By building a bridge on Zaina Kadal, Budshah created an access between the two halves of the city. But this was one of few projects that the longest serving Shahmiri king executed in the city of Kashmir to make it an epicenter of trade, cultural activities and education. More than five centuries later, the builder king lays buried in the tomb of his mother than the custodians have converted into a sort of a kitchen, reports Saima Bhat
An auto rickshaw, a cycle, few cars parked and a thin pedestrian movement is all what is seen on the 90-metre-long bridge in the city of Kashmir, the Zaina Kadal bridge, one of city’s oldest bridges.
Once the only connecting link between the two halves of the city separated by Jhelum, Zaina Kadal was built by Sultan Zainul Aabideen, in 1427. For around 600 years, it has survived as a witness to the history of Kashmir.
An address of Kashmiri culture and heritage, the bridge provides a grand view of the main city, now usually being refered as the old city
An address of Kashmiri culture and heritage, the bridge provides a grand view of the main city, now usually being refered as the old city. On one side is the beautiful view of magnificent wooden marvel, the Khanqah-i-Moulla and on other side is seen the top of temple and the nearby Budshah tomb where Zainul Aabideen and his mother lay buried. Incidentlly the Khanqah was built by Budshah’s father, Sikandar.
The bridge was a line demarcating two different areas of city with distinct life styles, customs and traditions. “I have read it from Persian history books that it used to be different lifestyle on the sides of the bridge,” recalls an old city resident and noted satirist Zareef Ahmad Zareef. The tradition exists as so called Up-town feels slightly differenty.
Heritage apart, the area represented the business of Kashmir for many centuries. The wholesale market existed on both sides of the bridge and in the interior lanes also. It was this significance of the belt that Maharaj Gunj came into being as an exclusive market on the banks of the river with accessing stairs to the ghat, for people, usually the influential, coming in boats. The area was address for every activity from religion to business, a prosperous place for many decades.
But today the putrefying ghats tell a different story: a story of pain, apathy and negligence. The most ancient of city’s seven bridges, Zaina Kadal has lost its importance. The new city that has emerged in last few hundred years, has shifted the businesses to the new areas, especially Lal Chowk, a place that emerged in the latter part of Dogra rule.
Legends suggest Budshah built the bridge as token of acknowledgement to Pandit Vaid, medical practioner, Shri Bhat, who cured the king from a life threatening disease.
Shahmiris, who ruled the medival Kashmir, also built Aali Kadal and Habba Kadal bridges. The first was built by Ali Shah, elder brother of Budshah and the second by Habib Shah.
But today the putrefying ghats tell a different story: a story of pain, apathy and negligence.
Grave of Budshah’s mother
Budshah was instrumental in making the place vibrant. Terming his rule as ‘golden period,’ Zareef while quoting Persian history books, says, “He got a large number of competent teachers and craftsmen from Samarqand to train his subjects in different arts. Some of the handicrafts introduced include carpet weaving, papier machie, silk, and paper making. Kashmiri artisans improved and perfected these arts to such a level that their fame spread to whole Asia and even to Europe.”
Zareef says it is because of dominance of these occupations and skills that various areas are named after the professions they practiced: Kalamdanpur, Bandook Khar mohalla, Kaagazpur, Kamaangarpur, Saazgirpur, Chinkraal Mohalla, Gurguri Mohalla.
“Zain-ul-Abidin turned Kashmir into a smiling garden of industry inculcating in the hearts of the people sane conceptions of labour and life and also implanting in their minds the germs of real progress,” Muhammad Ashraf, a retired IAS officer, and a prolific writer, said while quoting Pandit Anand Koul who has extensive worked on Budshah’s development of crafts. “He promoted commercial morality and integrity and industrial righteousness-qualities which constitute the backbone of a people’s credit and reputation.”
Sultan was known for his building and construction skills. He was famous for various canals, gardens, buildings and roads. Like other kings he did not live in the premises of old city but he founded a new town of Naushahr and made it his capital. He built his secretariat, Dar ul Sultanate, known as Zaine Dab on the banks of Anchaar lake.
