Vandalism or Restoration?

‘Bricks go missing from Mubarak Mandi’

Sunny Dua
Hundreds of fine hexagonal brick tiles taken out of different structures during restoration work of Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex have been crushed along with unserviceable material and used as one of the key ingredients of mortar. Many of these hexagonal bricks have also been thrown out of complex as mulba (Trash). The clay bricks were so fine, strong and unique that if stacked and preserved could have been re-used as ornamental pieces in the same complex thereby retaining the originality of historical buildings but lack of knowledge or call it concern robbed people of Jammu of its treasure.
Many columns of façade of Mubarak Mandi still don these bricks over which inlay work with pebbles has been done to add aesthetic to the building. However irresponsibility on the part of executioner and lack of proper check at the construction site led to this vandalism and it would not be wrong to say that people of Jammu have been robbed of their treasure in the name of restoration. Not ready to digest truth or face criticism with regards to incongruities in restoration work of Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex, when matter was brought into the notice of concerned they called it ‘rumor-mongering’ and ‘factually incorrect’.
Instead of getting the mater investigated or fix the guilty, the matter was brushed under the carpet and those who cared to bring to foreground wrongs being done at ground zero were snubbed. To sum this up one can also say that the heritage property is being vandalized in the name of ‘restoration’ or the right word could be ‘renovation’. As if this was not enough those at the site have also kept labourers inside the rooms of heritage complex and even raised some constructions within the complex for their conveniences.
The end result is that walls of rooms are getting damaged due to smoke billowing out of mud Chullahs (Stoves) which the workers are using for cooking. While a major portion of this heritage complex has already caved in and with it stand buried wall paintings, frescos, brick works, floorings, Khatamband and other details many more historical buildings have already vanished from the physical map of Jammu’s historical places.
A portion of Shri Ranbir Memorial Higher Secondary High School collapsed few years ago, heritage quarters at Doctors’ lane were razed to ground, a circular building inside Radio Station Jammu was demolished, and stable sites at Panjtirthi and Kachi Chawni used to keep erstwhile Maharaja’s elephants razed to ground. Likewise many Bowlis and Talabs (Ponds) have already been wiped out of the map. A couple of years ago major portion of Gol Ghar had also caved in but has still not been stabilized or restored.
Ideally the fragile portion of Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex should have been the first to be taken up for restoration and before that all slopes and vulnerable buildings stabilized. However, the decision makers did a very little work on this and chose to start restoration from the buildings that were already in good shape especially the ones that were easily accessible and visibly in much better condition. These structures were the ones that were also visible to eyes when entering the complex. This was the reason the crumbling and brittle buildings were allowed to face weather vagaries and meet their fate till restoration work on the good ones were going on at a snail’s pace.
Since the complex was built close to river Tawi, the slopes of hillock served the purpose of protection walls. However, construction of circular road on Tawi side along Mubarak Mandi Complex exposed the foundations of this mighty complex which has housed several important offices of erstwhile Maharajas. Cutting those slopes not only exposed the foundation of many complexes but also destabilized the whole structure which is why every rainy season brings down a portion of historical complex.
Today also several foundations could be seen exposed to weather which are vulnerable. This decision was never reversed and is today proving to be disastrous if not devastating. The portions that have still not been taken up for restoration are fading into the history with each rainy season proving catastrophic for these already crumbling strictures inside the complex. While several portions have crumbled while restoration work was going on Sheesh Mahal remains plunged into pitched darkness, locked and condemned.
A number of chief ministers, Governors, Lieutenant Governors, advisors, bureaucrats and heritage enthusiasts besides officials and especially central leaders had for multiple times visited the complex and reviewed undergoing work but the complex is still unable blink on the tourism map of India or world. Several buildings that have been restored have not been put to right use due to which footfall of visitors has not increased.
It was very recently that Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha accompanied by Raghvendra Singh, Secretary/CEO Development of Museums, Ministry of Culture GoI, BVR Subrahmanyam, Chief Secretary and Nitishwar Kumar, Principal Secretary to Lt Governor and army of UT officials inspected the restoration work on Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex and even made public the plans to restore this complex. Mubarak Mandi Jammu and Shergarhi in Srinagar, both cultural heritages were decided to be taken up for comprehensive conservation and restoration for which the union government was asked to dispatch a team of experts from the Ministry of Culture so that a Comprehensive Master Plan for Conservation and Restoration including lighting system, could be prepared for the heritage site.
Though the government seems to be committed towards conservation and protection of this rich culture and heritage of J&K as spelled out by the Lt Governor yet there’s a need of fast-tracking the work on the areas that need immediate attention in order to preserve the glory of our rich heritage and ensure that those buildings of importance don’t fade into oblivion like many have already. Executive Director, Mubarak Mandi Heritage Society, Deepika Sharma also seems to be optimistic of getting works expedited but the end result wherein footfall increases manifold in this complex is yet to be achieved.
