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Jammu’s Cultural Heritage: Waiting to be Discovered and Experienced

by Tunae

Ajay Khajuria

The International Day for Monuments and Sites, more popularly known as World Heritage Day, celebrated annually on April 18 since 1982, is an initiative of the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a non-Governmental International Body of Professionals that advises the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on matters pertaining to Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Confirmed by UNESCO in 1983, the observance of the Day seeks to raise awareness about the diverse cultural heritage of Planet Earth, in an effort to ensure its protection and preservation.

World Heritage Day

For nations, regions and communities across the Globe, it is also an occasion to re-assess their engagement with the cultural heritage inherited by them and re-affirm strategies for conserving and showcasing it for social and economic purposes, and for passing it on to future generations, without tampering with its authenticity. Its social impact comprises, mainly, the shaping of National or Regional identities, as it fosters an understanding of the indigenous culture, history and traditions, and provides a sense of belonging, pride and continuity with the past. The economic impact refers mainly to generating cultural tourism which, today, accounts for around 40% of the global tourism phenomenon, an industry which is the largest employer worldwide.
Conserving and showcasing its cultural heritage, however, is not new to India, which is a veritable treasure house of age-old and rich cultural heritage. The concept of travelling or yatra has been intertwined with its religious heritage since the ancient times, with the Char Dham Yatra, to locations in four different directions along the periphery of the sub-continent, namely Badrinath, Jagannathan Puri, Rameswaram and Dwarka bearing testimony to this symbiotic relationship. In fact, the NITI Aayog describes India’s cultural heritage, as ‘unparalleled in the World’. It further elaborates that, ‘India has one of the largest geo-political expanses and one of the greatest volume and diversity in heritage. This vast heritage repository of India is recognized globally as significant part of its unique cultural identity. Even beyond India, a number of countries across the world, house some of the best specimens of our county’s heritage in their museums.’
Presently, 42 Monuments and Sites in India stand inscribed as World Heritage Sites including iconic landmarks like the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, and natural wonders like Kaziranga and Sundarbans National Parks. Its incredibly diverse cultural heritage makes cultural tourism a flourishing and pre-dominant segment of the Indian tourism industry.
In the above background, the theme for World Heritage Day 2024 i.e. ‘Discover and Experience Diversity’, has a special significance for Jammu region, which is home to a vibrant and unique cultural heritage, within the overall Indian context. The message it conveys to the conservationists and managers of cultural heritage as well as for the cultural tourist to expand their horizons to encompass such pockets which yet remains undiscovered and unexplored by the World. The theme directly supports the efforts being made by Jammu’s Civil Society, Intellectuals and the Travel Industry to cut through the maze of indifference that seems to be pervading the official handling of Jammu’s priceless cultural heritage. It provides the opportune time to highlight the robustness of its three components, i.e. Tangible Cultural Heritage, Intangible Cultural Heritage and Natural heritage, as briefly described below.
The tangible cultural heritage of Jammu includes iconic monuments like the eighteenth-century Mubarak Mandi Complex, an architectural marvel and the largest Fort-Palace complex of its type in Northern India, which is presently under consideration of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO for being placed in the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites. Further, it includes the masterpieces of the World famous Basohli School of Miniatures, some of which proudly adorn Museums and Art Galleries in Europe, America and other continents. Similarly, the Globally venerated Cave Shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi ji, and a host of other ancient shrines and temples that dot its hilly landscape are part of Jammu’s unique heritage, as are the Buddhist and Indus Valley Archeological sites at Akhnoor. The Chinese Flag captured by victorious Dogra forces in the battle-field in the nineteenth century, amongst numerous other centuries’ old artifacts, documents books and manuscripts preserved in the Museums and Archives also forms part of the heritage. The list can go on endlessly.
In like manner, Jammu’s intangible cultural heritage includes vibrant cultural practices that have become part of Jammu’s cultural ethos including festivals like Mela Patt of Bhaderwah, Jhiri Mela of Jammu and ‘Ram Lila’ of Basohli, besides rural wrestling competitions called ‘Chhinjj’; it further includes numerous indigenous performing arts like the unique dance and singing styles of the hills called ‘Kud’ and ‘Bhaakh’ respectively; the unique culinary skills which go into producing the indigenous cheese with a uniquely pungent flavor called ‘Kalari’ and the elaborate array of delicious specialty dishes like ‘Rajmash -da- Madra’, ‘Teliae Mash’. ‘Amble’, ‘Khatta meat’, ‘Gheewar’, ‘Khamira’, ‘Anardane di chatni’, etc., to name just a few, also comprise Jammu’s inalienable heritage. Besides songs, music, poetry or other artistic presentations by iconic personalities like K. L. Saigal, Malika Pukhraj, Padma Sachdeva, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Allah Rakha Qureshi, Dinu Bhai Pant, Om Prakash, etc., other components of its core cultural milieu like traditions, oral history, social values, rituals, knowledge, literature, language and the takri script transmitted from generation to generation, enrich Jammu’s cultural heritage. Also included is the legendary valor and martial skills embedded in the personality traits of the Dogras, as displayed by numerous Kings, Generals and the common soldier over time, and recognized, not only within the Indian sub-continent, but also across continents during World War I and World War II.
The natural heritage of Jammu is also equally varied, stretching from the Great Himalayan Ranges lining its North-East, in Kishtwar District, to the Indo Gangetic Plains forming part of its South-West in Ranbir Singh Pura, in Jammu District. This unique Province, forming 62% of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and aptly termed as the Jewel in the Crown of India, is bestowed with a unique biodiversity. It hosts innumerable varieties of flora and fauna which includes, amongst others, different species of leopard including the snow leopard, in a range of ecosystems distinguished by varying geographical structures and climatic zones. It includes Snow-capped mountain peaks like Nun and Bramah I; beautiful valleys and meadows like Wadwan, Sanasar and Bhaderwah; Rivers, waterfalls, lakes and streams; and, not the least, green conifer forests and special cultivars like Rajmash of Bhaderwah and Basmati Rice of Ranbir Singh Pura, which have few parallels. It provides a vast scope for promoting and developing a range of tourism activities including adventure, leisure and ecotourism.
The examples given aboveare only illustrative and not a comprehensive enumeration of the cultural heritage of Jammu Region. Any attempt at comprehensive elaboration of the same would, perhaps, require volumes. The objective here is to underline the fact that the Jammu’s heritage in all its manifestations is extremely rich and needs to be recognized as such. Emergent measures are required to be taken to protect and conserve it, and to present it to the cultural scholar and the cultural tourist alike, lest whatever remains is frittered away due to lack of timely action. It may be emphasized that protecting and preserving cultural heritage is critically important for the well-being and identity of our Society as it links our past, present and future. Its loss will cut us off from our past and create a fertile ground for distortion of the factual narrative, thus hindering our ability to shape a cohesive and resilient future for the coming generations.
As we celebrate World Heritage Day today, therefore, there is a serious need to assess where we stand in terms of our engagement with our uniquely rich heritage, and how to put our act together in order to leverage it in establishing a strong identity that impacts positively the social and economic development of the region.
(The author is a former Director Tourism
Jammu and a member of ICOMOS)

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