Historian Mohibbul Hasan, in his Kashmir Under the Sultans describes the architecture and structure of Budshah’s secretariat: “The most magnificent edifice which he constructed there was a palace of wood which, as described by Mirza Haidar Dughlat, had twelve storeys, each containing fifty rooms, halls, and corridors. It was surmounted by a golden dome, and its spacious halls were lined with glass.”
Adds Sir Walter Lawrence too wrote in his book The valley of Kashmir, that this “Zaina Dab was a magnificent palace, twelve stories high, each storey containing 50 rooms, and in each room five hundred men could sit. It was supplied with waters from Sind river.”
Zareef Ahmad quotes a Persian history book and says, “The present day Zoonimar area is the place where Budshah had his secretariat made up of all Deodar and Kaayur timber, later burnt by the Chak army.”
A man of great taste, as Budshah founded new city, he laid broad roads and all streets were paved with stones. “In earlier times Dal Lake joined the river through the middle of the old city but the King got a new canal, the Mar, dug to connect the Dal Lake directly with Anchar Lake,” Ashraf said. “The Mar canal was crossed by artistically built stone bridges and was lined with dressed stones. The houses of rich officials and traders rose on its banks.”
Besides that, Dar ul Tarjamah too used to be located in Naushahr.
“The 51 years of Budshah’s rule were the most prosperous. He established a translation bureau in which Persian works were translated into Sanskrit and Sanskrit works into Persian. In this way knowledge was made accessible to those who knew either of two languages,” writes Mohibbul Hasan. Zainul Abidin had also established a University in Naushahr and he had built up a big library which existed until the time of Fath Shah. It perished in the civil wars and foreign invasions of the later Shah Mir period, he adds.
An aerial view of historic Jamia Masjid after restrictions were lifted from old city Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)
Jamia Masjid was also built during Shahmiri era. The construction of this mosque was started by Budshah’s father Sultan Sikander in 1385 but it was enlarged by Budshah and completed in 1402.
This structure too holds historic importance. It is famous for more than 300 soaring pillars supporting the roof; each made of a single deodar tree trunk. The roughly square building is 117 metres on each side, topped by four Minars in the centre of each side, topped by four Minars in the centre of each side and three pagoda shaped minarets from which the faithful are called to prayer. Shahmiris had engaged a central Asian designer for creating this massive structure that still symbolizes Srinagar.
Lal Bazar, the new address to various old city dwellers, was founded by Sultan Zainul Abidin. “Traders across world, mostly from Central Asia used to come here for the trade of precious stones and that gave this area the name of Lal and Bazar. Those traders used to reside in Botshah Mohalla,” says Zareef.
Taking cue from Budshah, Ranbir Singh founded another market in the same area, the present day Maharaja Gunj, which was known as a retail market.
Rajouri Kadal too was built in Zainul Abidin’s reign. “According to a tradition of doubtful authenticity, Sunder Sena, Raja of Rajauri, sent his eldest daughter Rajya Devi to Zainu’l-‘Abidin. The Sultan, who was engaged in sport on the Volur lake, seeing the lady’s party coming, inquired “What mother’s doli is that”? On being told that it was the Rajauri princess sent to him, he said that, as he had called her mother, he could not receive her as a wife,” writes Mohibbul Hasan. “She was, however, not sent back to Rajauri, but was allowed to live in the palace. She became a Muslim, and built the Rajauri Kadal, a bridge over the Mar canal in Srinagar.”
Taking cue from Budshah, Ranbir Singh founded another market in the same area, the present day Maharaja Gunj, which was known as a retail market. It is believed that he got traders from Punjab and got them settled in the same area. “They had shops in the ground floor and in the upper stories they used to live. Maharaja Ranbir Singh was soft hearted towards them because when he purchased Kashmir, these were the people who gave him pending amount,” says Zareef. He also adds that till then the people used to throng to Jamia Masjid market on Fridays for shopping but he shifted that market to Maharaj Gunj.
And in the same Zaina Kadal area, Kashmir’s first police station was also set up, in SR Gunj. And in the adjoining area of present day Saraf Kadal, the Zaraab Khana was also located, where currencies of gold and silver were minted.
