Neglected Discoveries

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What lies beneath is the question that has baffled archeologists for long. Perhaps the answer lies in discoveries made on and off. But an uninterested government, and resource deficit department is only erasing the missing link between present and past, Mohammad Raafi reports

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In developed nations, any discovery related to the past, generates lots of interest among archeologists, government, concerned officials, civil society, intellectuals and public. But if the discovery is made in a place like Kashmir, the news often follows conspiracies, neglect, and apathy. No efforts are made to preserve these treasures that help people stay in touch with their past!

In 2014, the department of Archives, Archaeology and Culture excavated a site in Shiekhpora in Kutbal Islamabad and discovered terracotta heads. After thorough examination it was found that these terracotta heads belong to Lalitaditya Muktapida (ruled between 724 CE–760 CE). It was considered as one of the important discoveries in recent times by experts. But no further study was done so far to trace the exact nature of the artifacts discovered. Lalitaditya is famous for building Martand Sun Temple, located on the outskirts of present day Islamabad town.

Last month, in downtowns Maharaj Gunj area, a part of road under widening project caved in only to reveal a structure hidden beneath. The said structure, which is constructed in limestone using bricks and stones, is believed to be built in 14th or 15th century.

Last year, in order to pave way for road widening, a house –built in early 70’s by a Kashmiri Pandit family – was razed to ground to let the developmental work go ahead. After the debris was cleared, residents noticed a small opening at one corner of the cleared plot. “But nobody took it seriously,” remembers Ashraf, a local resident. “Soon it was forgotten and people moved on with their lives.”

Last month, when officials from Roads and Buildings (R&B) department started widening of the road, they observed a pile of red colored soil coming out from near the hole. Suddenly, the road caved in exposing the old structure beneath. “Then people started coming to this place to have a glimpse,” says Ashraf.  “The house appears to be some kind of a ministerial compartment,” says Muhammad Shafi Zahid, Director Archives, Archaeology and Culture Kashmir.

Interestingly, the site of the discovery is at a distance of just 100 meters from the tomb of Sultan Zain-ul-Aabidin famously known as Sultan Budshah. “It may have been used by some ministers during the rule of Sultan Budshah,” believes Zahid.

However, the department of archaeology is yet to take any concrete steps to preserve this rich discovery.

Noted historian, Fida Hasnain says, “The house seemingly belongs to 12th century. Hasnain backs his argument saying that the tomb of Sultan Shahab-ud-Din (ruled: 1355-1373), is also situated in the area.

But for people living in downtown Srinagar, such discoveries are almost a regular affair, if not daily.

Some years back, in busy Alamgari Bazar a large portion of road caved in when R&B department was digging in the area to construct drainage system. “They found a huge quantity of coins in the caved in portion of land,” says Abdul Jabbar, a local resident. “Besides a large quantity of earthen utensils were also found at the same spot.”

After the archaeological examination of the discovered coins it was found that they belonged to the 13th century, the time when Kashmir was ruled by the Shah Mir dynasty.

“In the past also some wonderful discoveries were made by the same department in Islamabad where terracotta heads were found and huge construction was also unearthed. The department hasn’t yet done much to safeguard that either,” alleges Husnain.

However, Zahid maintains that they have already taken up the matter with the Public Works Department (PWD) of J&K government and a proposal has been send to them for necessary action. “We held a meeting with the PWD department. Since a road is to be constructed through the site, therefore taking them onboard is important. We are working on it.”

He says the department plans to construct a subway so that the site is preserved while a road is constructed.

An official working in state’s archeology department, who wishes to remain anonymous said, we understand the importance of preserving our heritage, but the lack of funds and indifference of government puts us off. “Ideally these sites, Kutabal, Maharaj Gunj etc. should have been turned into tourist attractions. But it is difficult to convince politicians or bureaucrats to shell out money for the same. They don’t see it the way an archeologist see such sites. For them they are just ruins,” he alleges.

Unlike coins, terracotta heads, copper and earthen ware artifacts discovered from time to time, preserving a site like Maharaj Gunj needs huge amount of money. “The biggest issue is how to keep it safe from vandalism?” says the official. “For that you need government’s backing and public support. But unfortunately in Kashmir’s case both are missing.”

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Interestingly, the discovery of these compartments in Maharaj Gunj, which according to archeologists are of great historical importance, has gone unnoticed so far. “Even the local lawmaker is not interested in visiting this place. I doubt if he knows at all that such a historically important discovery has been made in his area,” says Munazzar Hussain, an elderly resident who lives at a walking distance from the site of discovery. “Had this been discovered in Jammu their ministers would have rushed to the site and issued necessary orders and released funds to preserve this site.”

Officials in the department of Archaeology also second these thoughts. “At least local MLA or any senior government should have visited the site. It is not every day we come across such discoveries,” says an official. “These sites can be developed only if government takes interest in them. Else there is no fun in discovering at all.”

The Department of Archaeology was established in 1981 after the Archaeological Survey of India took major sites and monuments in Jammu and Kashmir under its control and left the others for the state government to take care off.

“They took only those sites under their control which they thought will earn them revenue, rest were left unattended. Those left are now vandalized,” says a senior employee in the department.

According to insiders, ironically after every discovery department of archeology has to beg for funds for the upkeep of these sites. “We don’t even have resources to carry out studies on these sites, leave aside maintaining them.”

For now the department collects all the discovered things and carries them all the way to SPS Museum in Srinagar.

“Whenever there is a discovery at any place in Kashmir we rush a team to the spot and collect those things and after proper documentation keep them in SPS museum,” Zahid says.

However, in the case of recent discovery the study is yet to start.

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