Srinagar’s entry into UNESCO’s creative cities network in the category of ‘Folk Art and Craft’ has once again revived the significance of the heritage city and its landmarks.
A swarm of faithful has an outpouring gusto about them as they arrive to participate in Urs of Dastgeer Sahib in Old City’s Khanyar area. The hallowed days has lit up the market and mood amid all the gloom. Seeking salvation and emancipation from their daily struggles and the searing strife, the worshippers are lifting their tearful eyes and shivering hands towards Heavens. The collective cry echoes: “Wyen Kar Afoo” (Have mercy on us now!)
Amid this pious pleading, a horde of native vendors from different parts of the valley is making hay while the sun is shining. Some have brought “pure honey” from the northern pockets of the valley, while others have arrived with colourful baskets and mud pots.
In these days of beseeching, this Srinagar landmark comes alive with distinct colour and crowd.
Barring these festive occasions, the city of seven bridges is quite regular in its way of life. There’s hardly any whisper about the recent distinction amid the fortress sense in natives. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lately designated Srinagar as a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN).
With this, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir has entered the club of 295 creative cities network across the world. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network is a project launched by UNESCO in 2004 to “promote cooperation among cities which recognized creativity as a strategic factor in their urban development”.
UNESCO designates the creative cities in seven fields — Craft, Folk Art, Media Arts, Film Design, Gastronomy, Literature and Music. Srinagar has been designated the creative city in the field of Crafts and Folk Arts — the only second city in India in this category after Jaipur.
Despite this distinction, Srinagar stays unassuming akin to its towering landmarks fading in time-space constraint.
On the ghats of Hydaspes, the remaining sign of the benevolent Shahmiri rule is fighting the battle of survival. Just outside the mausoleum of King Budshah’s mother, the grave faces bear a stark resemblance with the cemetery inside. Partly ravaged by the flood of 2014 and partly the politics of the place, the symbol of benign times is fast heading towards insignificance.
In the street outside the mausoleum, the overwhelming silence is stark. The shut shops stand in an array of some forgotten town overlooking the Jhelum. While mortals remain out of sight in that alley, one of the towering pieces of architecture is craving for attention. In the deepest and dense corners nearby lives the deprived craftsmen whose craft has earned Srinagar the global distinction. Glory amid gloom! Oxymoron?
While the bridge once echoing with the unrestrained tunes remains in a comatose state, the ancient river seems to lament the ghost houses on its banks. The lively structures have now become ruins of some distant past. The dispersing native populace and pride is only aiding this glum aloofness at ghats.
The unique bustle of this bazar has long made it the iconic landmark of Kashmir. Housing Kashmir’s characteristic traders, the architectural setup and the composition makes it unparalleled in many ways. But then, the vendors voice the anguish, the politics became as its ragtag rebranding.
Situated in this Old City terrain is the foremost mystic abode which created a massive faithful transition in the valley. The structure might’ve lost its old pyre to flames some years ago, but it still commands the same old soulful sway with which it created a spiritual solace for years in the land seeking salvation.
This gated view has come to dominate the panorama of one of Kashmir’s grandest addresses now. The lock, many say, has been placed to hush the rumpus once reverberating with a certain shrill. But beyond the supervisory, the structure has long entered into Kashmir conscience as the place of massive congregation.
It might be the first sign of foreign domination in Kashmir, but the walled city as a landmark of the Mughal era has sustained its significance with time. Its robust appearance beyond the asylum and dungeon reminds many of the rich architecture of the place.
The hill fort overlooking Srinagar was lately in the news when tricolour was unfurled atop it. This Durrani era peak fort has become one of the towering landmarks of the city whose resurrection of sorts came the day when the power shifted in a certain “strategic depth”.
The competing war-turf and the symbol of hegemony since decades now, the clock tower is only living up to its optics, be it in the Naya Kashmir of the early 1950s, or its current copy.
Mumin Gul is a documentary photographer and multimedia journalist based in Kashmir. His focus mostly lies in long-term photo projects. He is currently a multimedia intern at the Mountain Ink.