Meet ‘The Only Mason’ Face-lifting Temples, Churches, Shrines in Kashmir

Mason Naseer recently facelifted the oldest church in Kashmir. KO Photos by Syed Mohammad Burhan.

‘Other than me it’s hard to find a person who has worked at so many places with so much diversity.’

ON a chilly December morning last year, Naseer Ahmad Gilkar was busy cementing the dislodged bricks at St. Luke’s Church, Kashmir’s oldest Cathedral.

At the cusp of completing the renovation project, Naseer did not shy away from showing his happiness.

Wintry breeze did not deter the mason in his early fifties from arriving early at his workplace. He has been showing this work commitment for over three decades now while working at religious sites belonging to people of different faiths.

Before working at the Cathedral, Naseer facelifted Hazratbal shrine and renovated Shri Chandra Chinar Udasin Ashram, a Hindu temple at Lal Chowk, Srinagar.

“Masonry is in our blood,” Naseer said. “My father and grandfather were both masons.”

Naseer lives in Dalgate’s Daesil Mohalla, a locality known for having produced experts in masonry.

Among other things, the mason termed the experience of working at religious sites different from other places.

“I’ve seen everyone coming to their place of worship with intention to bow before their creator,” he said. “I’ve the same amount of respect for the church as I’ve for a mosque.”

By working at religious sites of people other than your faith, he said, one gets to know about the belief of other people as well.

Men at Work.

While renovating the St. Lukes Church at Dalgate, Naseer talked about the importance of reviving old structures and said they’re part of Kashmir’s collective legacy.

“Faith is personal and I’m of the belief that everyone should’ve the freedom to practice his or her religion freely,” the mason said.

“Respecting people of other faiths and their places of worship is a prophetic practice and we’re obliged to do that. I’ve seen every person looking for creator in their own way. I believe religious people are better than those who deny the existence of God. While our ways of worship are different, the creator remains the same.”

Naseer believes at present he’s the only one working in Muslim shrines, in a Protestant church and a Hindu temple.

“I think other than me it’s hard to find a person who has worked at so many places with so much diversity,” he said.

Naseer is amazed by the architectural differences seen at different religious places.

“Every religious place has a different style of architecture,” he said. “Even two churches aren’t built in the same manner. Whereas the architecture is different, the masonry work remains the same.”

Naseer is fascinated by the historical structures like Jamia Masjid and believes that a craftsmanship void has been created in Kashmir over the time.

“Masons in the past were craftsmen of high calibre,” he said. “They knew their job well. Their kind of work cannot be done in contemporary times.”

Mason Naseer.

Pointing towards the wooden arches of the historic St. Lukes Church, Naseer attributed the fading craftsmanship to the use of technological equipment and non-availability of time.

“Due to availability of time in the past, masons used to work altogether for years on a project. Back then, people had patience and time. But today, life is moving fast and people are in a hurry. The use of machines in masonry is the prime factor responsible for the erosion of art and craft.”

Done with the renovation work at St. Lukes Church, Naseer’s appetite for working at worshipping places is only growing.

He’s now looking forward to restore some more structures he proudly calls “part of our collective history and legacy”.

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Syed Mohammad Burhan

Syed Mohammad Burhan has Masters in Mass Communications and works as City Reporter at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @syedmohammad313

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