Kashmir floods damage 2000-year-old Buddhist treasures

Friday, 3 October 2014 – 5:40am IST
Agency: DNA

Iftikhar Gilani

Member of National Monument Authority Salim Beg said not just the Gilgit manuscripts but other significant treasures like paintings, shawls, historic textiles, paper machie and wood carvings have also been damaged.
Besides loss of life and property, the unprecedented floods that swept Kashmir Valley last month, have inflicted heavy damage to cultural and archival treasures representing 2,000 years of heritage of the region. Some of them placed at the historic Sri Pratap Singh (SPS)Museum in Srinagar have been lost forever. Sources told dna the important document, the Gilgit manuscripts, the only surviving testimony to the Bhuddhist classic knowledge has been lost forever. Historians across the world were awaiting the news with bated breath about the fate of these documents, would get the fateful news that the document has been declared as 100% damaged with no chances of recovery.

Apprehending that tribal raiders may damage these documents in 1947, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had prevailed upon then government in Jammu and Kashmir to shift them to National Archives in Delhi.

Later twice, to protect them from aerial bombings during war in 1965 and 1971 they were again flown to Delhi for protection. Ironically, some of the parts of these documents placed at the Central Asian Studies Department of Kashmir University were returned to the Museum authorities just a week before the floods.

Member of National Monument Authority and former director of INTACH Salim Beg, who has just returned from Srinagar after inspecting the loss told dna that not only manuscripts other significant treasures like paintings, shawls, historic textiles, paper machie and wood carvings have also been damaged. He was aghast that even while the waters having receded, there has been no action to rescue the artifacts and museum objects. He lamented that state authorities lack expertise or even basic understanding to rescue the objects.

Tracing the history of their discovery, Beg says a shepherd had found them in 1931 accidentally and by the orders of then Maharaja Hari Singh, they were placed in the museum. Since then scholars from all over world arrive Srinagar to see these documents.

Historic importance
Known as the oldest manuscripts in the world, the Gilgit documents have an unmatched significance in the area of Buddhist studies. It contains Buddhist works, that have helped the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan religio-philosophical literature. They were named Gilgit manuscripts as they were discovered in three installments in the Gilgit region, now part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Fragments of these manuscripts are placed in the British Museum and the Department of Archaeology in Karachi. They also depict historic connections between Kashmir, Gilgit and Central Asia.

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