister, who   also   headed the Waqf Board, had directed all the departments including the Waqf board, Fire and Emergency services, Power Development Department, Public Health Engineering (PHE), Police, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and other related departments to jointly conduct the safety audit and suggest precautionary measures to protect the shrines. However, the preliminary safety audit of the valley shrines suggests that very little has been done. Most of the wooden shrines located in the rural areas are yet to be equipped with fire fighting equipments

Kashmir is also locally known as Peervier-the garden of the mysticism for its rich spiritual legacy cultivated here by grand Reshi and Sufi Saints from the times immemorial.  The evidences of this wonderful heritage is still  showcased   by this mountain  locked land  in shape of  Sufi and Reshi Centers,  practices , Shrines, Caves and relics, associated with the saints.

Unfortunately, this   spiritual heritage has been nearly forgotten. In fact the spiritual heritage sites which consist of the Reshi, Sufi shrines and their relics are not taken due care nowadays. Consequently, the indifferent approach by the authorities and also the public apathy has pushed this glorious heritage into the oblivion.

Besides, if it is maintained, to certain extent, in the cities and towns, it still remains least explore for potential pilgrimage tourism. No doubt few major spiritual sites stand introduced for this purpose, but so far as the general Sufi heritage of this land is concerned it has not been given such treatment which it deserved.

These heritage sites are also not maintained on proper scientific lines. The wooden Sufi shrines, the sacred relics and artifacts in the Sufi shrines of Kashmir are decaying fast as there is no proper mechanism for their preservation and conservation.

Unscientific storage, unsystematic handling and lack of conservation facilities within these shrines pose a serious threat to these historic relics and artifacts. The threat is felt more in those Sufi shrines which are located in distant villages and maintained by local shrine management committees.

The sacred relics which are regarded very high are those artifacts which are associated with the different Sufi saints and are housed in their respective tombs and Khanqahas. These collections include the sacred hairs,  robes of many saints, collections of holy scripts, hand-written documents, ‘Pattas’, manuscripts, garments, slippers, embossed feet impressions, tomb covers  ‘charders’, terracotta and wooden chandeliers, candles and inscribed utensils.

Shrine attendants have hardly any technical know-how of dealing with these delicate objects for they are usually ignorant about their historic, cultural and antique value even if they have the highest devotional attachment with them. These items are simply dumped and absence of necessary chemical treatment to them is catalyzing their decay.

Almost all the Sufi shrines besides housing the mortal remains of the respective Sufi saints, have scores of sacred relics and artifacts. But unfortunately most of these historic objects go unrecorded. The shrine management committees do not keep their proper record and have failed to document the shrine possessions.

In the absence of proper documentation, it is impossible to safeguard the genuine relics and artifacts. Most of these relics are undocumented and unclassified and are not usually exposed to fresh air as these are exhibited only on fewer special occasions. There are many shrines, completely abandoned, having no care-takers even. Such shrines are under severe threat.

One wonders why the government has become dependent on private enterprise and is involving the services of private cultural NGOs to document this heritage when it has got its own Cultural institutions!

The government should not ignore its own institutions created by the legislation to maintain the state’s cultural and heritage properties. It should rather direct the concerned authorities and involve the services of its own experts for this purpose so that these relics are properly documented and conserved.

These historic relics speak of our rich spiritual and cultural ethos; so shall we allow these to decay in the hands of unprofessional people?

Since the state has already lost too much of its cultural and spiritual heritage to the unfavorable circumstances and is not in a position to suffer more, let us take concrete steps to document the Sufi heritage and conserve this heritage for the generations to come.

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