Cel­e­brat­ing the Past

Her­itage sites in Pak­istan are a tes­ta­ment to the coun­try’s rich cul­tural his­tory. Un­for­tu­nately, their preser­va­tion has largely been ne­glected.

Southasia - - Culture & Heritage - By Sidra Rizvi The writer is ma­jor­ing in creative writ­ing and book pro­duc­tion at the Univer­sity of Karachi. She free­lances for var­i­ous publi­ca­tions.

Cul­ture tells a story about the peo­ple who in­herit it. Whether they choose to pre­serve it or not, their cul­ture re­mains the link be­tween a so­ci­ety’s past and its present. Any so­ci­ety that de­cides to ig­nore its cul­ture can­not hope to go very far.

Pak­istan’s early his­tory dates back to two mil­lion years ago, when the first in­hab­i­tants were be­lieved to have been the Soa­nian peo­ple, hav­ing set­tled in the Soan Val­ley and Ri­wat, in mod­ern day Pun­jab. One of the first and most fa­mous civ­i­liza­tions, the In­dus Val­ley Civ­i­liza­tion, also sur­vived on Pak­istan’s very soil. How­ever, in­stead of be­ing pre­served as her­itage sites or mon­u­ments, most of these cities with their an­cient civ­i­liza­tions, now lie in ru­ins.

Sim­i­larly, nu­mer­ous sites across the coun­try were pre­vi­ously im­por-

‘A peo­ple with­out the knowl­edge of their his­tory, ori­gin and cul­ture is like a tree with­out roots.’

Mar­cus Gar­vey

tant cen­ters sup­port­ing rich cul­ture and her­itage. Cities like Tax­ila, Makhli, Bham­bore still bear a hint of the so­ci­ety that once blos­somed within their perime­ter.

Pre-par­ti­tion Pak­istan was a land that saw the rise and fall of em­pires and with it a plethora of cul­ture and prac­tices. The Gupta Em­pire that spanned most of the sub­con­ti­nent brought with it ad­vance­ments in ar­chi­tec­ture, sculp­tures and paint­ings while the Ghaz­navid Dy­nasty, known for its wars and in­va­sions, also in­tro­duced el­e­ments of lit­er­a­ture, arts and learn­ing. Through time, var­i­ous col­o­nized eras rang­ing from the Delhi Sul­tanate to the grand Mughal Em­pire lav­ishly flow­ered the re­gion with South Asian ar­chi­tec­ture, Is­lamic art, cul­tural mu­sic, lit­er­a­ture and ad­vance­ments in sci- ence, tech­nol­ogy and life­style.

Lahore, also known as the heart of Pak­istan, is a city seeped with rich cul­tural his­tory. A fa­vorite site of the Mughals, to­day Lahore is home to the world’s most cher­ished and beau­ti­ful mau­soleums and tombs. The fa­mous Mughal em­peror, Ak­bar was so fond of this city that he chose it as the cap­i­tal for his em­pire. Dur­ing his rule, the fa­mous Lahore Fort or ‘Shahi Qila’ was con­structed and to­day re­mains a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the legacy the Mughals left be­hind.

Fol­low­ing in his grand­fa­ther’s foot­steps, Shah Je­han too fa­vored Lahore as the lo­ca­tion for his mag­nif­i­cent Shal­i­mar Gar­dens. A fine blend of Per­sian in­flu­ence over Is­lamic ar­chi­tec­ture, the Gar­dens along with the Fort, earned a spot on the World Her­itage List.

Mov­ing fur­ther south, the cul­ture of Sindh traces its roots back to the In­dus Val­ley Civ­i­liza­tion that sur­vived and flour­ished along­side the banks of the River In­dus. Ex­ca­va­tions and digs re­veal a highly com­plex in­fra­struc­ture of so­ci­eties, like Moen­jo­daro and Harappa, that once blos­somed there. The dif­fer­ent forms of art re­cov­ered from such sites pro­vide a de­tailed in­sight into the lives as well as the cul­tural prac­tices of those so­ci­eties.

To the west lie the two prov­inces of Balochis­tan and Khy­ber Pakhtoonkhwa. Even though Western Pak­istan is mostly hilly and the ter­rain is un­even to say the least, beau­ti­ful mon­u­ments and breath­tak­ing ar­chi­tec­tural won­ders await the cu­ri­ous eyes. The dis­trict of Las­bela alone is home to in­nu­mer­able his­tor­i­cal sites in­clud­ing the ‘Jams of Las­bela,’ which re­main the most im­por­tant. The Jams of Las­bela, over 100 at this par­tic­u­lar site alone, are the tombs of the peo­ple who once ruled the area. The in­tri­cate pat­terns and the de­tailed art­work crafted del­i­cately into the tombs speak for it­self.

The prov­ince of Khy­ber Pakhtoonkhwa bears wit­ness to the art and ar­chi­tec­ture in­flu­enced heav­ily by western set­tlers such as the Greeks and Ro­mans. This prov­ince is also home to the Gand­hara art that forms the ba­sis of Bud­dhism. Huge statutes of Bud­dha carved into hills and moun­tains can be seen through­out the re­gion.

In a coun­try re­plete with such rich her­itage, it is a shame to see no con­crete ef­forts be­ing taken to pre­serve such his­tory. A re­minder of this painful neg­li­gence is the ‘Ranikot Fort’ in Sindh. Also known as the Great Wall of Sindh be­cause of its re­sem­blance to the Great Wall in China, this splen­did work of art is the largest fort in the en­tire world and un­til re­cently was widely ig­nored. Truly a mar­vel, the fort has fallen in ru­ins over the years tak­ing down with it vol­umes of his­tory.

While other coun­tries around the world al­lo­cate en­tire bud­gets to pre­serve his­tor­i­cal sites this prac­tice is found want­ing in Pak­istan. Coun­tries that are aware of the true tourism po­ten­tial of their his­tor­i­cal gems have suc­cess­fully man­aged to pre­serve their cul­ture and trans­form it into a bil­lion dol­lar tourism in­dus­try,

How­ever, in Pak­istan even the most glo­ri­ous mon­u­ments have been vic­it­mized to gen­eral ap­a­thy. Ac­cord­ing to the 18th Amend­ment, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment holds the power to con­trol li­braries, mu­se­ums and other in­sti­tu­tions. The Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy and Mu­se­ums lies un­der pro­vin­cial con­trol and there­fore no ef­fort on the part of the pri­vate sec­tor holds any ground.

The depart­ment is re­spon­si­ble for is­su­ing pe­ri­odic re­ports on her­itage sites fo­cus­ing mainly on the ex­tent of dam­ages done to the sites as well the cost of restora­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, the de­part­ments’ neg­li­gence in the mat­ter has cost Pak­istan dearly in terms of her­itage preser­va­tion.

Neigh­bor­ing In­dia too shares a sim­i­lar cul­ture and his­tory with Pak­istan. Dur­ing the time of the Mughals, Pak­istan and In­dia con­sti­tuted the sub­con­ti­nent and the mon­u­ments found in In­dia are in­creas­ingly sim­i­lar to those found in Pak­istan. Mughal ruler, Shah Je­han built both the fa­mous Taj Ma­hal in Agra and the Shal­i­mar Gar­dens in Lahore.

With much in com­mon, the two coun­tries can work to­gether in pre­serv­ing their rich his­tory. How­ever due to po­lit­i­cal rea­sons they refuse to see eye to eye. Col­lab­o­rat­ing on such a di­verse cul­tural her­itage, both coun­tries can suc­cess­fully man­age to re­store the dam­age done to the her­itage sites and pro­tect them from fur­ther dam­age.

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