Crumbling Heritage

Munish Pandit
Situated at the distance of around 62 kilometers from Jammu city, falling in Samba District, Mansar for the people of Jammu is a sacred sar where they perform rituals and seek blessings of Mansar Devta (Naga Devta). Endowed with an enchanting lake, wildlife sanctuary and some important temples, it has been developed as a major tourist destination.
Mansar is probably an abbreviation of Man`asa, The “mind-born” and Sarovara or Sara a lake i.e. the lake produced by the mind or will of Brahma the creator. (Gazetter of Kashmir and Ladakh; 1890)
Several studies and research works have been conducted on the lake, its geology and hydrological aspects, but very less enquires have been made about the settlement itself or the historic buildings in the area. We find its mention in some travelogues such as those of G.T. Vigne, G.T. Forster. Vinge described this lake as a “small but very pretty lake surrounded by low hills and is about a mile in length and not quite half a mile in width; it is said to be very deep. The lake is considered a very holy place and Hindus come here to pay vows and perform their ablutions in its waters.” He further refers to his overnight stay at Mansar in course of his journey from Mankot to Jammu (1839).
George Forster in course of his travel through Mansar during 1783 describes Mansar as “Manser is composed of few houses standing on the margin of beautiful sheet of water” it is further indicated by the traveller that Lake is considered as sacred and under royal patronage. The “Gazetter of Kashmir and Ladakh” published in 1890 mentions existence of a small village with the same name as lake (Mansar) towards north-west of the lake but does not record any significant building or structures in its vicinity.
It appears that Mansar may not have been a major settlement. However being a Devasthana of many families of Jammu and its location on the travel route developed it into an important landmark. The remains of the old buildings do endorse the narration of its importance in the history.
One of the major existing structures from the past is the popular “Mansar Haveli” which probably dates back to late 18th century or early 19th century.
The building typology of the structure is that of a gateway (deori) rather than a haveli or fortress (as popularly believed). This can be said on the basis of its construction typology and spatial planning, which could be compared with the typical typology of a gateway (Deori) as prevalent in the era of late 18th century or early 19th century in the region. Therefore, this structure could have been a gateway (Deori) of a larger residential complex or of an orchard along the lake side. The intricate paintings and workmanship do indicate royal patronage or ownership of this structure. It is said that this structure was constructed by Raja Ranjit Dev of Jammu sometime during his reign (1733 to 1782) as a resting place for his daughter who was married into the royal family of Mankot (later re-named as Ramkot). Since in those days the journey was mostly on foot, Mansar was the midpoint between Jammu and Mankot where the princess and her entourage would halt for the night. It is further believed that the building underwent further upgradation later during the rule of Maharaja Gulab Singh who also got the walls of building embellished with wall paintings. On the other hand some historians attribute the construction of the building to the Raja Suchet Singh, brother of Maharaja Gulab Singh who became ruler of Mankot. It is also said that even Maharaja Ranjit Singh had halted at this place……..
Built in lakhori bricks (small local tiles) with lime mortar, the architectural vocabulary of the building does stand testified of its age. The paintings within the buildings resemble the style of Basoli art but it does deserve attention of art historians for detailed analysis. The figurative paintings endorse regional supremacy of the style and its period. The architecture of this deodi exhibits resemblance to other old structures in the region like buildings present in Mubarak Mandi Palace Complex. The jharokhas on the façade of this structure resembles those of in Gadvai khana of Mubarak Mandi.
The gateway is a two-storied structure, rectangular in shape with passageway dividing it into two parts. One can enter haveli from either side of the deodi having three cusped arches marking the entrances. The rooms on the lower part perhaps served more as service areas whereas the ones on the upper level were used for residence and enjoyment of the vast pristine view of the lake. The outer façade of building is also painted and moderately ornamented with intricate jharokhas and arch openings as well as ornamental rectangular bands. The interior of the structure is intricately ornamented with Pahari style miniature paintings.
This structure on the lake side is now in a decrepit state with the paintings having faded or defaced. Despite being over two hundred years old and with an interesting history this structure has strangely remained neglected all along. Several later additions and alterations (modern interventions) has taken its toll on this structure as well as on its aesthetics. Due to neglect and loss of retaining wall at the edge of the lake, major portion of the structure has collapsed. Further it has exposed explicit paintings to deterioration due to rains, weathering and vandalism.
This building is one of its kind in the region and should be given its due importance. Its conservation and safeguard should be taken up without any further delay. Its proximity to Mansar lake provides us an opportunity to showcase our rich heritage to over a million of people visiting the lake every year. This has a potential to be a point of attraction on its own. Conservation of this heritage structure would add another major dimension to tourism at Mansar. Moreover it would help in even spread of tourists all around the lake.
(The author is a Conservation Architect)