Endangered heritage

Published Jan 06, 2013 09:04pm

THE Indus Valley Civilisation, stretching over the area that today constitutes Pakistan, is probably the oldest known to mankind.

From the remote northern reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains to the Indus River delta in the south, and along the vast expanses of land on both sides of the Indus and its tributaries, exist traces of a rich past going back in antiquity.

Without doubt it is the largest ancient civilisation in the world, and yet no place else on earth is such amazing heritage under more threat than in Pakistan.

The earliest known ‘food-producing’ era (7,000-5,000 BC) was Mehrgarh in the ‘kachi plains’ of Balochistan. This is the oldest known ‘settled village life’ habitation, where crops were produced, skins tanned, copper mined and metal worked.

Life at Mehrgarh existed till 2,600 BC. It was roughly in  this time period (3,300-2,800 BC) that the Harappan cities along the Ravi came about. Mohenjodaro and other Sindh cities by then were busy trading towns.

Experts believe that the cities of Multan, Hyderabad, Lahore and Peshawar came about in this time period. Numerous smaller towns like Bhera sprouted up. All of them were on major trading routes.

Immensely rich that Pakistan is in its heritage, there seems to be a reluctance to accept this heritage. History in Pakistan, it seems, starts from the time the Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni pillaged the areas that are Pakistan and beyond. In hundreds of years of Muslim rulers, foreign invaders cemented the mentality that all cultures alien to the invader did not deserve consideration.

Pakistan, it could be reasonably argued, was born out of such a worldview. From this, right or wrong, flows the undeniable fact that culture is a low priority of Pakistani life. But then what is culture?

The poet Faiz summed it up succinctly when he said: “Everything that exists on the ground is our culture.” This is exactly what Unesco’s World Heritage Convention states, warning that human intervention, as well as natural causes, is destroying the heritage of the world, and needs to be reversed.

No place else is this more relevant than in Pakistan. We rightly vent anger and dismay at the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, yet what is happening in Pakistan is even more dire.

Mind you, before Pakistan came into being, the British also destroyed a lot of our heritage in the name of modernisation and security. The rest they stole for their museums in the name of ‘human progress’. Such are the ways of rulers who have no accountability.

But we must be concerned with what is left. Here it must be pointed out that the Indus Valley was the place where Hinduism and Jainism emerged, and Buddhism flourished. From the Hindu Kush to the coast of Makran, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the plains of Punjab, thousands of monuments exist that were once part and parcel of our lives.

Today they are fast disappearing. Even ancient sites like Mehrgarh, Harappa and Mohenjodaro are starved of funds to preserve, let alone conserve.

As they shrink and get damaged by human intervention, Pakistan is losing its immensely rich heritage. That we do not love and cherish our past is surely reflected in our regrettable condition today. Without a past and a woeful present, one shudders to think what the future will be like.

One can dwell at length on the plight of cities like Multan, Hyderabad, Lahore, Peshawar and even smaller towns like Bhera. Lahore’s walled city today is 70 per cent commercialised, with all its ancient walls knocked down to make way for commercialisation. When the Aga Khan Trust for Culture intervened, the trader-politicians of Lahore literally chased them out.

On the rebound, a former prime minister requested the Aga Khan to help conserve old Multan, and it goes to the credit of the Ismaili leader that he obliged.

One hears that the Punjab rulers are now making life difficult for the researchers in Multan. A potent combination of mercantile and religious interests is keeping the conservation of our past at bay. Of this there is no doubt.

Take a small town like Bhera, the place where Alexander clashed with the local ruler called the ‘Puru’, or Porus in its Latinised version.

Mind you Porus defeated the foreigner, even though respectable Western historians follow the Greek description of how their leader fared. But then Bhera remains an exquisite walled city that is disintegrating. Ancient Hindu temples have been knocked down and the houses of members of a religious sect have been reduced to ashes. The once old centre of power is today a ghost town.

As an example take the condition of the magnificent Lahore Fort. It is slowly disintegrating because of neglect. Sadly, Unesco is only moved if ‘officially’ approached. The official world does not want Pakistan to have too many endangered sites, and in that they manage well.

Pakistan, the world and Unesco are losing out to such manipulation. Experience tells us endangered sites are saved when the ‘relatively richer’ sections of society stand up to save their world. To take from Pakistan is easy and has reduced the country to ruins. It is time they gave something back. The government one should not rely on. Only then will the future seem worth the fight.

The writer is a senior commentator with a focus on heritage and economics.