Those who once owned these places too have turned a Nelson’s eye toward these monuments of historic importance. Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh along with his son had also once visited these ruins and it was hoped that he would coordinate with concerned agencies to restore the lost glory of this complex where his ancestors ruled once. His visit might have been an emotional journey down the line but it also didn’t generate any enthusiasm amongst the executioners.
As claimed, portions of a couple of buildings have been restored and Dogra Art Museum shifted in them. Several other mega structures are still untouched and work on them is yet to begin. While restoration work is going on, there still are several pieces falling apart from the palaces located within the complex. This vandalism however on a bright note is unfolding mysteries behind construction of this mega structure located on a small hillock and on the bank of River Tawi by the erstwhile Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir State.
The materials used here is not only bricks or tiles but wood, stone, pebbles, ornamental grills, binding material, decorative artifacts molded in clay, earthen pots and designer bricks besides carved beams all constitute part of this structure which needs preservation beyond imaginations. The exposed portion of ceiling of Shesh Mahal wherein amazing engineering works were revealed has still not been attended to.
Few years ago a huge wooden beam cut out of a single complete grown up tree had fallen off the ceiling showing up how engineers of that era had used locally available material to ensure that rooms stayed cool during summers. They had used clay pots placed upturned in the ceiling. Entrance to this heritage complex from Mubarak Mandi side is also awaiting restoration especially its huge door which is also decaying with each passing day. Meantime some new structures in the shape of urinals have also come up right in front of complex which destroys the façade completely.
Due to pandemics work on restoration of project was slowed down but it has again picked up now. Prior to this, the Heritage Society framed for the purpose had once decided to rope in Rajasthan Tourism for which a team comprising members of Mubarak Mandi Jammu Heritage Society (MMJHS) had also gone to Jaipur few years ago and had first hand look at already going on work on some important heritage sites in Rajasthan. The outcome of that visit is also not known as to how it is helping the restoration work.
The present status is that entire complex has been sealed and declared out of bounds for commoners owning to some fragile structures and unnecessary interference of people. However, not even a single building can be claimed to be fully restored and put to better use which in turn has also started generating revenue. When contacted some experts claim that during past few months the work did pick up some pace and is likely to be expedited further in near future. Another commoner when contacted said that these “Ruins of Royals” are fast turning into rubbles because whatever work is being carried out is insufficient.
One best thing that’s happening at the site is that all unnecessary structures including galleries, plasters, extra rooms, partitions or additional blocks and passages that were constructed by the governments when this building houses office complex are being removed. These structures didn’t blend with the main structure and had become eyesore besides were damaging the main heritage structure. Once removed the originality of the complex will be restored which is highly appreciable.
Earlier t was planned that once restored the Army Headquarter would be used as Convention Centre but due to lack of many facilities the proposal could not take off. Then came another proposal of using it for exhibitions, which was also shelved. Unreliable sources said that now there are plans of leasing out the property to some hoteliers which are yet to be confirmed. Those who once owned these places too have turned a Nelson’s eye toward these monuments of historic importance.
The Master Plan prepared intends to develop the site as a heritage and cultural destination. It envisages to revitalize what it called ‘soul’ of Mubarak Mandi by safe-guarding the built up area, enhancing footfall, capacity building and maintaining which could make this Heritage Complex blink on international tourism map. It plans to conserve, manage, safeguard and reuse the opulent cultural assets of this Heritage Site while maintaining its social aspects. It also believes that once restored to its lost glory the site would enhance socio-economic development of the region besides national and international organization will be involved for research and cultural alliances.
The Master Plan also recommends adaptive reuse of complex that has been divided into five zones. While the Central Courtyard will act as focal point for varied activities the Knowledge Centre will provide a platform to visitors and historians besides students an informal learning about the subject. Similarly, Collection Galleries will have exhibition spaces and provides visitors with the much-needed orientation to the site and the city, expounding on the collective story of the Mubarak Mandi Palace. Lifestyle zone will be an altogether experience which will house cultural vibrancy of people of region which will promote values and identities of people of various regions of Jammu and Kashmir including their traditions, social practices, rituals and festivals. Finally the Experiential space and Crafts zones will lay focus on architecturally significant spaces showcasing crafts.
In a webinar held on ‘Mubarak Mandi, Ajay Khajuria, former Director Tourism Jammu, Founding Member-Secretary (ex-officio)/Executive Director, Mubarak Mandi Jammu Heritage Society said that the complex should be developed as cultural tourism centre. Lalit Gupta, Art Historian was of the view that the palace complex has been used as a photo-op by political leaders and bureaucrats. “What we see today is that few buildings have further decayed and locals have lost confidence.
Having an autonomous conservation wing would help”, he was of the view. Poonam Chaudhary, Director, Centre for Studies in Museology, University of Jammu, wanted to develop Mubarak Mandi as city center which is linked to nearby bazaars and localities. Arvind Kotwal, former CEO Surinsar Mansar Development Authority, former Dy Director Tourism Jammu was of the opinion that by organizing various events in the complex with regularity more vibrancy can be added to it.