Since their inception, cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity and social system. In addition most of the cities are the abode of tangible and intangible culture, man-made and natural heritage, historical and modern identities.
The city of Srinagar is also one of the well-known urban centre in the state of Jammu and Kashmir famous for its heritage character with more than 2000 years of urban history.
The name of Srinagar is mentioned in Kalhana'sRajtarangini as Srinagari, founded by Ashoka in 250 B.C. Srinagar has remained the capital city of Kashmir since ancient times. This city of Srinagar is not only important for being a seat of governance but, it had more than ephemeral reasons for its existence.
Since the ancient times, the city of Srinagar grew considerably and in fact, each period of its history has a fascinating story to tell about its growth as the nuclei of political, administrative, economic and more importantly, socio-religious-cultural activities.
The socio-cultural artefacts of Srinagar city is the accretion of a long period of time as over a long period, the city has cradled itself along the banks of river Jhelum or Vatista also known as Vyeth.
Srinagari founded by Ashoka is identified as the site of the present Pandrethan, which derives its name from the Sanskrit word Puranadisthana, literally the old capital. Then king Paravarasena II built his town close to the KohiMaran hillock and named it as Parvarapura, and extended only along the right bank of river Jhelum.
According to Stein, Lalitaditya burnt down Parvarapura and built his capital Parihaspura about 20 kms away from Srinagar city centre. But, all these later capitals lost their importance and decayed.
However, it was the capital of Parvarasena alone which survived besides various attempts were made to change it.
During the Muslim period new epoch started in the history of Srinagar city. The development of gardens, mosques, forts, bridges, canals, islands, architectural buildings and beautification of lakes added more beauty to the city.
They introduced new industries, arts and crafts like that of Shawl, Silk, Paper-mache, Paper, wood carving, calligraphy, Namda and Gabba (carpets). The fame of Srinagar all rests on these heritage crafts and industries.
The city has been famous not only as a seat of learning and art, but also as a center of cottage industries and textile manufacturing even in ancient times.
Metal works, wood carving and furniture, brassware, shawls, carpets and rugs, silk weaving, terracotta handicrafts, particular painting forms, etc., comprise the continuity of the historic-cultural tradition.
The city as well as its hinterland is bounded by natural wall of mountains (sub-mountain branches of PirPanjal Ranges and Zanskar mountains). In the east city is bounded by Zabarwan Mountains with lush green vegetation, locating famous Dachigam Sanctuary and Mughal Gardens and is environed by the shallow and swampy lakes of Dal and Nagin with the eminence of hillocks of Takth-i-Suliman in the east and Kohi-Maraan (Hariparbat).
The city is also famous for Eco-Tourism sites likeHokerser Wetland, Anchar Wetland, Khushalsar and Gilsir, Narkara Wetland, Willow forest/Haran Forest, Dabsir, Willow Forest near Railway Station, Srinagar, Dachigham Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.
The proposed and identified, The River Jhelum and Riverfront & Old City Heritage Zone of Srinagar satisfies the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Criteria as set out in Article 1 of the Convention, and as set out in the Operational Guidelines- Cultural Criteria Para 24 (a). i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, and para 27. ii, and the Cultural Landscape Criteria para 39.ii and iii.
Furthermore, the River Jhelum River, Dal and Anchar lakes with its front ghats also fulfil the criteria of Cultural Landscapes as designated in Article 1 of the Convention and specifically that of a cultural landscape “that retains an active social role in modern society closely related to the normal means of life.
The Jhelum River and the Riverfront and Old City Heritage Zone of Srinagar being proposed for nomination to the World Heritage List of UNESCO fall mainly into the second category of cultural properties, that is: groups of buildings, groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape are of outstanding universal value from the point of read of history, art or science.
These groups of buildings identified in Srinagar fall into the category of historic inhabited town, now enclosed within the modern city precincts, that is “historic towns that are still populated and that, by their very nature, have developed and will continue to develop underneath the influence of socio-economic and cultural modification, a situation that renders the assessment of their believability harder and any conservation policy a lot of problematical.”
The further justification of the above zone, according to the relevant criteria laid down by UNESCO, is as follows: A testimony to the living traditions of diverse culture on the banks of the River Jhelum as a faith in itself, stands Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam’s most sacred city - Srinagar.
A city like no other in the world, Srinagar has outstanding universal value, in that its architectural heritage is linked strongly, since centuries, to the living cultural and religious traditions of three of the major religions of the world- Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam for whom the city is the most important religious pilgrimage destination. There are few cities in the world of greater antiquity and none have so uninterruptedly maintained their ancient celebrity and distinction.
An outstanding example of a riverfront associative cultural landscape. The riverfront of the Jhelum River, forming the significant edge of the city, possesses a unique history, and presents a specific vision of a magnificent architectural row of heritage buildings and historical sites.
The natural heritage of the city, in the form of the river, lakes, gardens, mountains, etc. predominates and strongly influences the nature and characteristics of the natural, historical and cultural importance of the city.
Thus, together the two sides represent the cultural and natural heritage, which is unique in whole of India and the aesthetic harmony between the natural beauty and the city is rare in its presentation.
It has been realized that the cultural and natural heritages are increasingly threatened by destruction not only due to the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions.
From India 36 properties are enlisted in the UNESCO-World Heritage List, however Srinagar has not yet been proposed for inclusion.
The rationales for proposing Srinagar as a heritage city in the WH List are examined here, and the status of Srinagar on the scale of UNESCO-World Heritage List and governance strategies are described.
It is suggested that the city administration:
Author works at Department of Archaeology (CCAS), University of Kashmir