Save Our Heritage

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The midnight outbreak of the blaze that damaged the spire of the revered Khanqah-e-Maula has deeply saddened every Kashmiri. The 14th century Khanqah, as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has rightly said, is the ‘civilizational soul’ of Kashmir.  It is not only the oldest Muslim place of worship in Kashmir, having been built in 1395, but has also an incomparable historical and cultural significance.

In popular memory, Khanqah marks the spot where Islam was first introduced into the Valley of Kashmir. It is here that Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, the Iran born saint popularly known as Shah-i-Hamdan, would pray and propagate Islam during his stay in Kashmir. Though he returned home, the faith he introduced continued to spread. In the following centuries, Islam caught on as the dominant religion of the Kashmir.

The Khanqah that was built at the spot represents this hoary spiritual and cultural heritage. The blaze at the site is thus a calamity in a profound sense. It is about losing something that is both literally and metaphorically irreplaceable. Literally, it is about the loss of priceless architecture and the artefacts of enormous cultural import. And metaphorically, it is about losing a part of something intangibly valuable that defines us as a people – our identity.

While this justifies the profound mourning, the mourning is the easiest responses to the tragedy that has befallen us. It also raises some troubling questions for us as a community: Are we really conscious of our heritage? Are we really serious about protecting it?   The answers to these questions can hardly be in the affirmative.

Now that the damage has been done, we need to wake up to our collective responsibility towards our historical, religious and cultural relics. The government has ordered a safety audit of the shrines in the state in the wake of Khanqah-e-Maula fire. This is important to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future. At the same time, we as a people need to exhibit more awareness and consciousness about the value of our rich heritage and force the authorities to take pre-emptive measures to prevent future damage to our heritage sites.

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