|Settlement pattern, a historic overview|
The present location of Srinagar carries an interesting anecdote. It is said that when Praverasena 11, in early part of 6th century, returned from a victorious expedition, he decided to establish a new capital which would bear his name. He was then residing at Panderethan, the old capital built in 3rd century BC. The king went out at night in order to ascertain the proper site and the auspicious time for founding the new city.
He reached a stream that skirted a ground glowing with funeral pyres. On the other bank of the stream a terrible looking demon appeared who promised him that he will identify the site and auspicious time for setting up the new city in case the King crosses the stream. The demon also stretched his ankle to enable the king to cross the stream. Praverasena took out his dagger, cut into the flesh of the demon and crossed over to the other side. The demon then showed him the site of Hari parvat, known as sarikaparvata where he then located the city. The stream in this story has been identified as Mahasarit, the present day Tchunt Kul.
Tchunt Kul links Dal Lake with River Jehlum and, till Dogra period, there was a ancient cremation ground and a Hindu Tirath at its confluence. The ancient canal system was adequately augmented by the subsequent Kings and rulers. This canal system gave another name to the city; Venice of East. The banks of the canals were linked with small bridges like Naid Kadal, Qadikadal, Rajojri Kadal etc. It was the advent of democratic Governance that resulted in loss of this unique stature of Srinagar in the annals of world historic cities.
It is not for nothing that Srinagar has not been superceded as the capital of Kashmir. There were many attempts to change the Status of Srinagar, but every time it was restored . Lalitadatya, Jayapida, avavtivaman and Sakaravarman established new capitals. The ruins at Parihaspura, Avantipura etc show sufficiently that the failure of any of these sites as capital was not due to any deficient means.
Srinagar has some exceptional natural advantages over other locations. It enjoys facilities of communication as a true centre of valley. The river provided in the past the most convenient trade and traffic route into the valley. It is the last sufficiently populated, accessible plain with abundant natural resources towards central Asia and the historical silk route. It is also on a high ground compared to its surroundings securing it from devastation due to floods. Of all the natural calamities, Kashmir has always suffered much more from floods which were followed by drought and famines.
Jehlum, around which the city grew, got its first permanent bridge during the reign of Zainul abidin in 15th century. Subsequently more bridges linked the eastern and western part of the city. For a very long time the number of bridges remained seven. These seven bridges still exist in name with Amira Kadal listed as the first bridge followed by Habba kadal, Fateh Kadal, Zainakadal, Ali Kadal, Nawa kadal and saffa kadal. The addition made to the number of bridges before Amira Kadal in the fifth decade of last century was aptly named as Zero bridge. The name reflects the sensitivity of the then rulers to the historic character of the bridges. In world travel literature, which till recent past carried laudatory references to the ancient character of Srinagar, these bridges would be quoted as an illustration. An indigenous architectural marvel, the bridges are a network of deodar logs woven to form structural girders. The deodar logs are cantilevered at a height to allow passage for boats. They add a unique feature to the cityscape. Unfortunately, these bridges are being dismantled and replaced by concrete structures.
There is no bigger proof of abject lack of appreciation for the historic character of the city among the present day planners especially engineers. There would always be a need for modern bridges in an expanding city like Srinagar. But dismantling a historic structure to make way for a new facility only reflects the shear ineptitude and insensitivity towards the heritage of the city.
Srinagar attracted men of commerce, crafts, religion and letters over the centuries. Like other historic cities, the city became synonymous with work, housing, culture and, most of all social advancement. In the process, city has undergone a transformation by which new urban culture progressively took root, with new trends and architecture. This happened around or on the influx of Syeds from Iran and other parts of central Asia in 15th Century.
Their arrival was followed by the rule of Sultan Zainul Abidin who had a deep appreciation of highly evolved urban culture of Central Asian cities. These influences brought a new kind of influence to the city, a Central Asian city tapestry comprising karkhanas, Ziarats, hammams. At a later stage Kashmir was exposed to official theocracy under the quasi independent rule of Mirza Haider Dughlat, a cousin of Humayun, the Mughal ruler of Hindustan. The city lived under this influence for a very long period, leading at times to uncertainties and ascendance of forces of destabilization. He also consolidated the forces of urbanization, a process initiated in earlier part of 15th century. The end of sultanate period and advent of Mughal rule did not affect the settlement pattern of the city. However, Nagar Nagar, the Mughal city created around Hariparbat, for the first time remained out of bounds for the common city dwellers. The decline of Mughal rule had a disastrous impact on the life and character of the city leading to its visible impoverishment.
Over the course of history the city got organized into mohallas and residential areas based on occupations. As more and more members of the family became associated with traditional crafts and skills, mohallas developed as a close knit community. Similarly clan or family based mohalas also grew in the core areas. By 19th century the city had mohallas bearing names like Qalamdanpora, Sheeshgari Mohalla, Banduk khar Mohalla, Bhand Mohalla, Bhan Mohalla, Razdan Kucha, Mir Mohalla etc etc. Ziarats, temples and shrines also became the focal points around which large habitations were established.
The river front and the areas along the canals like Nala Mar witnessed continuous array of houses with projecting wooden balconies, intricate lattice work and widow screens facing the water front. A significant urban feature of the water front was in the form of ghats. The ghats served as landing places for the transportation. Till early seventies most of the rations viz rice, flour and sugar used to be sold through public distribution system at these ghats. The ghats acted as nodal centers attracting both Hindus and Muslims at the break of day for ablution followed by bathing and washing during the day. Even today there are forty-four ghats on Jehlum which can be revitalized for leisure and pleasure usage.
There are many urs and festivals that provide occasion for festivities. Sadly the festivals like Badam wari, community singing during Ramadan and on the arrival of spring have waned. The city is fast loosing its character. The loss of traditional linkages of personal and community network in the city marks the breakdown of the social fabric. However one of the redeeming features that hold some promise for linking the city to its glorious past s the architectural elements abounding in the core areas of the city in Ziarats, houses monuments and other vernacular structures