For the mesmerizing art and craft, Srinagar was among the 49 cities worldwide to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Shahr-e-Khas or the downtown, has been famous for its art and craft, heritage architecture and monuments since its inception. From last few years, it has also been celebrated for the sports activities and is emerging as a sports hub in Kashmir as various sports persons of the old city have been showing their mettle at various platforms.
In the yesteryears, football was the game of every household and the enthusiasts used to follow the game religiously. “The grounds used to be packed with the viewers on the day of the football match, cheering for their favorite team to win. On winning, the favorite player was taken on the shoulders by the crowd. The roaring crowd was the sign of the football fever in Kashmir,” said Noor Mohammad, an elderly person from downtown.
The downtown area of Srinagar was known for its footballers who not only played their game but also set a path for younger generations to follow. Even today many youths are taking up football as their fathers or fore-fathers were the icon players of the game once.
Due to unstable conditions in the valley, the game got a setback but few made an effort to revive the game. Not only the old sports were revived but with time new games started coming up which attracted the youth.
With a motive to create a bustling sports culture among the youth of downtown, today, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Manoj Sinha inaugurated the Ellahi Bagh Indoor Sports Stadium and praised the sportsperson of Kashmir who excelled in sports and represented the country at various platforms.
Hinan Manzoor, co-founder of Downtown Heroes Football League praised the LG’s initiative while expressing gratitude. He said, “Opening an indoor stadium means calling youth towards sports. Over the years, downtown has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Unless and until, youth is provided with an alternative, things will not change. Neither seminars nor events will come to the rescue in channelizing the energy of youth.”
He pins his hopes that LG and Secretary Sports Council will start off more such initiatives for the development of youth.
Number of youths have been associated with the football club since 2019. The founders were motivated to start the club with an intention to revive the culture of football in downtown.
“Some of the top footballers of Kashmir are from the old city. The city has amazing and talented youth. We want every youngster to showcase their talent on national and international levels,” he said.
The Under 18 and Under 16 teams of the club by the name of Young Downtown are competing in almost all the major football events besides the professional team Downtown Heroes FC. In future, they will be launching a girl football team on a bigger level.
Soliha Yousuf, a Rugby coach and captain said that youth deserve to be given sports facilities so that they groom their personality and come out of drug addiction. “Within few years, the number of substance abuse had gone high and physical activities had also taken a backseat due to Covid 19 pandemic. Children have adopted a lethargic lifestyle. These initiatives will compel the people to come out of their homes and get involved in physical activities,” she said.
When it comes to sports, girls in downtown are showing their equal participation. Soliha feels that the nearby ground for girls residing in downtown areas will be easily accessible to them.
“We had to travel every day and our parents used to be on their toes whenever we get late. Many girls dropped their passion for sports because of all these difficulties. When there is ground nearby, there will be hassle free travelling and one can practice properly without being in a hurry to leave early and reach home on time,” she said.
Farhan Ganai, a footballer said the time is changing. “Sports are not only restricted to fun and recreation. Many youths are pursuing it as a career. The growing sports culture in downtown is reflected by the fact that various grounds thrive with sports activities since morning. You will always find Iddgah ground bustling with sports activities. There is a huge sporting talent in downtown and only needs infrastructure to bloom,” he said.
Being the bowl of art and craft, downtown boasts the antique architecture that stands high as an epitome of timeless beauty. Every area of downtown is famous for its attractions.
At Nowhatta, Jamia Masjid is one of the important mosques in the old city, built around the 14th century. The mosque bore the Persian architecture, with similarities to the Buddhist pagodas. The beautiful garden of the mosque circles the fountain where people perform ablution and birds drink water during summers. Although the busy markets around the mosque remain abuzz, visitors often find peace and serenity inside.
Another charisma is the artistry of Zaina Kadal. The place is known for the artisans of Tilla embroidery. It is one of the most celebrated handicrafts. Tilla shops are seen at a number of places on either side of the road.
One of the major business markets in the old city is Maharaj Gung. The market used to be an epicenter of trade and was set up by Maharaja Ranbir Singh. The shops of copperware, dry fruits, spices, textiles and much more are 100-150 years old and are also a go-to place for buying essentials for the wedding festivities and occasions.
A scene of barbecues grilling over the embers is seen outside every food stall at Khyam Chowk. The street welcomes visitors with the strong aroma of barbeques and grilled Kebabs. The place known for flavors is believed to be named after a nearby cinema hall, which was shut long back due to unfavorable conditions in the valley.
Talking about artisans, Zareef Ahmad Zareef said the old city was famous for its artisans. Artisans of the valley had knowledge of various crafts but when Sultan Zain-ul-Abideen got artists from Central Asia, Kashmiri artists under the influence of Iranian artists refined their skills and also learnt some new crafts like paper mâché, tapestry, carpet weaving etc.
“Earlier, the carpets of single or double colors were woven here. Then various designs were introduced in the carpets by the artists of Central Asia. Those designs of carpets were named after the cities of Iran,” he said.
He further said that the communities of artists dealing with different skills and crafts were formed which includes Kamanger Pore (the community dealt with the making of bow and arrow), Saazger Pore (the community of makeup artists used to beautify queens of Mughal Kings), Kalamdaan Pore (the community who made pen cases), Shorger Mohalla (the community dealt with the making of crackers), Bandukhar Mohalla (the area deals with the making of guns) and Jildeger Mohalla (the area known for the binders).
Women of the downtown have always been associated with various skills and crafts. Women are involved in Paper mâché work and different kinds of embroideries. Apart from earning livelihood, it keeps them engaged with productive work.
Talking about the architecture of the old city, Zareef said that the vernacular architecture, mud floors and walls along with wooden doors, windows and ceiling would make up the houses that would provide the warmth during 5-6 months long winters. The houses were suitable to the weather conditions and have cultural relevance too.
The Khatamband ceiling, present in most of the historic houses, is constructed by fine artists of Eid Garh, Safa Kadal and other parts of the old city.
Reminiscing the past, Zareef added that from eatables to clothes, people had everything of their own in line with the culture and climate which let the people stay happy and contented.