Punjab age-old monuments cry out for care

"Mughals ruled India for a very long time and for that reason, particularly Shahjahan's rule…. initially Indian culture had a major impact on Mughal architecture. Then Rajasthan culture had a great impact… Later, when the Britishers came, we had many buildings, which are a blend of both Mughal and Rajasthani cultures. Even in Punjab, especially in Nakodar, there are buildings of Mughal architecture. But in Patiala and adjoining areas, it is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture," said S M Verma, an architectural historian.

Outside the Nakodar town, there are two fine Mohammedans tombs situated close together. These are maintained as protected monuments by the Archaeological Departments. One of these tombs, Tomb of Mohammed Momin, was built in A.D.1612 in the beginning of the reign of Jahangir(A..D.1605-1627 A.D.).The other, Tomb of Haji Jamal, in 1657 A.D towards the close of the reign of Shah Jahan (1627-1658 A.D.).

Walk down the streets of Punjab's Nakodar city, and one comes across several historical mansions. A visit to one of them means going back to the 19th century.

Actually living in them without many modern amenities may seem tedious. But Asha Devi and her family reject this notion outright.

So rooted are they to the greater essence, its history, the nostalgia. It's something that speaks to them more loudly than just mortar and bricks, a sacred voice from the past.

"I was married into this house and we have lived here for the past 35-36 years. There are no problems, I love it. If someone offered me another place to live, I'd say if we had the money we would buy this land and stay here. I'd much rather live here. There is a temple nearby and we are in the lap of devotional songs. I wouldn't exchange this for anything. There were once 6-7 other families living here, but now we are the only people left," says Asha Devi, a resident of Nakodar.

It's sad, however, that not enough attention is given to many of Punjab's priceless monuments. Figures say only 29 of the hundreds of the state's architectural treasures fall under the protected list.

Conservationists lament that the state's heritage is in a serious state of neglect as some of the finest relics of architectural art in Punjab over the centuries, crumble and decay.

One phenomenon that has grown from this non-appreciation of the old, is a move towards pulling down of old structures. Modern apartments have cropped up in place of decades old havelis on the city skylines of some of Punjab's smaller towns.

And in many cases, it seems a replacement for the sake and show of it.

"Basically the erosion in our heritage is because of economic exploitation… people's trend of going abroad. People feel they can make more money than if they work at home.. trend of commercialisation, to get a new thing… That is why old havelis in cities and towns and being converted into hotels or pulled down to make new apts," says Verma.

It takes no skillful connoisseur to appreciate the architectural brilliance of monuments like these… the rich stucco designs, the intricate luxurious carvings, harking back to days when opulence was not limited by economics.

These ornamented walls, in their amalgamation of western, Indian and oriental designs, it is said, whisper stories from the state's golden past. It is up to present and future generations to ensure that these stories don't take on a different hue – of neglect and pain that we were unable to keep from them.

The oldest examples of architecture sculpture, and painting in the Punjab belong to the Harappan civilization. The Vedic age, which followed the Harappan age, has not left any artistic relics. The Vedic Aryans lived in villages. They used perishable materials such as wood and bamboo.

Recently Sanghol in Ludhiana District has been excavated. It represents the site of a Buddhist establishment. The very name may be connected with sangha or the Buddhist community.

Also, remains of a Dharma-chakra-stupa have come to light at Sanghol.

The number of such monuments and buildings in Punjab alone is too numerous to count. Their restoration and upkeep would also provide a huge boost to the tourism sector. 


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