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Comments (17) (Closed)


Culture
Jan 07, 2013 11:39am
That was precisely the argument for destroying the Babri structure in India.
Ole Einar KÃ¥ss
Jan 07, 2013 07:55pm
It already is degenerating on reasons of lack of knowledge religious idiots and bad economy
umesh bhagwat
Jan 07, 2013 02:08am
The situation is the same in India! However all is not lost yet!
george
Jan 07, 2013 09:50am
Immensely rich that Pakistan is in its heritage, there seems to be a reluctance to accept this heritage. History in Pakistan, it seems, starts from the time the Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni pillaged the areas that are Pakistan and beyond. In hundreds of years of Muslim rulers, foreign invaders cemented the mentality that all cultures alien to the invader did not deserve consideration. Pakistan, it could be reasonably argued, was born out of such a worldview. From this, right or wrong, flows the undeniable fact that culture is a low priority of Pakistani life. .................................. To accept the past, Pakistanis had to accept that most of them were converts from hindus and their culture is, and was, a part of hindu culture. That is a very difficult concept for the muslims to digest. They would rather be immersed in the Arab dreams. hence they have attire to show their closeness to arabs. That arabs do not traet the pakistanis and other south asians muslims, is another matter.
Vijay K
Jan 07, 2013 01:12pm
Don't tell Indians to worry or not to worry. You should worry. Those Jain temples and Buddhas are your heritage. Just like Moenjodaro and Harapa (they are not Islamic, but I do hope you consider them as your heritage) It is not about Islamic and non-Islamic. It is about national treasure.
Anwar Amjad
Jan 07, 2013 06:39pm
Really so? If Babri Masjid was demolished because it had become unsafe then the solution to that issue could be very simple. Just rebuild it. I wonder why Indian government and courts have been pondering over it for over half a century.
Avtar
Jan 08, 2013 01:14am
Babri Mosque case is an exception - see all other Muslim monuments and others e.g. Taj, Fateh Pur Sikri, Red Forts and so on. They are part of Indian heritage.
stuti
Jan 07, 2013 12:28am
Why do Pakistanis have a tendency to destroy everything? You have destroyed our common heritage and now you busy destroying your own nation.
Tribal Manto
Jan 07, 2013 05:53pm
Thanks for writing on such an important topic. This is an area which has been grossly neglected over the years. If anything, we can preserve from our past for the sake of our future (posterity), then there would be no prizes for guessing that, it would of course be our rich heritage and civilization. Without any discrimination the whole sub-continent is like our home and this is the duty of every person from this part of the region to preserve and respect our rich heritage.
Anwar Amjad
Jan 07, 2013 12:05am
Whatever you want to preserve for archeological reasons should have some historical significance and in presentable form. The way you are putting it all rubble or dangerous structures should be left untouched just because they are old. Have you come across any historical site in Pakistan which has been demolished? You have mentioned the walled city of Lahore but you miss the point that there are real people still living there who want to live in safe and comfortable environment. You cannot allow dingy, dilapidated and dangerous structures standing there for the sake of nostalgia for ancient times. In the walled city some people have maintained old houses in good condition but others have rebuilt or modified them to suit their needs. Practicability comes before aesthetics.
Jalbani Baloch
Jan 07, 2013 09:30am
The writer has painted a grim picture of our past heritage. The Government must take note of it and adopt necessary measures to preserve heritage sites like Moenjodaro, Harapa and others, while the BBC report in the recent past (2012) posed a question to Pakistanis "could this ancient city be lost for ever" due to the eroson being on the banks of Indus River and continued neglect of Government authorities.
Feroz
Jan 07, 2013 08:43am
A country that does not take ownership of its Heritage, Monuments and Culture will eventually become a lost civilization itself.
Ahmad Mirza
Jan 07, 2013 09:15am
It is very unfortunate and it breaks my heart to see the Lahore Fort disintegrating; Peshawer fort being used by FC, Attock Fort being used a prison and other sites which are slowly and gradually becoming a pile of rubbish Indians: do not worry we have preserved some of the Jain Temples and other artifacts of bhudda and relevant civilizations. Some of us are still protesting and trying to push government to act seriously in this cause like the author of this article.
India Pakistan Families Solidarity Association
Jan 07, 2013 03:47pm
I am from Chandigarh and when I visited the shahi masjid and Shahi Qila in Lahore, I felt the strength in our civilization that can not be shaken. The feeling was very real as if I have a vision in to the future. I have visited forts in cities all over Europe and America and have never come across anything so magnificient. Nothing can shake the Indus valley civilization as we have the mazbooti and aesthetic beauty in our cities that will save us. I felt sad for the Indians that can not visit Harappa and Mohanzadero or Lahore (for lack of easy visa though now we are working to send tourists from here!) and are thus without a foundation and are quick to reject their culture and history and look to escae to west.
s
Jan 07, 2013 12:50pm
You could have given some photos. That would have been wonderful.
MKB
Jan 07, 2013 08:24am
"Without a past and woeful present, one shudders to think what the future will be like" This is the essence of whole article. You can not or should not ignore or bypass your past. Past is the guidance for the future. No country, nation wants to ignore it. It is only tendency of Islamist mind to waive -up all the past of pre-Islamic period.
Murali Chemuturi
Jan 11, 2013 06:11am
I am moved by this article as it is coming from a Muslim! There is so much rich heritage of Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The present residents or most of them are converts but they have their roots in tose places. It is their ancestors that buil those culture. Vedas perhaps were born there. It is heartening to see some of those people are waking up to their ancestry and culture. It is a good augury. I wish all the best to the author of this article. Murali Chemuturi