Iqbal Ahmad

Preserving the Reshi order Architecture

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The wooden shrines of Kashmir are basically associated with the tombs of Sufi and Reshi saints of this land; these are called as ‘Astana’ and have been raised over the graves of famous saints and sages. Most of these sites are found in rural and forest areas of the valley as these were the places where Rishies could find peaceful and calm environments for meditation.

While referring to the ancient architecture, the earliest architectural evidences of Kashmir are the remains of Buddhist monasteries and tile pavements. During Hindu period, massive temples have been built of finely finished lime stone and massive stone columns. The early Muslim Sultanate period is marked by Muslim architecture, consisting of quadrangular mosques.

The massive stones were replaced by small bricks called Badshahi Bricks and wood. Apart from these broadly classified architectural monuments, the Kashmir architecture was succeeded by a uniform type of local style- known as Reshi order of architecture. It is purely Kashmiri and is hardly seen beyond its borders.

It is uniform in plan, material and style and mostly pertains to the tombs of Muslim saints, either Rishi or Syed saints. These are originally built as memorials of great Reshi and Syed saints, mostly over their graves. These are square in plan and self contained buildings and plinths are of Devri Stones while chambers constructed sometimes of bricks and mortar and sometimes of logs laid across each other, the spaces between logs filled with brick work. The chambers are square with a Cenotaph (char) of latticework at its centre.

The entrance to the chamber is usually facing south while the Bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of Jali (Screens) of wood. The interior of the central chamber is sometimes covered with papier machine paints or some times of lime Plaster and the columns around the central chamber are elaborately carved. The low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure is built in several tiers with size diminishing in each successive tier.

The roof is usually surmounted by a rising steeple the final of which is molded, the largest molding being sometimes in the shape of umbrella, usually covered with metal object.

No doubt at every place these tombs have lost most of their traditional materials and stand renovated with cement plasters, marble floors and glazed  windows, besides the brick bark roofs have been replaced by metal sheeted roofs. But the plans, designs and style has almost remained more or less unchanged.

Kashmir is a living museum for the Sufi shrines and sites. You would hardly find any such village without a Sufi shrine or any sacred relic associated with a Sufi. These are glorious monuments which are no less impressive in architecture than the pyramids of Egypt. However these wonderful shrines are still to be explored fully for religious tourism. Besides, most of these shrines are in neglect and are not properly conserved.

During the turmoil period not only few Sufi centers were affected, but several glorious shrines of Sufis got destroyed by fire and total neglect.  These included the major shrine of Nundreshi at Charar-e-Sharief which was burnt in a devastating crossfire incident which broke out between militants and forces during the Chrar-e-Sharief early 90’s. A glorious shrine called Khanqah-e-Sheikh also got destroyed in that fire.

In another similar incident, the famous Khanqah, known as Khanqah-e-Faizpana at Tral was also burnt down. Besides these major shrines few other less known sites and shrines suffered damages during this period. But there are hundreds of Sufi shrines still well-intact and bear witness to the Sufi order of architecture.

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