The Telegraph
Wednesday , June 27 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fire audit of J&K shrines

Srinagar, June 26: The Omar Abdullah government has ordered a fire-safety audit of all major shrines in Jammu and Kashmir, a day after a devastating blaze reduced one of Kashmir’s most sacred shrines to ash.

The decision came as life ground to a halt across Kashmir on a shutdown call by separatist and religious groups over the loss of the 250-year shrine dedicated to the Sufi saint, Hazrat Abdul Qadir Geelani.

The wood-and-brick structure, an imposing landmark in Srinagar’s old city, was gutted within minutes yesterday because no fire-safety mechanism was in place.

An official spokesperson said Kashmir’s divisional commissioner Asghar Samoon had convened a high-level meeting to discuss measures to avert such mishaps.

“The meeting decided that a fire-safety audit of all major shrines of Kashmir would be done by a committee of experts very soon,” he said.

The fire has triggered alarm in the state with experts claiming that dozens of shrines of historical importance are at similar risk.

Saleem Beig, who heads the Kashmir chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, said some 40-45 heritage shrines out of over 100 across Kashmir are vulnerable to fire.

“We took up the issue of installing fire-safety mechanism at these shrines on many occasions in the past. It is unfortunate that none of these shrines have such a mechanism in place. It is high time the government wakes up to the issue,” he said.

Kashmir has lost several heritage wooden shrines to fire --- including the famous Chrar-e-Sharief and Khanqah Faiz Panah Tral --- in the last few decades. “Over a dozen others were subjected to vandalism of a different kind. They were dismantled to pave way for new concrete constructions,” Beig said.

Historian Fida Hasnain said the wood-and-brick architecture was a specialty of the 500-year Muslim rule in Kashmir. “During the Buddhist and Hindu period, stupas and temples were erected in stones, which were replaced by wood-and-brick structures. They are more vulnerable and need more protection,” he said.

Hasnain said splendid wood carvings and papier mache work were a hallmark of these shrines.

The government imposed curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar’s old city to prevent violence over the gutting of the shrine. A complete shutdown was observed in other places.

Kashmir’s Grand Mufti Bashiruddin called for a march to the gutted shrine on Friday.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah cut short his visit to London and returned to Srinagar today to take stock of the situation.

Omar pledged to restore “the original glory” of the shrine by engaging the “best possible experts”.

“People should be aware of divisive forces whose sole objective is to disrupt peace and harmony. All of us who have regard and respect for the revered shrine should stand for peace and tolerance,” he told reporters after inspecting the shrine.