Nalai Maer, the stream across the old city build by Budshah also started from Zainakadal. “It used to have 18 staircases to go down in the canal which was a floating market of Dal vegetables those days,” recalls Ghulam Hassan Kaloo, an information he acquired from his late father. He says that Bohri Kadal was famous for herbals and people from all adjoining areas used to come to this place for the sale and purchase of herbals.
Nalai Maer, the stream across the old city build by Budshah also started from Zainakadal.
Zaina Kadal bridge being the main meeting place between the two halves of the city – the residential and the governance parts – neither of the Kashmir rulers after Cahks lived in old Srinagar – was also known as the place where false rumours were hatched. “The Zaina Kadal or the fourth bridge of the city, used to be the place where false rumours were hatched, but now the newsmakers have moved to the first bridge, the Amira Kadal,” Walter Lawreance wrote in his The valley of Kashmir.“Though the wise knew that Khabr-i-Zaina Kadal was false, the majority are not wise, and much misery is caused to the villagers by the reports which emanate from the city.” He terms Kashmiris as “unstable” and Hawabin, the wind watchers.
The famous phrase, Zainah Kadlah Pethah Thuk Gayih Ho! (The spittle has gone from Zaina Kadal.) was mentioned by Missionary Rev J Hinton Knowles who spent significant time of his life in Kashmir and did some fundamental work on Kashmir folklore compiled A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings in 1885.
Zaina Kadal, central to the city, Knowels saw it the principal means of inter-communication between the two sides of the city. “It is said that whatever news there may be, it will certainly be known some time or other during the day on Zaina Kadal,” he recorded.
Another phrase, Demtho Zaina Kadalikis Faase koetis, (Will hang you from Zaina Kadal’s gallows. Zareef says, “During Dogra regime, people were hanged in Zaina Kadal and then left there hung till all birds used to take their flesh away.” And another famous phrase, Koer gobur gov Zaina Kadal, (To be brides and grooms are Zaina Kadal). This phrase Zareef says came into use after the families of ‘street doctors’ the quacks who used to treat patients on streets, from Dangerpur in Narwara area of old city, when any of their daughters used to get a marriage proposal, they used to ask the would-be-groom to beg for a day on Zaina Kadal so that if they don’t have a job, they won’t keep their daughters empty stomach.”
In a photograph by Samuel Borne in 1863, the Zaina Kadal bridge is shown actually constructed in the year 1427. It was a 92 yard long bridge of cantilever design. In those days markets adorned the bridge on both the sides.
The bridge was dismantled and reconstructed by Pratap Singh in 1897 and again a new bridge was constructed by Hari Singh in 1926, which was repaired in 1953. Twelve years ago a new bridge was constructed to the east of the original bridge. And with the construction of new bridge many shopkeepers in Maharajganj says the new bridge has taken away their customers.
In 2011, there was speculation that the old bridge would be dismantled. However, the government decided against it.
There was some killings as well. That blood never left the area. In last thirty years, not a single lane of the City of Kashmir, as many say Shehr-e-Khas, remained untouched by blood.
Just outside the grave of Budshah’s mother, lies the grave of Sultan Zainul Abideen. The epitome of his grave, of Agit stone, moon stone, was taken away during Sikh rule. And it looks just like an rdinary grave. “I have heard that stone used to shine during night. We couldn’t preserve our sites of historic importance because we are slave,” says Zareef.
“If this site is under archeology department then it is their responsibility to preserve it,” resident Ghulam Hassan said. “The department has converted the interior of tomb into a kitchen literally and one is shocked to see the dog’s shit is just inches away from great Sultan Zainul Abideen’s grave.”
Budshah did everything possible within his means to develop the city as a hub of art and literature. He set up bridges and improved connectivity. At his fag end, however, his sons converted the same landscape into a battle ground. One of his sons had assembled his army into Qutubuddin Pora to attack the palace. There was some killings as well. That blood never left the area. In last thirty years, not a single lane of the City of Kashmir, as many say Shehr-e-Khas, remained untouched by blood.