by Yawar Hussain
SRINAGAR: The Tourism Department Kashmir is allegedly destroying the oldest surviving wall murals (Naqashi) at the Khanqah-i-Mualla by plastering entire walls with Plaster of Paris thus obliterating all old traces.
The issue was brought to the fore by Design Director INTACH Kashmir Hakim Sameer Hamdani who tweeted on the issue.
Most unfortunate. As they say, Neem hakeem khatrai jaan. Wish they consulted and relied on domain experts.
— Haseeb Drabu (@HaseebDrabu) April 6, 2021
“Today happened to see how in the name of preservation, the oldest surviving example of painted wall murals (naqashi) has been obliterated at Khanqah-i Maulla. Though textual evidences indicate this art form was well established during Mughal rule in Kashmir, yet the oldest surviving example dates from early 19th century on the exterior walls of Nur Khana at Khanqah-i Maulla,” Hamdani wrote on his official Twitter handle.
Meanwhile, the workers on the site said that the work has been tendered out by the Tourism Department Kashmir.
Reacting to the news, the people on Twitter raised apprehensions about a possible scandal behind the work being carried out.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu wrote, “Most unfortunate. As they say, Neem hakeem khatrai jaan. Wish they consulted and relied on domain experts.”
Replying to Drabu’s tweet, Maryam Reshi, celebrated food specialist, wrote, “Use your good offices on the neem hakims no? This is a scandal!”
Another Twitter user wrote, “This is scandalous.”
Not only wall murals, the contractors appointed by the tourism department have started intervening in the main edifice by installing timber windows. “What is with this series ‘repair works’ at Khanqah-i Shahi Hamadan? This must be immediately stopped,” a twitterati yarbal wrote. “Imagine the visual weight of the building after these arches are filled up. Who’s idea is this? How messed up can one’s sense of beauty and order be!”
What is with this series 'repair works' at Khanqah-i Shahi Hamadan? This must be immediately stopped. Imagine the visual weight of the building after these arches are filled up. Who's idea is this? How messed up can one's sense of beauty and order be! pic.twitter.com/sbnjgLOJU6
— یاربل Yārbal (@yarbal_) April 8, 2021
Detailing the importance of the work being destroyed, Hamdani further wrote, “The naqashi was undertaken by Shaykh Mohyi-ud Din, the subedar of Kashmir under the Sikhs. The paint (comprising mineral and vegetable colours) would be painted on Gachh (gypsum plaster) – either on wet or dry surfaces.”
“During the 20th century, the naqashi was repaired a number of times-which also involved the process of applying varnish coat. Due to exposure to sunlight and also rain, over the years the paint started peeling at places- the varnish acting as a major culprit in this process,” he wrote.
He further said: “Rather than consolidating existing historical wall paintings and redoing the missing parts based on documentation, we find that the entire walls have been plastered with fresh POP- destroying all old traces.”
“This ‘newly’ finished wall is then been repainted based on what the artists have understood of old motifs/colours design, and not what it was. Who is supervising? Who has taken this ‘decision’ to do away with Kashmir’s oldest naqashi work on one of its most revered site?” he said.
Hamdani wrote: The artists are not to blame- they did what they were asked to do. But today, I think we need to differentiate between engineering involving new ‘works’ and conservation of ‘historic material & sites’. You simply do not plaster over almost two-centuries-old artwork!!!”
Famous journalist Sankarshan Thakur wrote on Twitter, “This is tragic, the way they have gone about it. I am no expert on the subject but to hear it from you, it seems we are losing precious heritage at the hands of neem-hakims who are inflicting irredeemable harm.”
Another Twitter user Kuldeep Singh Reshi said, “Very unfortunate. When the only interest of the government is to ensure its survival then the Heritage and the culture become first casualties.”
Director Tourism Kashmir, Dr Ghulam Nabi Itoo didn’t respond to repeated calls and messages from this reporter on this issue.
Khanqah-e-Moula is not Islam’s first formal space in Kashmir alone. It is a top heritage site that needs conservation.